The Complete Marketing & Sales Guide for Linen Service & Uniform Rental Companies
As you probably already know, the linen service and uniform rental industry is exceedingly competitive with razor-slim margins. In every market, you will have multiple competitors from the small multigenerational family oriented company to the huge public corporations. It can seem impossible to stand out, especially with the limited time and budget you have to work with. At Infinite Laundry, we specialize in one thing, helping linen and uniform rental companies grow. Over the years, we have spent countless hours and a great deal of money in search of the perfect way to market companies in this industry. As Thomas Edison once said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways not to make a lightbulb.” This rings true for us as we have found 10,000 ways not to market your company, as well as a few techniques that consistently produce huge profits. Through sweat, blood, tears, and many sleepless nights Infinite Laundry has found the 10,000 ways not to market your company as well as the few golden nuggets of how to successfully grow your business. Interested in seeing what we discovered… then read on for marketing gold!
Understanding How to Market Your Linen Service
To start let’s go back to marketing 101 with terms like attention, receptivity, and point of market entry. It is critical to understand how your potential customers think, and then be able to capture their attention in hopes of eventually turning them into paying clients.
For the most part, your current customers do not think about your business. Customers are busy running their restaurant, hotel, salon, auto shop, hospital, spa, etc. so as long as the right linen and uniforms are delivered on time every week they are just fine stroking you a check each month. When it comes to generating new business we have to keep this in mind as well. If a busy restaurant owner is currently happy with their linen service, they will not be looking for a new one. A basic rule of human nature to remember when it comes to marketing is that people have a limited amount of attention. We only apply our attention on what we think is important at this specific moment and for your current and future customers, their attention is mainly focused on one thing, running their own business.
Keeping in mind that your target market has a very limited attention because they are hardworking business owner’s; receptivity becomes extremely important. Receptivity is how open potential customers are to what you have to offer as their situation changes over time. Most potential customers are preoccupied when you try to reach them to tell them about how great your company is, which means you have to stand out enough to take their attention off their current task. Here is a simple example. Imagine your company is trying to generate new business and is offering an amazing deal to new customers. To promote this great deal, you send out a mailer to all the hotel general managers in your service area. Your mailer will go straight into the trash if they are in the middle of dealing with an angry customer, finding a new manager to hire, and coming up with a way to reduce costs all within the next hour. However, if your mailer were to be conveniently placed in front of them at the same time their current linen service increases their prices by 15% you will almost certainly get a call to hear more about your great deal.
Even if you are able to reach a potential customer when they are receptive to what you have to offer it’s not enough. As we discussed before, your customers are busy and have a very limited amount of attention. This makes it crucial to have something that catches their eye when a customer actually gives you a few seconds of their attention. If there is nothing that stands out to the potential customer, then all your company will get is a quick glance before they move on. Make these pivotal brief seconds count by standing out with something that grabs their attention. Seeing just your company name doesn’t make you worth any more of their time, however if you include the text “100% on time delivery guaranteed” a customer may be intrigued and read on, especially if their current service is unreliable. The key is getting your customers attention in the initial second they give you. When it comes to marketing in the linen and uniform service industry you either stand out or die. Be aggressive in your design and content!
Congratulations, you created a great way to stand out and you have earned another 15 seconds of your potential customer’s attention. Now with these precious 15 seconds you have one goal; get your customer to visualize how great their life will be if they work with your company. People are simple, if they can visualize how something will make them look cool or help make their life easier then they will purchase it. Focus on how you will benefit them specifically not how great your company is. Potential customers do not care if your company has been around for 100 years or because you have shiny new trucks, instead focus on how you can save them money or reduce their stress. There is a big difference between the COO of a hospital reading, “We are family owned” and “We deliver quality clean linen on time every time”. The first statement means very little for the COO but the second statement makes it clear that your business will make his life easier and his hospital better.
Now that we have their full attention it’s time to get them to act. If you get a potential customer’s attention by standing out and have them visualizing how much you will improve their life then give them a simple action to take. It should be easy and straightforward such as, “Call Us at (888) 888-888 to Learn More” or “Visit Us Online at www.awesomelinenservice.com”. By having them take this step, you are leading them towards converting and becoming a new customer. If you do not include this, they will not know what to do and most likely move on.
At this point, we are getting close to making a sale, but there is one thing to keep in mind. Will this customer be good for your business? Most businesses just assume any customer is a good customer but this is simply not true. If a customer argues with every charge or never seems to pay on time they are not worth the time and stress you will have to pour into the relationship. The customer is taking the time to decide if you are going to be the right fit for them and you should do the same. Don’t be afraid to turn away business or cut off bad business. An hour spent arguing with a current customer could prevent you from working on a great way to attract 100 new customers.
Assuming the customer is a good fit for your business it’s time to close. Whether you’re a business with 1000 sales reps or the owner is the sales rep there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is that you need to build a relationship with this customer for the long term. Be straightforward about what you can offer and what they should expect from you. Sure, being sneaky about charges can get you a bump in initial sales, but over time those customers will both stop working with you and tarnish your reputation. If you want to be in business for more than a few years, be honest and build a sense of trust with your customers. The second thing to keep in mind is a major error that most companies make when it comes to closing the deal. They shove a 5-year agreement in front of the customer and tell them to sign on the line that is dotted. Instead of jumping right into finalizing the sale, take some time and ask questions about THEIR business. Expressing a genuine interest in the potential customer’s business not only shows them that you truly care and want to help them succeed but also gives you the opportunity to improve the service you provide them. Neil Rackham’s book SPIN Selling has great insight into building customer relationships while closing deals. He describes the 4 stages of successful selling. Stage 1 is understanding the customer’s unique situation and asking them questions to see how your solution will fit what they need. Stage 2 is defining and framing the client’s current problem so both you and they clearly understand it. Stage 3 is describing the short and long term issues that will arise if the problem is not solved. Stage 4 is where everything comes full circle and you clearly describe how working with your company will not only fix the issue but improve the potential customer’s life as a whole. If you are able to follow these stages not only will you close more deals, you will develop healthy and longstanding relationships with your customers. The third thing to keep in mind is the next best alternative for your customer. By knowing and understanding your customers next best alternative, you can frame your offer to exceed any other offers they receive. Don’t assume that you are the only company they are speaking with (because most likely you’re are not). Make sure you know what your competitors are offering and make your proposal stand out.
Hopefully, you have been thinking about how this applies to your business and have recognized a few “easy wins”. In closing, always try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand their pain points as well as what is valuable to them. If you are able to truly understand your customers and then apply that to your marketing and sales, you will immediately start to see your business’s bottom line and reputation improve. The difference between success and failure in this industry is not just understanding weekly multiples, revenue per pound, shortage, inventory billing, under-wash, and systematic/automatic replacement it is about understanding your customers, standing out, giving them a simple action to take, and proving an offer better than any alternative.
Ways to Market Your Linen Service or Uniform Rental Company
There are hundreds of ways to market your linen service or uniform rental company, so to prevent this from turning into a novel longer than War and Peace, I am going to provide an overview of three popular ways linen and uniform service companies are marketing today: Gorilla marketing, online marketing, and referrals. Through our years of providing marketing services for textile rental and uniform service companies, we have seen firsthand the good, bad, and ugly of each method of marketing. To save your company countless hours of wasted time and thousands or millions of lost advertising dollars I suggest you read on.
Let’s start with one of the most traditional forms of marketing, print marketing. As previously discussed it is imperative to initially get your customers attention and when it comes to print materials it is pivotal to have an effective and colorful design. Black and white flyers with only text don’t get a second glance but colorful photos instantly grab a person’s attention. Once the image grabs the person’s attention then you need to provide them with a simple message and callout describing the next step they should take. Another issue that you must address with print marketing is who to target. Since print marketing is mostly outbound, you are pushing your message on people that might not even be potential customers. This makes it nearly impossible to get people attention when they are preoccupied with other tasks and most likely are not interested in what you have to offer anyways. To solve this, you have to think outside of the box. You could create an awesome ad, print it out and place it on 10,000 windshields at the mall and most likely all you will accomplish is providing the local landfill with 10,000 new sheets of paper. The better approach would be to create an ad targeting a specific group of people. For example, create a high-quality ad targeting your current customers that promotes upgrading their plan to include floor mats as well. Then simply staple this to the back of the customer’s statements that you give them. As long as the promotion you offer on the mats is strong and the ad is high quality all of the customers will, at least, glance over it. Instead of printing 10,000 wasteful ads you will print 500 and generate new sales from great existing customers. The second issue with print marketing is if it is done incorrectly it can diminish your brand by creating a reputation of being cheap and annoying. The way to combat this is to only use high-quality materials and designs. Spend the extra money to have a professional design done and print out your advertisements on quality paper. By creating an expertly designed high-quality ad and effectively targeting the right audience, you can generate an increase in sales without incurring much cost.
The second form of marketing we are going to cover is online marketing and it has by far the most upside to grow your business. Online marketing is huge and includes things like SEO, PPC, and social media. I’m going to be blunt here but it is the truth, any company that does not have an online marketing strategy and does not plan on utilizing the internet to grow their business will not survive the next 10-15 years. The linen service and uniform rental industry is very old and I know there are people who still think selling the same way their great-grandfather did back in 1910 will keep the business open, but unfortunately this is not the world we live in today. Assuming you understand the importance of online marketing there are a few questions you need to answer.
The first question you should ask is if you can handle your digital presence and online marketing in house or should you hire an outside agency to manage it for you. The days, when buying a domain from GoDaddy and creating a simple site with text and a few images and expecting that to generate business are gone. This is similar to purchasing a storefront in the middle of the desert and expecting customers to show up. Your website will be lost to page 1000 on Google search and no one will ever see it. Also, the advertising platforms online are complex and ignorance will cost you real money. I have seen people try to advertise online in Los Angeles but their ads are actually showing in New York. So unless you want to hire a new employee that specializes in this I suggest you hire an agency. Agency’s will be less money and have a better understanding of the intricacies of how to grow your business through online marketing.
Assuming you are going the agency route, the next question you need to ask yourself is which agency to work with. There are tens of thousands of agencies across the US and Canada and all of them will promise to deliver you great results, however only a handful of them actually have the know how to fulfill their promise. To separate the wheat from the chaff, you should determine if the agency you are considering working with knows these things. 1) They should understand your specific industry. An agency that markets for any industry does not provide a great service because they do not understand what is valuable in your industry. 2) They should have the proper certifications such as Google AdWords Certifications and Bing Ads Certification. Anyone can say they are an expert but these certifications show that they must have at least a basic understanding of how online marketing works. 3) The agency should be very open about what you are paying for and what they are going to deliver for you. The agency should set up specific goals and track them to prove to you that you are getting your money’s worth.
Now that you have someone managing the online marketing aspect of your company there is one thing you should focus on and that is generating great reviews to improve your business’s reputation online. This can be handled by simply having your drivers ask for positive reviews when they deliver the linen or uniforms. These positive reviews are often times the difference between getting a phone call from a potential customer or having them move on to a competitor with better reviews.
A great way to bring on high-quality customers and grow your business is through referrals. If you have ever seen the film Glengarry Glen Ross then you will understand when I tell you referrals are the “the Glengarry leads”. Create the expectation with new customers that referrals are something that your business expects from them. Also, creating a referral program that provides value to the person providing the referral lead is a great way to encourage people to provide you with high-quality referral contacts. Also, don’t leave your drivers out of the program! Give them incentives to generate good leads and if those leads turn into customers reward them for it. Referrals are powerful because they are very inexpensive if not free and they create quality leads that have the potential to turn into great customers. Skipping out on referrals is throwing money away.
Now It’s Your Turn! Develop A Marketing & Sales Strategy That Fits Your Linen or Laundry Service
The best strategy in the world means nothing if you don’t apply it. My hope is that you have changed the way you look at marketing your laundry service and how you try to reach new customers. The simple fact is that the successful companies take the time to understand their customers which allows them to keep their current customers happy and easily connect with new customers.
At Infinite Laundry, we specialize in one thing, helping linen service and uniform rental companies grow. That simple straightforward approach has allowed us to help countless companies around the United States and Canada over the years. If you are interested in seeing how we can help your company grow to give me a call 954-947-1444.
More great marketing tips and tricks to come! Please share and comment to let me know what you would like to see next.
January 28, 2016