As soon as the technology became available, we began offering Wi-Fi access in all of our laundry locations. And, as pricing within the marketplace has become more attractive, we have proportionally increased the speed of our Wi-Fi to accommodate the greatly increased number of wireless devices in our stores.
At first, we viewed Wi-Fi access as just an additional free service to be enjoyed by our laundry customers. We began by offering Wi-Fi as an accompaniment to our other forms of entertainment, which had previously consisted of a few arcade-style gaming machines and television equipment with cable access. Of course, as the popularity of mobile devices has gone through the roof, we now see free Wi-Fi access as an absolute necessity.
Virtually every customer in the store at some point could potentially use our network. On any given day, we may have a working professional on his or her laptop, as well as a group of children all playing various games on their phones. Every time I walk into our stores someone is either watching video or consuming some sort of media on a wireless device.
One added benefit we have discovered since offering Wi-Fi access – aside from bolstering the overall customer experience – has been the ability to do a lot of cord-cutting to our own systems. For example, our point-of-sale systems and our exchanger systems are all wirelessly accessible through our company’s secured network. The connectivity of these devices has made it incredibly simple to identify issues within our systems, update promotional materials, and introduce new products and services more readily.
Clearly, the main advantages of offering Wi-Fi access include (1) giving your customer base more of a reason to stay in your store and hopefully help themselves to some of your ancillary profit centers, such as video games or snack and beverage vending machines; (2) differentiating yourself within your marketplace by enabling customers to consume various forms of media or to do work on their mobile devices, which will help to retain these individuals as repeat customers; and (3) accessing internal systems remotely will ease your mind when you are away from the store, allowing access to everything from sales numbers to the temperature setting on your thermostat.
The major drawback to offering Wi-Fi access is security. Unsecured Wi-Fi access without a doubt will lead to unauthorized or abusive use by non-customers. Unauthorized use can greatly reduce your bandwidth and lead to dissatisfaction by the customers using this service while in your store. Furthermore, it’s important to keep firewall protections high on any wireless access point if you have your business’ systems on your wireless network – if possible, try to separate customer access and business access by using multiple routers.
Aside from security concerns, much like all technology, signals can get crossed and random issues can arise that make life frustrating. However, for the most part, we believe that offering Wi-Fi access has helped our business more than it has hurt. There have been times where we’ve had issues and been at the mercy of our service provider to fix reoccurring problems or have been capped by their limited offerings in terms of speed, which has impacted the quality of our Wi-Fi service.
A word of caution: when we first incorporated Wi-Fi into our stores, we weren’t knowledgeable about how having customers and our systems on the same network could hinder our ability to process credit cards. Between our network devices and our customers’ devices, we were putting so much traffic on the line that it was causing issues with our computer’s ability to complete these transactions. The solution was separating the two and, ultimately, switching service providers to obtain more reliable connection speeds.
All in all, Wi-Fi access is just one more way to set your laundry business apart from your competitors. As technology becomes more accessible to consumers, there will be more of a demand for wireless access points, which will give customers more of a reason to choose your laundromat over another store in your area. The benefits of wirelessly connecting your business systems are vastly greater than the negatives – just remember that keeping your network secure is of the uttermost importance.