By Bob Eisenberg | Oct 14, 2009
Recently, I read with great interest – but no surprise – an article in a New England city’s newspaper that they were celebrating being able to deny a permit for a new laundromat in town after a year-long battle. This has been a challenge for our industry for at least the last 30 years that I have been in this business. It’s the misconception by town officials and landlords as to what we do and the services we perform.
To be frank, they have some cause for their concerns. Although we know that the self-service laundry industry has changed over the last 20-plus years, there is still a large percentage of coin laundries that are old, rundown and just not in very good shape – who would want that in their shopping center or their community?
Most communities and landlords have a “vision” of what they want – and they all want Starbucks! We have to adjust their vision and enlighten them about our many benefits.
Every time I approach a township for zoning or permits or meet with an unwilling landlord, I am always “armed” with industry statistics; I know I’ll have to sell them on the concept of the benefits of a newer, nicer, well-equipped, well-run laundry – a business that is a good tenant and a credit to the community, providing a necessary service. I always travel with photos of stores that we have built, which usually opens their eyes.
What are the rest of the arguments?
To a township:
• Laundries provide a necessary service to residents who don’t have washing machines at home. In addition, our facilities are helpful to homeowners with large families that want to save time doing laundry, as well as to those who need a clean, safe place to wash larger items, such as comforters, blankets, sleeping bags and so on.
• Typically, laundries can save a community millions of gallons of water annually. A new self-service laundry in town will not create new laundry – it will only redistribute the laundry currently being washed in older, less-energy-efficient machines (in most cases). Recently, a client and I met with the mayor of a town in Pennsylvania, and we demonstrated that, in their 30-washer/32-dryer store, we could save the town more than two million gallons of water annually. I also use this argument to reduce, or eliminate in some cases, sewer hook-up fees, which can be very expensive in some communities.
• For those families who do not want to even do their laundry, laundromats typically offer a wash-dry-fold service, thereby outsourcing another household chore, similar to mowing the lawn, washing the car, oil changes, etc. It’s a natural progression in our ever-changing, fast-paced life.
To a landlord:
• Most tenants want short-term leases, and tenant turnover is inevitable. In fact, some businesses with only shelves on the walls can sometimes “vanish” in the middle of the night. It leaves landlords continually looking for new tenants and with a loss of cash flow. By contrast, a laundry is a stable, long-term tenant. Most laundromats have hundreds of thousands of dollars buried in the ground, invested in the landlord’s property – and the laundry operators will pay rent faithfully for years and years, protecting that investment. I always try to negotiate at least a 20-year lease of some sort, with all of the rent increases negotiated up front. It is a long-term consistent cash flow for the landlord and will increase the value of the shopping center.
• A laundromat is a weekly, repetitive, bought-on-convenience business, just like a supermarket, which is the only other business I know that will bring back customers on a regular weekly basis. Most customers do their laundry once a week, just like their grocery shopping. But, unlike a supermarket, laundry customers have time on their hands and will patronize the other businesses within the shopping center – a self-service laundry will become the anchor or sub-anchor in every center.
Of course, there are many communities that have new, well-equipped, well-run laundromats that have already changed the opinions of that community and their landlords. But it still frustrates me that after all these years it’s still a challenge in too many communities.
Over the past few years, the Coin Laundry Association has embarked on a very effective public relations campaign to improve the public’s perception of the retail, self-service laundry business. From these efforts, we have seen many positive articles in the mainstream media, such as Ladies Home Journal, etc., with tips for laundering and opening the public’s eyes to Laundromats.
It’s a great start, but we still have a long way to go. This is our industry, and we should always fight to improve our public image. Incidentally, the result of that fight will not only increase public awareness, but should also increase our business – a nice added incentive.