I usually write my industry outlook during the start of the year. In 2020, I predicted the continuous upswing of tourism, the return of glass bottle washing, and the slower growth of laundromats.

And then COVID-19 happened.

This year, instead of forecasting what will happen, let me focus on what is now more important for entrepreneurs and professionals in the industry: opportunities and how to seize them.

The pandemic has been a double whammy that resulted to almost 71% of MSME businesses temporarily closing, according to the Asian Development Bank in September 2020. The laundry and sanitation sector, where players have been reliant on the hotel, school, and urban residential markets, has been deeply impacted. Many of us in the industry know colleagues who were laid off, furloughed, had closed shop, and – regrettably – had lost their lives due to the Coronavirus.

But there is hope in 2021. Tourism destinations like Mabini (Batangas), Tagaytay and Baguio are gradually welcoming leisure visitors with caution. Companies that have implemented work-from-home schemes are slowly calling on their employees to return to the office, which will drive back demand in apartments vacated by occupants who went back to the provinces. The education sector could be next albeit it might take a while.

Here are four of the many opportunities I see we can capitalize upon this year:

Increase Value-Added Services

You may not know it, but customers are often looking for laundry-related services in your shop which you still might not be offering. That is lost opportunity. Is your business offering the same menu of services as your competitor next door?

There is a good technique in building more services. Interrelated services are like an onion. In laundry, the core service (core of an onion) is wash – that’s the essential offer. What layers support the core? One layer of the onion is drying. People who wash their clothes need drying services. Other layers can be folding, pick-up, and delivery. People are willing to pay more for those. What other layers of the onion (i.e. services) could support the core that would make sense for customers? How about sewing/mending and delicate wash? Be creative and make sure you add value.

Read next: 7 signs of a failing laundry business

Tap New Markets

Before COVID-19, laundry shop owners, by default, have implemented a strategy we call in business school as marketing penetration. Here, you expand to your existing client base the same products/services. This is no surprise since the growth of the laundromat sector has banked on the fact that the market is big enough for many players to come in. However, COVID-19 has shrank that traditional hotel & residential market – while some (schools) have literally ceased existence.

Laundry shop owners now need a new strategy called market development – offering the same services but to an entirely different sector the business has not tapped before. Focus on the essential sectors: healthcare, industrial, and foodservice. The challenge with market development though is unfamiliarity and marketing investment – shifting to a new catered market is not a walk in the park and requires a smart strategy.

Embrace Digital Marketing

Late last year, we hosted a training session on digital marketing for laundry business owners. You’d be surprised that some business owners have not yet embracing the Internet as a marketing tool.

The truth is, people search for laundry shops via Google.

Take this chart for example. This shows the results from Google Trends on when the keyword “open laundry shop near me” has been most popular. Can you take a guess? The peak popularity periods were March 15 to April 4 – during the initial weeks of the Philippines’ lockdown. Customers were scrambling to find laundry shops which were available to wash their clothes.

Disclaimer: 100 means peak popularity of the term, not necessarily the number of searches. Meanwhile, zero refers to insufficient data and does not mean lack of searches. Source: Google Trends

There are shops who gained new customers during the lockdown – and shops who lost loyal clients. Business owners who have not yet thought of fixing their Google Business Page, Facebook, or website are missing out on the opportunities extended by digital platforms.

As employees go back to Metro Manila from the provinces and look for new apartments – will they be able to search for your business when they type in “laundry shop near me”?

Read next: How to prevent an outbreak – a comprehensive checklist for hotels, restaurants & facilities

Gain Back the Customer’s Confidence

Customers have set high expectations on businesses, including laundry shops, during the pandemic. The bar on cleanliness and sanitation standards has been exceptionally raised. People expect you to follow at least the minimum IATF protocols on health and safety. But beyond this, you can set your laundry shop apart by effective disinfection during the wash process. The length of time a virus stays on fabric is wide-ranging, according to this article by New York Times, but people who want to be extra sure that their clothes have been washed and cleaned thoroughly will appreciate your effort to give them that comfort. Make sure you know in what stage of the wash you put disinfection and what chemical to use.

For questions, email me at editor@isitcleanph.com.