By Bob Nieman | Apr 16, 2009
Scott Darnell recently had a pool installed in his backyard.
“And we’ve got a nice gazebo and a pond, too,” said the owner of Scotty D’s Laundromat in Uniontown, Pa. “I enjoy just being at the house, sitting by that pool. I’ve never really done a lot of that.”
As a mover for United Van Lines, he’s never had the time to stop and smell the roses… much less the chlorine.
“I’ve been a mover for 28 years,” Darnell explained. “I own my own truck, and it keeps me on the road more than 300 days a year. But, about a year ago, I started to get tired of being out there all the time. I decided that I wanted to begin winding down. My son, Scotty, is getting older. He’s 19, and he’ll be able to take over this truck eventually.”
Part of Darnell’s plan to transform himself from road warrior to homebody included the opening of Scotty D’s.
“I’ve had to do my laundry on the road all my life,” he said. “Something that I always liked was a nice, clean laundromat. Plus, I saw it as a good, simple way to make money. You don’t need to have an Einstein degree to run one.”
But you do need a solid location.
And Darnell thinks he found one in the 50- by 100-foot former garage in Uniontown that dates back to 1940. With the size of the building he purchased, Darnell realized that he could run more than just a self-service laundry out of there. As a result, he decided to dedicate 1,500 square feet to Scotty D’s Laundromat, while turning over 1,500 square feet to a separate venture named after his 23-year-old daughter, called Jolene’s Post, Pack & Ship – which is a shipping and business center, much like a FedEx or Kinko’s location.
“I’ve got an additional 2,000 square feet in the back that still looks like a garage, and there is a second floor with another 2,000 square feet up there,” Darnell said. “With the Post, Pack & Ship business, we also are a U-Haul dealer through that business, so I’m planning to make some storage lockers all through that other 2,000 square feet in the back. Upstairs, I don’t have anything but storage yet, but down the road, I think it would make a nice apartment.”
Darnell owns the building and the two acres it sits on. But that’s not all.
“I also bought four houses that are directly across the street,” he said. “Basically, I bought the whole block here. For $225,000, I bought the houses and this property. It all boils down to where you live. That’s a lot of money here, but you couldn’t buy a lot in California for that.”
Of course, when it comes to buying real estate, a good price often comes with a lot of elbow grease. That was certainly the case with Darnell’s purchase.
Darnell had two contractors working on the renovation project of the future Scotty D’s from January 2008 to the end of May.
“They had a lot to do,” he explained. “Basically, we were starting from scratch. We had to install a two-inch water line. In fact, all of the utilities needed to be upgraded. It was quite a job. Again, it was just a big garage.”
Fortunately, Darnell said he received a lot of guidance from his local distributor, Fran DeJulia at Alco Washer Center.
“Fran gave me a layout of the machines,” Darnell said. “He offered his opinions as to how he would design this laundry, based on how I wanted to utilize this entire building. He also helped me to set my eventual vend pricing.”
The five-month retrofit project cost Darnell $78,000 for the buildout itself – and another $112,000 for the laundry equipment.
Next, Darnell turned his attention to the second business – Jolene’s Post, Pack & Ship, which opened its doors in August. But Darnell still wasn’t done. After all, he still had four houses to account for.
“One of the houses was already rented when I bought it,” he said. “We put a deck on it and painted it. My contractor is currently working on the house next to it now. I got a $35,000 loan because it needed to be completely gutted – new windows, new roof, everything.”
Darnell has decided to tear down the third of the four houses because it is in such poor shape. As for the fourth house, he plans to get to work renovating it, once he finishes revamping the second one and is able to find a tenant for it.
“Everybody around here is pretty tickled because these were old, dilapidated buildings. I’ve spruced it all up. Nice paint jobs. I’ve cut the grass and taken care of the landscaping. We’ve put in flowers. The locals love it.”
Scotty D’s Laundromat is located in an historic section of Pennsylvania, along the National Pike, which is part of the famed U.S. Highway 40 – and not far from the former location of Fort Necessity, which served as the battlefield for the first military engagement of the French and Indian War.
Today, despite its rich historical tradition, Uniontown’s Fayette County is one of the poorest in Pennsylvania. But, nonetheless, Darnell insisted that his laundry business serves a wide demographic.
“We’ve got low-income people coming into the store,” said Darnell, who currently employs one full-time attendant. “But we’ve also got several high-end businesspeople that stay at the area hotels and use our wash-dry-fold pickup service. Plus, we get a lot of oil workers in here. There is extensive exploration here for oil, and we get the workers on those oil rigs.”
The oil industry has been a huge boon to Darnell’s business thus far.
“I wanted to put a wash-dry-fold business here because there wasn’t such a service in this area,” he explained. “There are a lot of businesspeople in town, especially within the oil industry. A lot of contractors stay in our hotels. That accounts for a good portion of my drop-off business now.
“With a drop-off laundry service, it won’t take much effort to make money here,” he added. “I’m sure. And I have never been able to make enough money, so I won’t stop at doing just OK.”
To keep the money rolling in, Darnell has tried a number of advertising vehicles to get the word out about his new laundry business – from radio spots and newspapers ads to a creating a Web site and distributing flyers by hand throughout his marketplace.
“I spent about $3,500 on radio advertising,” he said. “They created a 60-second commercial for Scotty D’s and Jolene’s Post, Pack & Ship. They did a great job with it. I’ve also made flyers and passed them out at the hotels around here. And word of mouth has been very strong, too.”
Darnell figured that the reason for the positive word of mouth is due in large part to his business’ clean, smoke-free, heated/air-conditioned environment.
“I’m by far the cleanest laundry,” said Darnell, whose store is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. “Something that I looked at whenever I was on the road was the cleanliness of the laundromat. Plus, everything in here is handicap-accessible. And I’ve got two great big restrooms.”
Scotty D’s also features a 32-inch television, along with snack and soda vending machines, for its customers’ comfort and convenience.
What Darnell would rather not offer his customers are toploading washers.
“I’ve got three toploaders,” he admitted. “You almost have to have them because there are people who just won’t use anything but toploaders. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have them. I would just have the 20-pound frontloaders. But some people would walk right out if they didn’t see any toploaders.”
Clearly, Darnell understands that he’s going to need to capture a sizeable portion of the area’s drop-off laundry business to make a serious go of it in Uniontown. However, just as clearly, he’s not going to forget about the local, walk-in customers who so badly needed a first-class laundry facility like Scotty D’s.
“I’ve been taking care of the public all my life,” explained Darnell, who admitted that, if Scotty D’s is successful, he would consider expanding his laundry business to a second location. “I take someone’s important belongings, and I moving them clean across the country. And I have to be able to develop their confidence in me that I’m going to do a good job for them. What am I good at? I’m a good furniture man. That’s all I’ve ever done. I’m a good customer-service person. I know how to treat people.
“Being out on the road all my life and having to deal with eating in restaurants and doing my laundry in laundromats, I’ve learned that it’s not hard to make somebody happy. If you’ve had a rough day, it doesn’t take a whole lot to either turn you sour or turn up your smile. I’m good at that. I’m good at turning up the smiles.”