By Dan Marrazzo | Apr 15, 2009
This fall, I had the opportunity to purchase an existing laundry close to my house, and in an up-scale neighborhood without competition. However, far from being a “trophy store” with hundreds of machines, this was a 1,200-square-foot “antique.” To make it even less desirable, the machinery was more than 25 years old, with the dust and mechanical problems to prove it.
The gem in this trash pile was a great following of wash-dry-fold customers who were well taken care of by the previous owners. The people who used the service were willing to pay for the service if they could get their clothes returned in a timely manner.
With the restraints of the store size, a new mix of machinery was ordered to replace all of the utility-hungry relics currently in place. On the first day of ownership, the store was emptied and the drain modifications were started. The existing water supplies were reusable and a new manifold was fabricated for the larger washers. At the same time provisions were made to pour concrete for the new frontloaders. The dryers were vented into a common duct, which required extending for the additional dryer load. The existing dryer electric looked to be sufficient and minor wire changes were necessary to accommodate the additional machines. The gas service had all but three outlets, which necessitated a small manifold extension without the need for a pipe-threader.
The next day involved the placement of concrete in the 2 x 8 forms using half-inch reinforcing rods and epoxy to anchor the new slab to the existing floor slab. In order to speed the installation process, an add mixture was added to the concrete that allowed it to gain its maximum strength in minimum time. This same mixture is used in bridge construction and can be ordered from the concrete supplier. The forms can be striped the same day and layout is done on the new slab.
At this same time, wire extensions were installed to allow the future placement of the new dryers. When all of the mechanics were complete in the dryer alley, the duct was extended with inlets placed in the ductwork before it was hung, saving time from cutting when there was little access room to work.
At this juncture of the job, we have all of the preliminary wiring complete for both the washers and dryers. The gas flex lines are hanging in place, and the duct inlets are cut into the trunk waiting for the placement of the new machines. The washer hoses and all of the drain inlets are in place awaiting the final placement of the washers. This is a key provision that saves hours – and sometimes days – in the installation process. This is the equivalent of installing a new electrical outlet in your house before drywall, versus after the wallpaper and paint are complete.
On the sixth day, we took the time to drywall over the wood paneling and build soffits using steel studs for weight and to save time. Minor walls were built in the same fashion to accommodate a new change machine and dryer access. The spackle process requires three days before painting, so we were sure to complete the drywall at the same time to allow for a finished wall system by Day 10.
Our distributor was helpful in delivering the new machinery early the next day to allow us sufficient time to install it in the store. When the concrete was poured, we placed the anchor bolts in wooden racks to preclude later drilling and epoxy placement of these anchor bolts. This will again save installation time only if you follow the first rule of carpentry – “measure twice and cut once.” The machines were installed completely, one by one. This involves the wire connection, the drain hose, the water connections, and the lid is replaced before the second machine is entertained. This saves the time of having to work in a tight space created by all of the machines bolted in place at one time.
Conversely, the dryers are placed all at the same time – and the gas, electric and ducts are connected once they are all in place. This is made an easier installation because of sufficient space provided in the dryer alley behind the machines.
On the last day, we installed a ceramic floor only in the main aisle, where traffic is the heaviest. It was grouted the following day as we reopened the doors to an awaiting crowd of past customers. And the comments about the “before” and “after” store were worth the price of admission. We were met with positive comments of amazement and appreciation.
We did business from that day on, completing all of the loose ends from paint touch-up to the final floor installation while the store was open. Saving these tasks for later allows you to continue making money at the same time you continue to renovate the laundry. Proper and complete machinery installation is imperative for safety and sanity, but the remaining tasks are a possibility while the store makes money and shows itself off to the public.
I think there are many existing laundry owners who find themselves in a variation of the store described here. At today’s elevated rates of gas, electric, sewer, water and competition, you are not able to compete and maximize profits with an old toploader store with antiquated dryers. You are in a NASCAR race using a fuel-guzzling Model A.
The excuse of being closed too long and losing your customer base has just evaporated. If you prolong this metamorphosis, you will lose them anyway. With the proper notification, your customers will understand and appreciate what you are doing for them. You will be justly rewarded.
As of this writing, all of the machines in this store are operating. Our wash-dry-fold business is on the rise, and we have yet to even place our first advertisement.
You may want consider a similar renovation soon… it’s much more rewarding than a “For Sale” sign.