Excellence ’18: Learning from the Best

By Bob Nieman, CLA Member posted 06-29-2018 10:21

The Industry’s Leading Operators Descend on Southwest Florida for a High-Tech Look at an Evolving Business

More than 200 of the nation’s leading laundry owners and industry executives recently joined their peers for two days of high-level networking and progressive educational sessions – all set amidst the palm trees and sunbaked beaches of Naples, Fla.

On May 16, Coin Laundry Association President and CEO Brian Wallace welcomed attendees to the opening of the fourth Excellence in Laundry Conference, a biennial event hosted by the trade association and held this year at the Naples Grande Beach Resort.

If there was an unofficial theme to this year’s conference – which boasted record attendance – it would have to be “technology.” The event’s keynote speakers on both days focused on some aspect of how technology is reshaping today’s business world.

Wallace referred to Excellence ’18 as the “un-convention” for those vended laundry owners who are looking to be challenged and who are interested in “changing the line of sight” for their operations and the industry in general.

“The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today,” he noted.

With that said, the educational sessions kicked off with R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and CEO of Silicon Valley-based Constellation Research, who presented “Digital Transformations: New Business Models Ahead” to a packed crowd in the Royal Palm Ballroom. This session was sponsored by Alliance Laundry Systems.

“Disrupt or be disrupted,” Wang warned those in attendance, pointing to the fact that 52 percent of the Fortune 500 companies in 2000 are now gone, due in large part to the fact that most of those firms failed to transform their business models to meet the needs of today’s evolving marketplace.

Then, he asked the audience to guess the hottest performing tech stock since 2010. The answer: Domino’s Pizza.

“A non-tech company,” he pointed out, giving laundry owners a lot to think about. “They completely changed the way they did business. You can order from Domino’s 11 different ways. They tell you five minutes before your pizza gets to your house that it’s coming. They offer mobile ordering.

“Every organization, like Domino’s, has the opportunity to transform its business model,” Wang added. “We’re in a post-sale, on-demand, attention economy.”

Using other numerous examples from the business world, Wang explained how current trends will require store operators to develop a new way of thinking about their businesses – including data’s influence in driving decisions, digital marketing transformation, and the future of work.

After Wang’s eye-opening presentation – and keeping with the morning’s tech theme – attendees were asked to break off into smaller groups, with each group coming up with a list of tech-based tips, tricks and shortcuts to help improve laundry operations.

After deliberating, each group shared its ideas with the others, with the topics ranging from social media practices and website design to geofencing tactics for targeted marketing and online apps for enhanced time management.

The second keynoter, who spoke on the second morning of the conference, was marketing strategist and author Crystal Washington – who shined a light on the future of digital marketing for laundry owners. Dexter Laundry sponsored this fun and informative presentation.

Washington focused on reputation management for business owners.

“Social media is word of mouth on steroids,” she explained. “These days, a mad customer is a dangerous one.”

She went on to examine the ways operators can boost their businesses’ online reputations, as well as showing how to defuse those less-than-satisfied customers before they can do any real damage to your business.

In addition, Washington shared several ways to market a vended laundry business in today’s quickly shifting, high-tech environment, while also providing a brief glimpse into the future of technology and digital marketing for laundry owners.

The second day of the conference also featured Joe Crosby, who is the CEO of MultiState Associates, which is the CLA’s legislative analyst, as well as being the nation’s top state and local government relations consultant. His presentation was sponsored by Vend-Rite Manufacturing and Hamilton Engineering.

Crosby gave attendees an insider’s look at what’s happening at both the federal and state levels. During his 60-minute presentation, he broke down the legislative landscape – discussing the impact of the recent federal tax overhaul, previewing the upcoming elections this fall and their potential impact on laundry owners, and updating everyone on the prospect of future sales tax threats to the industry.

Excellence 2018 also featured two days of exhibits from the leading manufacturers in the industry, giving attendees the perfect opportunity to ask questions about the latest products and services on the market – again, helping laundry owners to stay ahead of the curve with respect to their businesses.

“What an incredible opportunity to gather with the nation’s premiere laundromat owners, operators, distributors, vendors, and manufacturers,” said Lee Williford of American Laundromat, LLC, which is headquartered in Wake Forest, N.C. “The CLA does a fantastic job initiating, planning, and coordinating this event. Excellence is the perfect time and place to learn about what is relevant and up-and-coming within our industry. Hearing from speakers who bring insight from their fields into our industry; talking with fellow operators, vendors, distributors, and manufacturers; and simply being aware of the current state of our industry nationwide makes it difficult not to come away from Excellence with a laundry list of ways to become a more effective business leader.”

Networking, Advocacy and Charity

Similar to past Excellence in Laundry events, the numerous networking opportunities were the real stars of the show in Naples.

“With Excellence being a much smaller, more intimate event than the Clean Show, I found I was able to interact better with other laundry owners – either one on one or in a group discussion – about different topics and issues affecting our laundromats,” explained T.J. Kardas of Soap Opera Laundromat, based in Lemont, Ill. “This was often done sitting around the pool bar. Also, the interaction with exhibiting manufacturers at their display tables was stronger; the setting and schedule gave us a lot more time to ask pertinent questions and receive good answers. Plus, the meals were great, and the way the educational seminars were spaced out worked perfectly. This was my first Excellence in Laundry Conference, and it won’t be my last.”

In fact, the industry’s elite had a great chance to talk shop on the evening before the conference even began, with a welcome reception held poolside on the Naples Grande resort property, which was sponsored by Setomatic Systems.

And the final evening’s dinner event featured an elegant buffet in the hotel’s spacious Vista Ballroom. However, before this gala, the CLA’s LaundryCares Foundation hosted a cocktail reception and fundraiser, sponsored by ESD.

The event fittingly kicked off with the presentation of the CLA’s Community Service Award to Dan Marrazzo, a veteran multi-store owner based in Pennsylvania. Marrazzo was recognized for providing an annual home-cooked Christmas dinner at his facility for the less fortunate within the community. It’s a practice that he, his family and staff began several years ago.

After the award presentation, special guest Allister Chang, executive director of Libraries Without Borders, shared with those in attendance the impact laundromats can have in promoting early childhood literacy. In addition, LaundryCares Chairman Jeff Gardner and CLA Director Brian Grell presented moving video recaps of past free laundry events from stores across the country.

Then… the fundraising began! And thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the store owners, laundry distributors and industry manufacturers in attendance, this event garnered more than $112,000 in donations for the LaundryCares Foundation and its cause – blowing past its original goal of $50,000.

With that kind of passion on display for this industry and for those served by laundry businesses throughout the U.S. – coupled with the way leading operators are embracing today’s high-tech marketplace – it’s hard not to be excited about the future of the vended laundry business.

“Excellence is the tailwind each operator is looking for to move them – and our industry – into a more prosperous and impactful future,” Williford noted. “We will see you at Clean 2019!”