Monday, March 21, 2016

Equipment Marketers hosts 23rd Annual Commercial Laundry Trade Show

-- The only laundry trade show in the mid-Atlantic region bringing together laundry owners and operators --

Katie Weitzman
By Katie Weitzman, Equipment Marketers

Equipment Marketers, a commercial laundry distributor doing business since 1945, will be hosting their 23rd annual Commercial Laundry Trade Show and Service Seminar at the company’s headquarters in Cherry Hill, New Jersey on Thursday, May 5th, 2016. Each year draws an unprecedented number of laundry owners and operators to this event looking to purchase or lease new commercial laundry equipment for their apartment complex, coin laundry store or on-premise laundry facility.

The event is such a success because it draws hundreds of laundry owners and operators together to network, learn all that is new in the laundry business, and meet all the manufacturers’ representatives including leading brand name commercial laundry equipment. There are laundry seminars all day to join including this year: “What’s your Laundromat Worth”, “Be your own Boss…How to Open a Laundromat”, and “Credit cards, Payment Apps and More!” In the tradeshow area, there are over 25 vendors of different products associated with commercial laundry equipment or laundromats including card systems, energy-efficient lighting, financing, on-demand laundry delivery software, hot water heaters, and soap machines and detergents.

There will be commercial laundry factory service representatives on hand to teach mini service seminars to owners and operators so they can learn to maintain and make minor repairs to their equipment. There will be an ‘introduction to the laundry industry’ seminar for anyone looking to get into the business. According to Dick LaMaina, president of Equipment Marketers, “It is like a franchise without the franchise fees. Equipment Marketers can recommend equipment, store location and design, and facilitate financing.” The company has equipped thousands of laundries in the mid-Atlantic Area. The laundry business is one that is recession-resistant, a cash business with little labor, no inventory or receivables and typically, has a high rate of return.

If an apartment owner is looking to make their residents’ laundry facilities a premium amenity, this is the Trade Show to attend. Equipment Marketers specializes in using the latest technology to update laundry facilities from an unwelcoming environment into a first class amenity that will help owners to retain residents in their community. Equipment Marketers offers laundry monitory and internet-enabled applications for payment, so that residents know when laundry equipment is available for use in the laundry room, can receive a text or email when the laundry cycle is complete, and can pay for laundry using their smartphone at the machine.

Representatives of Equipment Marketers will be available all day to speak with attendees about the many options available for purchasing or leasing new Commercial laundry equipment. There will delicious food served all day and prizes and giveaways for everyone in attendance. Registration is suggested as the event fills quickly. If you are interested in re-equipping your apartment central laundry, opening a laundromat or attending Equipment Marketers’ Trade Show on Thursday, May 5th, call today (800) 223-1376 or go to

Monday, February 13, 2012

Understanding Credit Card Fees and Charges

One of the most exciting new developments in the coin laundry industry is the concept of credit card acceptance for laundry services.  Recently, many companies, both old and new, have announced products to help the coin store laundry owner capitalize on new technologies and add this convenient form of payment into their operations.

As with many new technologies, understanding all of the concepts and implications of these new systems can be challenging.  This technology is no different.  One of the most confusing concepts of accepting credit card payments is the way that the fees are calculated.  This article will help you to understand the terms, how the charges are derived, and ideas on how you can help to keep the fees to a minimum. To help decipher some of the coded language used in the credit card industry and make it easier to understand, cashless industry expert Ryan Carlson helps shed some light on this daunting topic.

Merchant Account
As the retail business owner, you are a Merchant.  A Merchant Account is a special account that is established for the purpose of depositing net proceeds from credit card sales into a banking account of your choosing.  When this account is set up, you agree to the specific fees associated with accepting credit cards.  When you set up a merchant account, you do so with a Merchant Provider.  Different merchant accounts have different charges, so it is important to understand the fees associated with these accounts. Ryan Carlson uses a helpful analogy just about all of us can understand. “Think of a merchant account statement much like your statement from the telephone company.  The amount you end up paying at the end of the month is rarely representative of the price quoted on the advertisement that was mailed to you. This is where you will need to find out the ‘effective rate’ when speaking with a merchant account provider. They may be hesitant to share this with you, but this is critical when learning what your actual fees are going to be.”

Getting your money from a credit card purchase is actually quite simple.  The merchant account deposits your daily credit card sales, minus any agreed upon fees, and the deposits are typically made on a nightly basis. First-time merchants sometimes worry about having to wait until the end of the month to get paid.  This is not the case, the money is deposited in your account each night!

Interchange Rates
One of the most common (and confusing) terms in the world of credit cards is interchange rates.  This term refers to the fees that the issuing banks charge to complete a credit card transaction. “This is much like the ‘invoice’ price of a vehicle that a car dealership pays to an automotive manufacturer before it’s marked up for resale,” says Ryan Carlson.

In a perfect world, these fees would be easy to determine and straightforward.  However, this couldn’t be further from the truth!  The interchange fee for a specific credit card is largely determined by the type of credit card used.  You might think that an issuing bank provides and pays for the perks associated with the credit cards that they offer but they do not.  Who pays for the reward programs, cash back offers, and other incentives?  The merchant does (that’s you) and it is done through these regulated interchange rates.  The better the customer advantage program is, the higher the interchange fees are.  In other words, when a customer uses a “Super Platinum Airline Miles with 2% Cash-Back” card, the rates that you are charged are higher than a standard debit card.

An interchange rate typically has two elements, a transaction fee plus percentage rate.  For example, a credit card might charge $0.10 per transaction plus 1.65% of the total.  So, for this example rate, a $10.00 sale would result in $0.10 (transaction fee) plus $0.165 (percentage) or $0.265 total (about 2.6% of the total).

If the interchange rate is calculated on a higher sale, the overall percentage is less.  For example, if the transaction was $100.00 and we used the same interchange rate as above, the fees would be $0.10 (transaction fee) plus $1.65 (percentage) or $1.75 total (1.75% of the total).  With this pricing structure, you can see how it is in your best interest for the credit card transactions to be higher, rather than lower.  This results in a lower overall percentage of fees paid per transaction.  (This is why you sometimes see signs posted in small shops like “$10 minimum for credit”.)

3 Tier Pricing
In addition to the type of credit card, the interchange rate is often determined by the level of verification that is used when accepting a credit card.  The first (and lowest cost) tier is called a qualified rate and is typically defined as the way that the majority of the credit cards will be processed.  In a normal retail sales environment, this is usually when the physical credit card is swiped in the terminal.

The second tier is called a mid-qualified rate and is typically an exception to the “standard” way a credit is accepted or the type of credit card used.  For example, if you key in the credit card number (rather than swiping it) or a customer uses a special credit card like a rewards card or business card, the transaction is categorized as a mid-qualified rate.  Transactions of this type incur a higher interchange fee.

The third tier is called a non-qualified rate and is typically a further exception to the way that the credit is accepted.  For example, if the credit card number is typed into the terminal and the address verification fields (or other requested information) are not provided, this will result in this type of qualification.  A transaction can also be charged as non-qualified if the credit card acceptance terms are not followed (like not settling a daily batch within the allotted time frame).  Non-qualified transactions are charged an even higher interchange rate.

Due to the Durbin Amendment legislation (more on that later…), the 3 Tier Pricing model now only applies to standard credit cards.  Bank-debit cards (sometimes called “check cards”) are no longer affected by this tier pricing model.

ISO (Independent Service Organization)
An ISO is an organization which essentially serves as a “middle man” to process the credit card transactions through the issuing bank.  Doing such, they also get a “piece of the pie”.  Ironically, their charges are typically referred to as discount rates, add-on rates, or a passthru.  These fees are typically smaller than the interchange rates portion and, unlike interchange rates, are not regulated.  These fees can be higher or lower, dependent on the organization’s determined rates, and may be subject to negotiation.

Junk Fees
These are fees charged by the credit card processor which may be listed as annual fee, statement fee, customer service fee, or PCI compliance fee.  When choosing a credit card processor, you should try to identify these fees and negotiate these fees to as low as possible.  As you can imagine, these fees can really add up and result in a large sum of money out of your pocket on a monthly basis.

PCI Compliance
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a standard for systems which transmit credit card information to the processing agencies to reduce fraudulent transactions.  All hardware and software solutions that are used in conjunction with the transmission of credit card information should meet the compliance requirements set forth by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council.

This layer of PCI DSS regulation could impact overall fees but it is important to make sure that any solution considered meets this compliance.  PCI compliance is important to make sure that the solution that you purchase today will remain a viable solution into the future.  Companies who have verified compliance with the PCI DSS standard are easily identified on the PCI website at:

Durbin Amendment
The Durbin Amendment was a last-minute addition to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and has recently gone into effect on October 1, 2011.  This government reform had a drastic effect on the way that the interchange rate is determined for debit cards.  As with most laws, its ramifications are complicated but one of the results of this act is that it lowered processing rates on debit cards.  Although this appears that it will help merchants by lowering fees, some are skeptical that the banks may just charge higher fees in other areas to offset revenue losses.

I would recommend that you call your existing merchant account provider (or one that you are considering) and ask them about Durbin and how their rates have been adjusted.  If they are not able to provide information on adjusted rates, you may want to shop around to find a provider that will.

Unfortunately, complicated merchant account statements can help to mask the charges and fees that you are being charged.  Although it may seem like a daunting task, spending some time looking over the statement, and then asking questions about all of the fees can help to increase your understanding and limit the charges.  Don’t be afraid to negotiate to get fees reduced or eliminated.  As with many services, the threat of switching to another provider can get some results!

In Conclusion
Accepting credit cards and the associated headaches are nothing new to small business owners. Change is never easy but as a small business owner the ability to keep up with new industry developments is one of your greatest assets. 

Carlson says, “A typical coin laundry business is small and nimble enough to make changes in the way they do business, unlike larger companies that always seem to be behind the curve. It’s not just a matter of putting your head in the sand hoping that credit cards will go away—because it’s just going to get more common-place, even in the coin laundry industry. Banks and other financial companies are finding ways of getting cashless forms of payment into the hands of even the poorest among us. The ‘un-banked’ will get plastic in their pocket either through prepaid Visa cards or through direct-deposit accounts setup for monthly unemployment assistance, government medical assistance, State Aid programs, and Social Security.”

Learning about how credit cards work now sets you up to succeed. If you do decide to take the plunge and find a way to accept credit cards at your business just remember that you’re in the drivers seat—credit card programs are a commodity and somebody else is always willing to save you a few bucks, just like saving money on your car insurance.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hitting a Moving Target - Marketing Your Coin Laundry Business

Your coin laundry has been built and is in a good location. The machines are kept in working condition and the interior is clean and comfortable. The signage is proudly displayed and the doors are open! Is that enough? Perhaps that’s enough to keep the place running and the lights on but, to really keep the coin boxes (or the bank account) full, a marketing campaign is important to keep the customers coming in.

While there’s nothing better than a highly visible and well-known location, there is always room for improvement in market share and that’s where marketing can help. For those not familiar with this aspect of the business, this may seem like a daunting task and may feel like hitting a moving target. However, following a few simple guidelines can make your marketing effective and bring more people in the door.

1.         Keep it simple
You’ve heard this cliché a thousand times but in marketing, it’s really a golden rule. Advertising is based on a fleeting moment of attention. Most people have their guard up for marketing and are not interested in getting a full blown sales pitch for something that they are not interested in. A simple message, without too much detail, is the key to catching someone’s eye.

Keep your marketing copy short and concise. “Bullet points” of only a few words each are one way to ensure that message is short and sweet. Your phone number, address, hours of operation, and website are all good things to include as well.

2.         Know your audience
Who are the people who will benefit from and frequent your coin laundry? Where do they live? What forms are marketing are they already receiving? Ensure that you get the most “bang for your buck” by advertising in a location which would reach the most potential customers as possible.

Is there an ethnic group in your area which should be a focus of your marketing? Perhaps you can find a newspaper or even other location which this group of people would identify with. At the very least, adding a tagline in a different language or even other graphical elements can help you connect with this important audience.

3.         Focus on the unique
What makes your laundry better than the competition? Is it the cleanliness of your place? Is the number of large machines? Is it the convenient location? Do you offer WiFi? Do you accept credit cards? Anything that sets you apart and above the competition should be a prominent message within your advertising. Use your uniqueness to your advantage to convince people why they should frequent your location over the “other place”.

4.         Use iconic images
People’s brains make quick and easy associations and you should use this to your advantage in your advertising pieces. Don’t make them wonder what type of business you are advertising. Think of the marketing as a blip in which you have two seconds to make your point. Use iconic images, like a washing machine or laundry basket, so that people can identify what services you are providing. This, along with your business name, are important “must haves” in your design.

5.         Track effectiveness
Developing effective marketing is an ongoing process, full of trial and error. Not every marketing campaign will be a grand slam, filling your business with customers. Track every piece that you create and try to associate how effective each piece has been. Change your ad copy slightly each time. Try advertising in different locations. You don’t know what will work better if you never change your message delivery.

6.         Include an offer
There is a concept in marketing design called the “call to action”. This is the next step that the reader will take, hopefully to visit your store. One of the easiest ways to nudge the call to action along is to give the reader a clear cut reason to visit your coin laundry. A coupon or limited time offer is a great way to encourage people to get in your door.

Also, merely printing the traditional “dotted line” coupon in an advertisement will encourage people to clip the ad and keep it handy for a potential visit to your business. If you can keep your marketing in the customer’s hands, long after the newspaper has been put in the trash, you’ll have a better chance of success.

Also, if your coin laundry offers a Wash, Dry & Fold business, you may be able to offer a “Groupon” or similar coupon arrangement. ( is an Internet phenomenon in which users sign up to receive an email announcing an offer each day. The offers are usually a 50% savings from normal pricing. For example, you can offer $40 of Wash, Dry & Fold for $20. Some laundry owners have had success with this program, some have not, but it’s certainly worth considering.

Once your marketing has gone out, keep an eye on your store’s traffic. I have found that it is very easy to spot the customer that is new to your store. You will see them walk in through the front doors and pause to look around the store to find out where to start. These new customers are the fruit of your marketing labor and should be nurtured to become valuable, continued customers. If you can, spend a few extra minutes to welcome them to your location, demonstrate how to use the equipment and answer any questions that they might have. They will appreciate this touch to help them navigate the vaguely unfamiliar laundry.

These days, an article on marketing would not be complete without mentioning the Internet. Print advertising, though still important, should be complimented by a strong web presence for a complete marketing approach. The use of technology today, with items like smart phones and GPS units, allows people to find services whenever and wherever they need them. A full discussion of Internet marketing is beyond the scope of this article but it cannot be ignored in creating a complete marketing program for your business.

Using the simple guidelines outlined here can help you to create marketing which will increase your customer base. As I mentioned above, this process of marketing is much like hitting a moving target and should be an ever-changing development to see what works. Keep your marketing fresh at all times by revisiting these concepts frequently and tracking what works for your business. The right message in a good location can certainly help to keep those machines busy!

Controlling Service Costs Before You Buy

One of the ongoing challenges that every laundry owner faces is the service factor of laundry equipment.  After all, the coin laundry business is really the rental of laundry equipment.  Since that equipment is the key element of your business, keeping it up-and-running is one of the most important concerns.

Today, I’m offering some advice on how to control (or at the very least anticipate) these service costs which can be done even before you purchase your laundry equipment.  The overall objective here is to attempt to get some information on what support is available in two basic areas, warranty programs and service training.  Your commercial laundry equipment distributor is the key since the distributor typically provides both of these services.

There are generally two types of warranty which are provided for commercial laundry equipment, labor warranty and parts warranty.  It is important to understand the difference between the two types.  The labor warranty is typically a shorter period of time which is designed to “work out the kinks” of any new equipment and take care of any initial issues with the equipment.  The labor warranty covers the cost of the technician and is typically offered by the distributor, not the manufacturer.  As the purchaser of the equipment, it is beneficial to understand exactly what this labor warranty covers.  Does it cover the travel costs to your location?  Are there exceptions which are not covered?

The second type of warranty is the parts warranty.  This warranty covers a much longer period and is offered by the manufacturer of the equipment.  Admittedly, parts warranties can be confusing but it is important they are understood.  First and foremost, get a copy of the parts warranty and read it carefully, including the fine print.  Some companies don't warrant the wearable components, while other companies offer more comprehensive warranties.  Many warranties have several time periods built in for different parts of the machine.  In fact, sometimes the longest warranty periods will be advertised but these warranties are only valid for certain parts of the machine.  An extra long parts warranty on the cabinet is generally never fulfilled since the cabinet very rarely fails, even after 10 – 15 years.  A good parts warranty covers all parts in the machine, with very few exclusions (like vandalism and gross negligence).  It can take just one part not covered by warranty to more than account for a price difference in a proposal.  It is important to understand what is going to be covered so that you can factor this into the total equipment cost (and not just the price tag).

There are plenty of questions to ask relating to parts warranty.  Do the parts need to be returned?  In a tiered parts warranty, exactly what is covered under each time period?  Is there any paperwork to fill out or will your distributor handle that?  When the warranty parts are replaced by a distributor’s technician, is there any handling or other extra charges?  Also, make sure the lowest priced supplier has a comparable warranty.  Ask the questions before you buy so that you are not surprised later!

Service Training
Although there are surely instances where a trained service technician must be called in to do a repair, many of the common service issues can be solved with a little know how and a screwdriver.  The second area which you should research is the service training opportunities offered by the distributor.  When you purchase the equipment, good distributors offer ongoing service school training opportunities for their customers.  Many of these training sessions are wrapped up as a full day event of food, prizes, presentations and industry networking.  See what your distributor offers in terms of an Open House or Service Seminar for continual support of their customers.  Even if you can’t get to an Open House or Service Seminar before your purchase, a well-developed website might have video of their events available for viewing.

The best training sessions are taught directly by the manufacturer’s representative, so find out who teaches the classes.  How often are these schools held during the year?  The service technicians may also be a very good resource, since they are out there every day dealing with these service issues. Are the service technicians available on these days for one-on-one questions?  Is there any cost to attend the service school?  Attending these classes prior to buying equipment is a good way to experience the amount of distributor support that you’ll have moving forward.

In each of these areas, the most important thing is that you ask questions so that you are not surprised later.  Get to know your distributor well as they are going to be providing these services to you, either directly or as the agent between you and the manufacturer.  The more information that you can gather and understand before you purchase can alleviate frustration and confusion when you actually need the parts or service. Also visiting a bricks and mortar distributor headquarters will provide an idea of how well-established the business is and that there is a physical place you can go if you have an issue with your purchase.  Setting your expectations and understanding of the process early in the ownership process will allow you to concentrate on your day-to-day goals of making your business a success!

Social Media versus Social Reality

Okay, I am a self-professed geek.  I love gadgets, the Internet, and the use of technology to make our lives easier. At the same time, I always like to provide myself with the challenge of ensuring that new technology has a valid and proven benefit and it is not just technology for technology’s sake.  It has to have a tangible benefit to my life without being burdensome.  To me, this “reality check” is needed to validate the benefit.

It is with this exercise that I am examining the very popular social media that has been generating a lot of buzz in the media.  Here, I will present several examples of applying the underlying concept of the social marketing phenomenon in real life applications.

One of the strongest benefits of social media is making a connection with people.  Facebook and Twitter allow the user to communicate with a large number of people who have “signed up” to participate and receive the media stream into their virtual lives.  This concept of having to actively agree to receive this information is what I call “pull marketing”.  In order to get access to an audience, that audience has to agree to be a part of this system.  That’s ultimately the huge challenge with this type of marketing.

This being new technology, there is a certain level of adoption that is constantly growing.  I have to keep in mind that not everyone is as geeky as I am.  Not everyone has a smart phone (although this is quickly changing).  As a business executive, I commonly use this technology on a daily basis for the specific task of business communication.  As a casual consumer, however, I use the technology, especially social media, to be connected to my friends and family and to find out how to spend my free time to increase these social contacts.  Those are the strongest benefits to social media, hence the self-describing name.

However, for a business owner, I recognize the benefit of tapping into new advertising ideas.  Is there a way to merge the core of social marketing into the real world?  I think we can do this if we step back and look at the ways to increase our social connection to consumers.

Is social media the only (and most effective) way of connecting to people?

The local coin laundry can be perceived as a service that is offered to the community in which it is located.  Ultimately, it is providing a physical location within the community in which people can gather to gain access to equipment that helps them to perform a basic human need ― to provide clean clothing.  Many aspects of a good coin laundry include amenities to make this experience more comfortable.  A clean atmosphere, comfortable seating and some sort of entertainment are among these items.

Can we expand the development of a comfortable location for other purposes?  Is there a way that we could get people to congregate at our coin laundry for a more social purpose?  A Single Parents Night at your laundry could offer a free single load of laundry to single parents while simultaneously offering a social connecting point in the community.  To potentially expand on this idea, there is a webpage called ( that could provide ideas on all kinds of groups that connect with regular meetings.

Also, perhaps a special customer appreciation day could be organized to provide a social meeting atmosphere.  It would be very easy and relatively inexpensive to set up a grill in your parking lot and provide free hot dogs and snacks to your patrons.  Is there an acoustic musical act that is looking for exposure in your area? If your location is visible and accessible (and I hope it is!), passersby could easily see this event and stop by to get to know your laundry.

Although social media outlets provide a way to reach out to new customers, the primary use is to communicate with customers who have already signed up to “like” or “follow” you.  In most cases, these are existing customers.  And not all of your customers are following your posts on the Internet.  Perhaps a better way to communicate with people who are in your store as customers is to post information within the store itself.  By displaying signage in your store explaining different aspects in which you connect with the community, you have the potential to communicate with 100% of your current patrons!

At the recent Clean show in Las Vegas, the CLA sponsored a session in which coin laundry owners discussed their marketing efforts, Upfront and Online: Leading Store Owners Discuss e-Marketing.  In this session, Texas coin laundry owner Louise Messano explained how she used social media to keep in touch with her customers.  When the area suffered a fire in their community, Louise organized a clothing donation campaign.  To me, this is an excellent idea than transcends social media and extends into real life.  The announcement on social media sites is not the main point here, only a small vehicle of promotion of this campaign.  The important fact is that Louise connected to her community and worked with her patrons to supply help.  A campaign like this could easily be promoted to the people that are in your store everyday with signage within the store itself.  There is no doubt that social media is a good way to promote your message and marketing but the important thing is to actually do something to connect with the customers.

What other success stories are out there in the social media phenomenon?  I am wondering if, at the heart of every social media success story, there is a real life social event that is the bigger connection between the successful laundry store owner and their everyday customers.  The beauty about the Internet is that these ideas are now out there in plain view for all to see.  As a business owner, you have the advantage of finding those campaigns and making them reality in your own store.

Social media and Internet marketing is a new way to reach out to your customers, and I am by no means suggesting that you don’t try and leverage this new technology.  If you are adding this type of marketing to your business, you are no doubt ahead of the curve and on the bleeding edge of your marketing efforts.  It can be done for little or no costs, only your time.  Keep doing it and I am sure you will reap the benefits.  However, don’t get trapped in the media buzzwords and loose track of what is happening in your “bricks and mortar” business.  Make sure that your marketing efforts include a social connection to your customers in the real world for maximum benefits!

"I Love Providing This Service" - Former Restaurateur Builds Successful Laundry Chain in Western Pennsylvania

Louie Tsiris left his small hometown village in Greece in 1974 to come to America.  When he arrived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, he had only a suitcase full of clothes and $250 to his name.  He spoke very little English and started working in a restaurant business that his brother had established in the western Pennsylvania town.  Only six months later, his brother left the business with Louie in charge.  Tsiris worked hard in this business and created a livelihood which would serve as a base for his respectable and lucrative career.

In 1983, Tsiris moved to Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania and opened an Italian restaurant in this small college town.  He will tell you that the restaurant business can provide some nice profits but represents long days of hard work.  “I had twenty five people working for me but I found that I had to schedule two people for every one that would actually show up.  When somebody called off, guess who had to work for them?”

Back then, Tsiris would work 60-70 hours a week and, at one time, worked a full three and a half years without taking any vacation.  “After a while in the restaurant business, I found that I couldn’t remember what my kids looked like,” he explained.  “There were a lot of headaches.”

The restaurant in Slippery Rock had a basement area that he wanted to use for another potential business.  Acting on the recommendation of a food deliveryman, Tsiris connected with an equipment distributor and decided to open a coin laundry in this space.  He went into business with this individual, who as his partner, could help with the capital investment – and the rest, as they say, is history.

The initial Slippery Rock Laundromat was the springboard for Tsiris’ successful coin laundry career.  The college residents in town provided an instant customer base of patrons who needed to do their laundry.  “There were plenty of college students here who needed to do their laundry and the laundry business was very profitable.  With a low vend price (by today’s standards), I could make quite a decent profit.”

With his initial laundry doing well, Tsiris looked to expand his laundry business, and leave the busy and tiring restaurant business altogether.  So, in 1991, he ventured out on his own, purchasing a laundromat in Butler, Pennsylvania.  “Most of my friends thought I was crazy with the location I’d chosen, but it remains one of our most profitable stores,” he said.  Thus began his coin laundry empire in western Pennsylvania.

Over the next fifteen years, Tsiris and his wife, Beth, developed five more coin laundry locations until they owned a total of seven coin laundries in western Pennsylvania.  The laundries cover a vast area, with stores which are one hour to the north and one hour southwest of their home in Slippery Rock.  Only recently, did they sell one of the laundries in Kittanning, PA, still leaving them with six profitable locations.

In 1999, Tsiris sold the restaurant in Slippery Rock, but continues to run the basement laundry to this day.  In fact, less than a year ago, he bought out his partner to own all of the laundries himself. 

These days, Tsiris spends two days a week collecting the coins from his laundries.  Beth handles the paperwork and management of the stores.  Louie said he loves the flexibility of the few hours spent working in the coin laundry business, especially when compared to his bustling restaurant business of his past.  “I work probably half the amount of hours, and I manage seven laundromats pretty much by myself – and I don’t have any problems keeping up with it,” he said.  “I love every minute of this business.  One of the best things is that the machines never talk back!” 

Two of the laundries that the Tsiris family purchased were existing stores; however, the others were different businesses that Louie remodeled.  “When I started my first laundry, it was a vacant building and I was so excited to get in there and wear my old dirty clothes and remodel the whole building,” he remembered.

The western Pennsylvania area is unique.  The area is covered with rolling hills and large tracts of land between the cities.  Most of the towns there were booming steel towns, when that business was in its heyday.  These days, the cities are comprised of the sprawling suburbs that epitomize middle-class America.  “Those who come into my lundromats are middle-income people, with a lot of elderly customers.  I enjoy having them as customers.”

One of the particular challenges that Tsiris faces is that many of his customers are resistant to change.  All of his coin laundries are unattended, and the introduction of some of today’s modern equipment has been a definite challenge.  “I use mostly top loaders for my single load washers,” he explained.  “People here are used to these machines, and changing their ways can be difficult.  The new front loaders are good machines due to their efficiency, but I have had a hard time introducing them.  As for card systems, forget about it.  People here are used to using coins.”

In fact, only recently has the concept of enhanced cycles been introduced in Tsiris’ laundries.  Equipment Marketers, Louie’s Maytag equipment distributor, has convinced him to offer this feature on his newest equipment.  “In my last purchase of Maytag top loaders, we activated the Super Cycle,” he explained.  “Yesterday, I saw a customer come in, and he used four washers and the Super Cycle in every one of them.  The profit is good because it costs me only about 7 cents, and I collect an extra quarter.”

Since dealing with Equipment Marketers, Louie also travels all the way across Pennsylvania to visit the distributor’s Trade Show which they hold in May in New Jersey.  “I go to the Spring Trade Show and I really find a benefit there.  They show you how to service your machines, how you maintain your machines and the staff from Equipment Marketers, they are a big help to us.  The food is terrific and we look forward to the trip each year.”

All in all, Tsiris couldn’t be happier with his decision to invest in the coin laundry business, and he sees a bright future for the industry.  “I believe that the future of the laundry is going to be good because of the economy, the cost of buying equipment for housing, and the high cost of utilities,” he predicted.  “These days, young people both have to work, and I think everyone goes to the laundry at some point.  I’m glad to be in this business, and I love providing this service for the community.”

Click here for a website video featuring Louie Tsiris and his western Pennsylvania coin laundry business:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Marketing Your Laundry Through Social Media

One of the biggest advantages social media offers to the laundry owner is a personal connection to the store. A good social media site can “paint a picture” of the coin laundry that the user can identify with. Whether they are a current customer or not, successful content on a social media site will create a user experience that corresponds closely with the actual human experience of visiting the store. This will allow the user to achieve a comfort level with the laundry, a key aspect that every good laundry owner strives to achieve.

By providing information on the equipment and amenities, hours of operation, photos of the exterior and interior, or even video footage of the store, the owner has the possibility of shaping that all-important first impression of the laundromat. By doing so, a new customer can confidently walk into a store and at least have a vague idea of what to expect.

After the customer has visited the laundry, social media can continue to build on the relationship with the customers by giving them that same sense of comfort and ownership that most laundry owners like to demonstrate in their stores. Posts by other users can be evaluated and shared as part of the user experience. After patronizing the laundry, users can now fully identify with photographs taken of the store.

Probably the most important way the owner can use social media to connect with the customers is by offering discounts or specials, which are only available on the social media sites. Everyone likes to feel as if they have a “special deal.” When the offer is only accessed by a select set of customers who participate in the social media experience, it strengthens the bond of the personal connection between the owner and establishment.

Where to Start

I would suggest laundry owners begin by making sure that their businesses are represented on the Internet. Google Places makes sense as a first stop, since such a large number of Internet searches are initiated by this search engine. Making sure that Google has the “complete picture” of your business is a good bet. Start with simple information like address, hours and services offered.

Once this is complete, I would visit Yelp and see if your business is listed there. You may already find your business (potentially with reviews), and you can “claim your business” to add user information.

Once those basics items are completed, I would suggest gathering some photos or even simple video of your store. These items can then be added to the above pages to embellish your basic listings.

A next step would be developing a Facebook page for your business. Recent changes to the Facebook policy allow a business listing to have user comments posted directly on the “wall,” making it much more valuable to the user. If Facebook develops this experience properly, it could be a very useful feature for both owner and customer alike. Once your Facebook page is created, make sure that you can establish links with as many “friends” as possible by spreading the word. Also, post a sign in the laundry that your business is on Facebook.

If you are able to get some video of your store, it would be worthwhile to open a YouTube account and post your video there. In the description area, be sure to include the name and location of your laundry. The description field here can lead to people finding you through YouTube as well.

The bottom line to increasing your Internet presence is to list your business in as many popular sites as possible to make sure your name can be found by random Internet searches.