This is Chapter 14 of the book ‘Investor’s Guide to Coin Laundries’, compiled in 2012 by Jay McDonald, Vice President, Distributor Sales for Alliance Laundry Systems.
An Investor’s Guide to Coin Laundries | Retaining Customers + Generating New Ones | Chapter 14
Alliance Laundry Systems is the largest manufacturer of commercial laundry equipment in the world and has over 50 years of experience in helping investors just like you, get started in the coin laundry market. This book is a compilation of experiences, ideas and input from hundreds of successful coin laundry owners and distributors from all over the world. Taking data and industry knowledge, it is a road map to help you succeed. At the end of it, you will have a general understanding of the industry and what it will take to operate a successful business.
A NOTE ON COIN-OPERATED LAUNDRIES IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
In Southern Africa, coin laundries are typically found in flats or townhouse complexes, caravan parks, holiday resorts and universities. Historically coin-operated activation systems have supported these laundries. However, this system is largely being replaced by our LaundryConnect Cashless Payment Gateway, which is convenient, hassle-free and the way of the future. It is easy to integrate or replace your existing coin mechanism in order to offer cashless payments or to use a card to activate machines.
Generating New Customers and Retaining the Ones You Have
Chapter 14 : A GUIDE TO GENERATING NEW CUSTOMERS AND RETAINING THE ONES YOU HAVE
There is nothing more important to any business than generating new customers and retaining current ones. Without them, all businesses will fail. There are a lot of things that go into it; from advertising and public relations to a comprehensive customer service plan. Covered briefly in other chapters, all of these ideas will be covered in-depth throughout this chapter. We recommend that each section, while written separately, should be implemented and worked together in order to ensure success.
The role of advertising .
Advertising is everywhere. It’s in newspapers, magazines, on the radio, comes at us as we drive down the highway on billboards, on television, and on the internet. No matter where we are, businesses are competing for our time, our attention and our money.
Depending on your market, radio can be a relatively inexpensive investment, especially for the frequency it takes to break through the clutter. Even on a limited budget, radio can be highly effective if scheduled right.
Allowing you to target your demographic through the choice of radio station format, some of the pitfalls to avoid include buying what’s called a 24-hour rotator. While most of the time your ads are semi-spread throughout the day, when the stations advertising schedule is full, your ads are more likely to end up in the overnight flight schedule.
Buying peak time can be costly but allows you to target the best parts of the day when you have a limited budget. Also look at the days you are buying. When are your customers most likely to be listening to the radio station?
Another way to build frequency on the radio is to sponsor the news or sports announcements. Your business name and tag line is usually said at the top of the announcement and at the end, as well as mentioned in promotions throughout the day. This form of sponsorship is great once listeners know who your business is and what you do.
When first buying radio, the best way to use your budget is by buying heavy in a shorter time frame. For example: Week one you run 15 ads on Wednesday and 15 ads on Thursday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. During that time frame your name and commercials will be very noticeable, making it seem like you own the air waves. Then you repeat the same schedule the following week.
Radio also offers flexibility. Let’s say you decide that you want to offer a special for the upcoming weekend. With radio, the shorter lead time allows you not only to be able to change your ad copy quickly but add extra commercials to your schedule if you desire. With radio the thing to remember is frequency is best!
In most cases, the print advertising you will be spending money on is your local newspapers or weekly shoppers. Before deciding on which one to buy, try and canvas your neighborhood to determine which one they are reading most. There are some customers who do not purchase the local newspaper, opting for the free community newspaper. In most cases, the investment to purchase ad space is often less on a cost per person basis, but the risk that people are actually reading it is greater because it is free and delivered to every home.
With print advertising you want your ad to stand out. Color costs more but often jumps out from the normally black and white pages. Size matters too. If your ad is too small there is a chance that it will get eaten up by the content on the rest of the page.
Just like the radio station and its format, you can purchase ad space in the various sections of the paper. You can put your ad in sports, the lifestyle section, etc. Sunday is the most read newspaper, but also the most heavily advertised. On this day you are going to be competing with all of the inserts too.
Some of the best forms of print advertising are testimonials. Whether it’s a customer who likes a service you provided or one that just enjoys how safe they feel in your coin laundry, testimonial ads speak loudly to potential customers.
When it comes to print advertising, depending on the paper and the day of the week, size matters. Too small of an ad and you might get missed. And a full-page is expensive. Look at when you plan to offer in-store promotions and try to build a print schedule around that, reinforcing your messaging with other forms of advertising.
While not used as much as it has been in the past, direct mail is still a viable option for directly speaking to your customers. Arriving in their mailbox, it’s important to be creative to get them to open it and read your message instead of just throwing it away.
Buying a direct mail list is probably one of the most strategic things you can do. This again is where you want to rely on your demographics. Using that data you can direct a list company to develop a mailing list that targets those people directly.
With about a 10 percent return on investment, direct mail is most effective when there is a highly desirable call to action. For example, “free washes” are more likely to get someone through your door as compared to “call us for more information”.
If developing your own direct mail piece isn’t something you want to do, investigate what types of direct to home coupons are provided in your area. Chances are you get them in your mailbox at home too. The cost is more effective and again, getting you into the hands of potential customers. Here too, a strong call to action is needed in order to drive traffic and throughput into your coin laundry.
There are so many ways that technology can aid in marketing your coin laundry. From banner ads to e-blasts to SMS blasts, you have the ability now more than ever to reach consumers in a timely fashion.
If you are using equipment that allows for variable vend prices, consider working with a company to generate a text-based (SMS) phone list where you can send a text message announcing special pricing during slower times of the day. This is a great way to build loyalty among your current customers as you can ask them to sign up to receive these specials.
E-blasts can be used the same way. You can either purchase an e-mail list, as well as ask current customers to sign up. You can use this rather inexpensive way of direct advertising to let customers know about specials that are coming up and changes made to your coin laundry they might find of interest. Consider making it more of a newsletter format where you can put laundry tips in as well.
Banner advertising isn’t necessarily going to drive traffic to your store. Sites like Yahoo allow advertisers to post banner ads in just their demographic area. This is more for click through if you have a website. If you don’t have one, then doing a banner ad on a website might not be the best use of your advertising dollars.
Depending on your coin laundry, showing it off on T.V. might be a great way to generate awareness. If you decide to try television advertising, rather than buying network, consider buying a flight schedule through your local cable television company. Using your demographics, target channels that your customers are more likely to be watching based on their shows. And whether you go with network or cable advertising, those companies generally provide ad production for free or a minimal cost and in most cases look just as good as if you hired a production company to do it for you.
According to advertising experts Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors of “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” consumer’s brains are wired like card files. In each of these categories, there are generally three products or services that spring to mind when asked about it. This is top-of-mind awareness. To achieve it, no matter what your advertising mix is going to be, your message must be consistent, and must be heard or seen frequently in order to break through the clutter.
Public Relations: Beyond the Press Release
The first thing people think of when you talk about public relations is writing a press release in order to gain media coverage, but it is much more than that. Over the years public relations has taken on a far more strategic role. Encompassing everything from dealing with the media to consumer relations, public relations is a strategic approach to understanding and communicating effectively with the public you serve.
Public Relations and Your Customer
Public relations can be a great way to build your customer retention program. This can encompass your customer service program, developing initiatives that speak directly to them. For example, providing a stain management program where you aid them in helping figure out how to get their laundry cleaner, saving them money from replacing clothing may gain you many fans. Birthdays are a big deal for a lot of people — a simple handwritten card in the mail and a coupon for a free day of wash on their birthday would go far in helping build loyalty and word of mouth advertising.
Some companies go as far as developing helping hands programs where they partner customers together to help each other out. Perhaps you have an older customer who needs help carrying laundry into their home. Partnering them with another customer or an employee to help them out with this is a great way to show you not only want to clean their clothing but want to be a part of their lives as well.
The truth is, no matter how much advertising you do, if your customers do not have a good experience with you, you risk losing more than just that one customer. Using public relations to develop a strong customer service program will not only aid in helping create a good experience for your customers, but it will also help lessen the effects if they do not.
A strong customer relations program should nurture your customer relationships, encourage them to buy again, expand your relationship by cross-selling and up-selling, identify customers who are at risk of leaving and continually deliver on the quality of your services you provide.
Public Relations and the Community
Being a great corporate citizen in your community goes a long way in generating awareness. More and more businesses are getting involved in community outreach. They are sponsoring events, hosting educational programming, lending a helping hand to those in need. Developing a community relations program that includes joining and participating in service clubs, ways you can aid during disasters, etc., serves to help position you as a business that believes in helping the community you are in grow and thrive.
Social media is a skill that falls under the heading of public relations. Building a Facebook page gives you a platform to talk directly to your customers and fans. With all the various features on your business page, you can provide them with laundry tips, immediate notice of what events are happening in your coin laundry, and share other information that you feel they might find of value. Publicize events through pictures of them under the photo section (with their permission of course). Facebook allows for dialog as well between you and your customers.
While it’s a free service, Facebook requires an investment of time. You will need to monitor it for pictures that might be offensive, fan posts that might not be appropriate, and provide timely feedback to any questions that are asked of you.
Another great way to generate awareness through social media is through the creation of a Twitter account. Again, you will need to monitor Twitter for any comments or posts about your business, but like SMS advertising, Twitter allows you to tweet specials in an immediate fashion to your followers.
Public Relations and the Media
A press release is a great way to alert the media to an event you are having but it’s not a guarantee that it will run in the paper. There are other ways to generate favorable media coverage about your business. Some ways include:
• Media relations. This is where you develop a story that might be of interest to readers and contact the local reporter and talk to them about it. In most cases of coin laundry it will either be the lifestyle editor or the business editor. When pitching them, you will want to make sure your story idea is fleshed out and sticks to the facts.
• Photos and cut lines. For many businesses this is an easy way to gain coverage as most photos and cut lines are used to fill space left over from advertising. If you host an event or maybe one of your customers did something spectacular, take a picture and write a caption to send in to the local paper. Again, there is no guarantee if it will run or when it will run for that matter.
• Press releases. If you choose to use press releases, make sure they are timely to what is going on in your current market place. Take a cue from other industries. Don’t talk about lawn mowers in the middle of winter. Press releases should also be short and factual. These are teasers to a bigger story. A new employee hire press release is also a great way to gain coverage. These can be sent out to your local paper, chamber and business magazines. Consider a “Customer Of The Month” program for your store. Send a picture of your winner receiving their prize to the local paper.
Public relations can be a great way to reinforce the messaging you create through your advertising. When partnered together, these two areas can work as a force creating name awareness, building loyalty with your current customers and attracting new ones to your store.
ELEMENTS OF A GOOD NEWS STORY – WHAT IS NEWSWORTHY?
One of the most important characteristics of a news story is timing. If you can connect your story to events in the news, you have a better chance of being published or broadcast. Search for ways to connect your story to events in the news.
Names make news. If you are having an event at your center, invite local dignitaries, such as the mayor. By including the names and photos of important community leaders, you increase the likelihood of publication.
Who will be affected by your news? For example, if your store specializes in Drop Off Laundry services, your press release could start with “It is estimated that the average family of four spends 8 hours of their free time each week doing laundry at home.” The press release could then explain how using a laundry service could “preserve” that free time to spend doing more fun activities with family while also preserving utilities and “being green” as a laundry has more energy efficient machines that are used.
What sets your story apart from another? Human interest stories are best when they arouse emotions. Reunions, special birthdays or anniversaries, fulfilled Heart’s Desires are all good opportunities to strike an emotional cord with readers.
HOW TO WRITE A PRESS RELEASE
Press releases are short documents used to call attention of the media to an event or newsworthy happening at your center. They can be more powerful than advertising, and are free.
- Some pointers to follow
Make your point quickly. Reporters and editors get a lot of press releases, so you must hook them with the first paragraph. This style, called the inverted pyramid, puts the most important information first.
Include the basics. Remember who, what, why, where, when and how. If you are sending a release out before an event, consider using the Media Alert format, which simply outlines the facts, and does not require interviewing or quotes.
Keep it short. Any press release longer than two pages, is probably too long. Try to keep it to one page if possible, or use the Media Alert format.
Keep your press release jargon free. Acronyms such as CLA and BTU are industry specific — spell them out.
Make sure you include a contact person and phone number that is easily accessible. If you are on the road making sales calls, it might make sense to have someone who is at the center be the point of contact.
Include a dateline for your release. Example, City, State, July 29, 2009 –
Use 1.5 line spacing in your release, use 5 Space indent and center the ### at the bottom of the release to indicate the end of the release.
Run spell check on your release, and ask an objective person to read it over for errors and omissions.
Remember deadlines. Daily publications and television have frequent deadlines that require a two-three week lead time, while monthly magazines close their editorial comment several months in advance.
Pitch interesting and relatable stories. If you are pitching a story about Family Time, you could talk about the amount of time it takes an average customer to do their laundry at home. It has been estimated that the average family does 8 loads of laundry per week which calculates to over 8 hours per week of time not devoted to family. Your story could focus on “What would you do with 8 extra hours every week?”
Don’t overwhelm the media with press releases. Choose the stories that you will pitch wisely. If you constantly send them press releases, they will stop reading them. You want to make them think that when they receive something from you, it is important news.
Follow-up. It is good to follow-up a few days after you send a news release. This is an opportunity to pitch your story again and answer any questions they may have.
You can find examples of press releases/media alerts to help you on Marketing Communication portal’s public relations page.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JAY McDONALD has been active in the laundry industry for over 30 years. He is the Vice President, Distributor Sales for Alliance Laundry Systems, the largest manufacturer of commercial laundry equipment in the world. He also served on the board of directors for the Coin Laundry Association and received the Distinguished Service Award “in appreciation of his leadership in furthering the welfare and best interests of the coin laundry industry” in 2009.
SA’s FIRST COMPLETE CASHLESS PAYMENT SOLUTION
Laundry Connect offers an affordable and adaptable payment gateway that is fast becoming the system of choice. It is easy to integrate or replace your existing coin mechanism in order to offer cashless payments or to use a card to activate machines.