By Bob Nieman | Sep 27, 2010
What laundry owner has never wanted to push the reset button with regard to some aspect of his or her store’s layout?
To take a mulligan on the current equipment mix?
Or to make a few tweaks here and there to the drop-off laundry service, the building’s lease, the marketing strategy, the staff training program… or the brand of paper towels in the restroom?
You get the point. Most business owners are perfectionists who are constantly thinking about and tinkering with their operations.
As a result, we recently asked a number of self-service laundry operators – some new to the industry, some seasoned veterans – to tell us what they love about their stores, what they would have done differently and what items, in a perfect world, would be on their “wish lists.”
This month, in essence, we’re building (at least on paper) the perfect laundry.
Super Wash Laundromat
East Haven, Conn.
There are seven main ideas that I would include if I were building the dream laundromat today:
First, would be an automatic front door. A laundromat is one of the few businesses were our customers have their arms full when they enter and exit our establishment. Customers have said that our automatic front door is a huge help when they come with large amounts of laundry.
Second, I would only consider a store size of 2,500 to 4,500 square feet. If you are going to spend several hundred thousand dollars on a new store, make it worthwhile and maximize the profit potential. You’re going to have the same amount of headaches with a smaller store as you will from a larger store, but you will make more money from the larger store, as long as the demographics warrant the size.
Third, I have found that the customers of today have a “Super Size Me” mentality and are looking for the largest washers and dryers possible. I would definitely try to have up to four 80-pound washers and possibly even a 125-pound washer, if space permitted. I would also have the same number of 75-pound dryers as large washers, and add some stacked 45-pound dryers along with the stacked 30-pound dryers. This is very advantageous to the owner too because he or she can earn more revenue per square foot with larger (i.e., higher priced) machines. I currently get $9.42 for an 80-pound washer and $1.28 for 10 minutes for a 75-pound dryer.
Fourth, if I were building a larger store, I would make sure I have plenty of parking spaces and easy access. There’s nothing worse than having a beautiful new store and no one can get close enough to use it.
Fifth, if I built a stand-alone store, I would definitely include space in the store for a soda and snack machine. Our customer base is a captive audience for one to two hours, and you can make up to 100 percent profit on soda and snacks.
Sixth, I would budget $240 to join the Coin Laundry Association. I didn’t have the money for it that first year when I started 23 years ago – and what a mistake. I have learned an amazing amount of valuable information from reading The Journal, going to CLA seminars, going to the Clean Show and, most importantly, talking to other members when our local affiliate gets together.
The seventh – and most important – item on my “wish list” would be to budget and plan for an aggressive marketing campaign before the opening and then for the next 12 months. I have learned a lot from other successful owners, and promoting a new store on an ongoing basis is the most important step for success. We have all spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new store and not enough money for advertising to promote our store. I would create a “buzz” before I opened. (Hang my “Laundromat Coming Soon” sign upside down!) Next, I would have a special grand opening promotion (all 20-pound washers free for two weeks, or all machines half-price for two weeks). Then I would have an ongoing marketing campaign ready for each of the next 12 months (coupons on the back of supermarket receipts, targeted direct mail, bargain books, etc.).
Home Style Coin Laundry
Rush City, Minn.
I believe I have already built the perfect laundry. So, this year, I built another one just like it. This newest one just opened.
All of the washers and dryers take quarters, dollar coins and dollar tokens. The changers dispense quarters and dollar tokens, and they accept cash, credit cards and token notes, which we use for promotions and refunds.
The store has air conditioning in the summer and in-floor heat for melting Minnesota snow in the winter. The store also has automatic door locks, punch code keyless entry doors into the back room for the employees and a separate changer vault room for the rear-load changers.
There are two televisions, and the new store has WiFi. The stores are mirrored with the same equipment on both sides, with changers and vending machines in the middle. So, it is like two stores in one. If a customer comes in and one side is busy, they will go to the other side. Or if there is a customer with kids and they don't want to deal with that, they will go to the other side.
Nine video cameras cover the store. All of the parking is right in front, and we can come into the laundry from the back, pull the cash and go out the back without anyone knowing we were even there. The store features 10-foot ceilings, windows across the front and on the sides. It has tile floors, and the building is built with insolated cement blocks that are maintenance-free, with a high R-value and, thus, no need to sheet rock.
Of course, the perfect laundromat means different things to different people. What's perfect for one location may be terrible for another location. Therefore, I'll try to address this issue in a more general way.
I think the perfect laundromat is a laundromat that is located, designed and equipped to best serve the community. The perfect laundromat would be convenient, clean, comfortable, quiet, roomy and accommodating to meet customer needs and desires.
At the same time, the number of parking spaces, washers, dryers, carts, tables, and seating units would be balanced to each other to maximize operational efficiency and reduce start up costs. This means that the perfect laundromat would not be a building filled to the brim with equipment. It would not be designed with the distributor's commission in mind. It would not be designed with the manufacturer's quarterly sales figures in mind either.
It would be designed with the end user in mind. After all, if the end user is not properly accommodated, nothing else matters.
However, if the end user is properly accommodated, well... then you have the perfect laundromat.
Wonder Wash Family Laundry Centers
Laguna Niguel, Calif.
My ideal store is a 4,000-square-foot, coin-operated laundry with a bank of bill changers. It’s located 15 minutes from my house. It has a 25 percent cash-on-cash return on investment. Naturally, I would own the building. And, of course, the pricing strategy for this laundry would be to be the high-priced leader in the market.
Wash & Roll
With so many things to consider while building a new laundry, there are some less obvious points to ponder before starting the perfect laundry.
Ownership: To own the building precludes so many problems they are too numerous to mention. Your Chinese restaurant neighbor who had grease leading down every sidewalk and a dumpster that could be used for chemical warfare would be a thing of the past. Of course, the largest advantage to ownership would be equity. At the end of your working days, you have a business to sell, because you can offer an attractive lease to the prospective buyer. You then collect a rent check from your Florida house or RV.
Ancillary Services: Building an 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot store would allow you to add an adjoining self-service car wash with a few automatic and manual bays. Also included would be a drive-through window for wash-dry-fold business with complimentary coffee in the morning. Let's see if McDonald’s starts to wash clothes. Inside would be a game room with all types of video and interactive games – for customers only. Adjacent to that would be a 1950s-era soda fountain and luncheonette. (Did I just date myself?) The laundry machines would be located at the other end of the building from the arcade and eating areas to ensure a quiet, peaceful washing environment.
The Building: The exterior would be of a durable masonry finish, and there would be a computer-operated street sign with scrolling messages to catch a driver's eye – with everything from the time and current temperature to your daily specials to snappy little missives like “We fix skid marks.” The folding area would be located near the dryers, and the washers would be in banks according to size. The walls and floors would be of continuous ceramic tile to eliminate the need to constantly paint. Bright, high-efficiency lighting would look like the boardwalk on an August night. Wide aisles would be created within the store, as well as behind the dryers and between the washers. The service person would look forward to cleaning a drain or changing a belt.
These are only a few of the considerations while building a perfect store. Stun guns for unruly kids and automatic door closers for the dryers in the summer are part of a completely different wish list.
Santa Clarita Laundry
Santa Clarita, Calif.
I have now had the privilege of building five new laundries from scratch. I have learned from each of these projects and taken what I have learned to the next store I built.
I believe the first key is to determine what type of store you wish to own and operate. By that I mean selecting your target market, whether you intend to have commercial customers, the services you will offer and your method of operation (i.e., attended vs. unattended, coin vs. card). I have also taken the position that I always intend to be the number-one store in my market; therefore, you must design and equip a store with that objective in mind.
When I have constructed my stores, I have included wide aisles, bright lighting, clear and concise interior signage, several available “triangles” (i.e., washing/drying/folding) for customer use, rather than just one, a creative and relaxing interior design, plenty of combination seat/tables, free WiFi, flat-screen televisions, ceramic tile and granite counters, a card and POS system, and attendants who consider themselves customer service/sales representatives – not janitors.
Building in the ability to add washers and dryers and to upgrade equipment at minimal additional cost would be extremely helpful as, despite all of your attention to detail and assumptions based on demographics and experience, you will still be surprised once customers start to arrive. Being able to change the equipment around or swap out equipment based upon actually experience after you open would be a wish that I would have. You find that some equipment may have to be moved in order to increase its usage and to bring it to the customers’ attention. Fortunately, the fact that soft-mount equipment is becoming more readily available provides us with that option in many instances.
My current store is my first, and I have learned a great deal about what can be done better by running this business for eight years.
My top issue is being sure to have enough dryer capacity. We are constantly emptying stopped dryers to make room for other customers, and it wears on my employees and sometimes my customers as well.
Other things I would add to my “dream laundry” include owning rather than leasing my building, having ample room for the maintenance of my machines, and just a lot more storage space for everything.
Kansas City, Mo.
If I could take all that I have learned about this industry up to today and be given an unlimited budget, I surely can tell you about my perfect laundry.
I would want to be on a street corner with a 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot building that has parking to accommodate at least 50 cars. And the location would have a traffic flow of more than 100,000 cars per day.
Half of the roof would feature heating panels and the other half would be solar panels for electricity. I also would want a ground source heat pump system for my HVAC and water heating, as well as the roof panels.
The equipment would feature a fair mix of machines, from 18-pound frontloaders to 100-pound frontloaders, along with several 75-pound dryers and 45-pound stacks – all highly energy efficient.
There would also be a 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot area dedicated to wash-dry-fold laundry with its own OPL washers and dryers.
My perfect laundry would have a static control system for makeup air and pre-heating tubes for winter makeup air. I would want ample space behind the dryers for easy maintenance, and all of my washer bulkheads would be between 36 and 42 inches for plenty of drain cleaning area and machine work space.
All of the lighting would be T-5s, to go along with a great amount of natural outside lighting and awesome, eye-catching signage with changeable messages.
The equipment would accept coins and/or credit cards. And the store would include a state-of-the-art security camera system that could be viewed off-site.
My perfect laundry has a work room, a storage room and an office area. There is also a snack and game area with all of the latest amenities.
And, of course, it’s all paid for - no mortgages, leases, rents, equipment payments, etc.
Wells Laundry, Inc.
I currently operate five laundries, ranging in size for 2,800 to 6,400 square feet. My stores are all free-standing buildings, which I own. I have built these stores over a period of 33 years in a very conservative manner.
My closest-to-perfect laundry is a 5,000-square-foot store on a lot that is about 30,000 square feet. The store has a glass front from floor to ceiling on the front and one side. We can accommodate 40 cars in the concrete parking lot.
This store is now 12 years old, and I am about to remodel it. Here is my plan to make it a perfect store. The market has changed dramatically in 12 years. Consequently, a new equipment mix is required:
• 24 20-pound washers
• 14 25-pound washers
• 14 40-pound washers
• 6 60-pound washers
• 5 75-pound washers
• 4 90-pound washers
• 12 30-pound stack dryers
• 16 45-pound stack dryers
The store will include the normal array of vending machines. A new addition will be free Wi-Fi, coupled with an Internet kiosk that will be fee-based.
I will try to achieve that “Wow!” effect by replacing utility rack covers with diamond plate metal. A new ceramic tile floor with energy-efficient lighting should brighten the store up even more.
I have always been perplexed by the fact that laundry operators spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment but won’t spend a few thousand to provide nice wall covering and bulkhead coverings. I am guilty as well.
Behind the scenes, a new energy-efficient water heating system and air-conditioning system will be installed.
One final change will be to find quality attendants with strong people skills. After all, the attendant is sometimes the only thing that differentiates one laundry from another.
I love having both front and back doors, both with big, wide windows. Customers enjoy the safe feeling that they can't be “cornered,” if it’s unattended and anyone passing by can see everything going on. I believe this helps minimize theft and vandalism.
I like the fact that we have plenty of parking. I know it's important to my customers to only have to drag their laundry a short distance both in and out of the store.
I really enjoy our card system. We have had a coin-operated store in the past, and we have found this card store to be easier to manage – less time, great reports, easy-to-make changes, easy-to-implement creative specials, and so on.
I wish I had a bill-to-bill changer. Customers often come in with $20 bills; however, in this economy, they only want to put on their cards what they'll use. This would allow me to reduce the amount I keep in the cash register drawer and allow my attendants to spend their time more productively with wash-dry-fold, cleaning, etc., rather than running back and forth to the register to make change.
I wish I had an automatic door opener/lock, where the lights come on first thing in the morning and turn off at night. Although we currently have a great staff that is dependable, this would help on occasions when they are not so dependable. Plus, it would allow us to run unattended for several hours in the morning or evening.
I wish our restroom door were card-accessed. We are located next to a busy convenience store, and many people in the neighborhood think we should supply them with a restroom. However, our restroom is locked and requires a key.
I wish I had a small television with a DVD player, so we could have movies for kids. I had one for a week, but it broke; it really held the kids’ attention for a bit. It was just sitting on a table. For the next one, I would rather have it installed safely into the wall so that it doesn't hurt anyone or get stolen.
I wish I had better signage, both on the store (front and back) and on the corner of the property where cars are sitting at a major intersection. One problem is that the color scheme of the laundromat signage matches the convenience store next to us (same building), and they blend together. I would like the laundry to stand out more.
I would love to own the building I'm in, rather than leasing.
I love our surveillance system, which features eight cameras, but right now we cannot access it from home. This would be a great feature, if an issue arises; we may be able to handle it instead of dropping everything to go to the store.
I wish I had better signage for the many languages that are spoken in my store. We have great specials, but right now only English- and Spanish-speaking customers are aware of them.
I've often thought that it would be nice to have another store – but an unattended one. We are fully staffed and, when times are great, we have an aggressive wash-dry-fold service that makes it worth it from a cost perspective, as well as providing us with a very clean store and friendly attendants. But, when times are tough, it's easy to think about throwing it all out the window and going unattended.
Ideally, my big wish (once the loan is paid off) is to sell the wash-dry-fold business to one of my attendants (or someone else) for $1 to run the business themselves in my store in exchange for keeping the laundromat clean.
I wish I could hire a maintenance crew to get of all the little things done around the store: new lights, new ballasts, new ceiling tiles, maintenance on machines, yearly floor scrub/wax, etc.
But my biggest wish is that the economy turns around, and my customers will have the money to get back to doing all of their laundry every week. It's been interesting to learn from customers how they deal with laundry when they are either out of money or tight on money. But I'm an optimist, and recovery is just around the corner.
Snow White Laundry Village
Long Branch, N.J.
My dream laundry would be located in an area dominated by apartments and with a local college within walking distance. However, I would still have a large parking lot with access to the store from the front as well as the back of the building.
And, of course, I would own the building.
I would like the store laid out so that each row of washers would have a row of dryers opposite it for ease of transfer, and there would be a comfortable sitting area as well. All of the equipment would be highly energy-efficient, with a good mix of small to large machines.
It would be coinless and definitely solar-powered. I would have a security system that allows me to see every part of the store at all times, as well as the parking areas. I would have the usual complementary items, such as laundry supplies and some food and beverage vending machines.
Although I would offer a residential wash-dry-fold service, I am not interested in building up a large commercial account business, other than simple things like towels and aprons from hair salons – no sheets or pillow cases.
For me, something doesn’t need to be big or fancy or complicated to be good. That being said, the components of the perfect laundromat in my book could be broken down into three basic categories: finances, customers and maintenance.
First, my dream laundromat would offer only an electronic card system where customers could swipe their personal credit cards, and the charges would be transferred straight to my bank account. This system would keep track of equipment usage as well. I would not have to count anything or keep records; it would all be done with the swipe of a card.
Also, my dream laundry would have perfect customers. They would never leave a mess, and their children would be angels. The alternative to this would be round-the-clock cleaning and childcare services.
Lastly, my dream store would be maintenance-free. Every inch of my facility, from vending to painting, would never need repair or upkeep. My state-of-the-art entertainment system would always work flawlessly. Basically, I would never have to lift a finger.
In a perfect world, every business would make tons of money for the least amount of effort. My dream laundromat would be no exception.
Mark and Jeri Postma
Bubbles Professional Dry Cleaning & Laundromat
We built our laundromat/drycleaners from ground up 12 years ago. The only things we would change would be to install more frontload washers, more triple-loaders and a couple of 50-pound washers.
We currently have two maxi-loaders, two triple-loaders, five double-loaders and 15 topload washers. In addition, we have eight stacked dryers and two mega-dryers.
We have carpeted floors and in-floor heating. We have a pool table, vending machines, a children’s area, soap vending and change machines. We also have a surveillance system, and the doors automatically lock at night and unlock in the morning.
We offer wash-dry-fold, and our commercial laundry business has grown. We’ve added a new building with an energy-efficient water heating system; with this system, our air conditioning is free.
We also have a website to help market our business.
All in all, we are very pleased with our current facility and the way things are working out.
University Coin Laundry
Ah, the perfect self-serve laundry. What a concept. Perfectionists like me are always thinking about that subject. So, in a perfect world, here goes...
Demographically, my perfect laundry would have a lot of population, a lot of households, large families, much age and ethnic diversification, a huge percentage of renter-occupied dwellers and an average per capita income of about $17,000 to $20,000.
Perfect Laundry, LLC, would feature a coin format, be rectangular in shape, wider than it is deep – and with wide aisles and bulkheads perpendicular to the many front windows.
The ceiling would be the open type concept. The store would be painted well, with several wall graphics. And the floor would have a checkerboard design.
The equipment would contain machines for every possible situation and occasion to suit the demographics, with many large-load machines (washers and dryers).
Perfect Laundry would include remote video cameras and electronic notification to the owner if coins became too sparse in the bill changer. Also, it would feature Internet access by the owner, enabling him or her to perform various audits.
The facility would be staffed by one outstanding and properly trained attendant per shift, and there would be ample, dedicated, close parking consisting of at least one parking space for every two washers.
Ancillary profit centers would consist of snacks, drinks, select video games and perhaps tanning (“the electric beach”).
Drop-off laundry would be a must, with same-day service including comforters.
The building would be owned (with no remaining debt) by the owner; hence, no rent need be charged.
Store security would consist of a camera and alarm system with a direct link to the local police.
Solar panels on the roof would provide the energy for hot water generation and HVAC issues.
The owner also would operate additional laundries that would encompass the general trade area, thereby creating "marketing control" over a wide geographic space.
Perfect Laundry, LLC, also would take in drop-off dry cleaning and have numerous diversified commercial accounts.
Advertising would consist of cable TV commercials and perhaps a presence on local billboards. All advertising would be done within an economically sane format. Numerous in-store promotional programs would be operative, including enter-to-win programs and frequent washer and frequent comforter clubs.
Express Laundry Center
I would like to tackle this subject from the perspective of a new investor getting into the coin laundry business.
If I could rewind the tape, I would have joined the Coin Laundry Association a lot sooner. When I first joined the CLA in 2007 and attended the association’s new investor seminar in Orlando, Fla., in February of that year, I met many new investors who either did not know what they had gotten themselves into or had made many "rookie" mistakes.
I, too, made several mistakes, but joining the CLA and getting to know many of the industry leaders have been invaluable. So, if I could do it all over again, I would have joined the CLA even sooner as an "outside observer" for a few more years before I took the plunge and built my first two stores. Had I done that I would have no doubt made fewer mistakes, and I would have gotten to know more successful people in the business sooner, many whom I now consider friends.
If an outside investor does not have the time to start with the CLA, I would definitely suggest that he or she hire an independent consultant, preferably with laundromat operation experience – and by experience I mean someone who actually intended to get into the coin laundry business to make a profit and successfully operated the business for several years.
There is plenty of "quick" advice out there for identifying a potential location or designing a store layout, but firsthand, in-depth successful store operation advice may not be as easy to find.
Bowling Green, Ohio
Even if you built the perfect laundromat of your dreams, will the customers come? Despite the fact that, in the eyes of the owner the laundromat might be perfect, the local demographics may not support the “dream mat,” and it will fail.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that if I built the store of my dreams it would fit into the local demographics and be profitable.
Here’s my dream laundry wish list:
• Owned, stand-alone building with parking on three sides.
• Demographics are high rental, from low to middle income.
• The building would be built extremely efficient to save on utilities.
• Automatic doors.
• Porcelain floor tiles.
• Card system/DVR system, all with remote access.
• All washers and dryers from the same manufacturer.
• At least three sizes of washers, but no more than four sizes.
• Matching dryers for the size of washers with a one-to-one ratio.
• The store is set up with ample room between equipment and folding tables, but not so much room that it requires unmanageable cleaning.
• Good HVAC system with cold air conditioning.
• All vending (snack/soda/soap) built into the walls.
• Money vaults (card system, ATM, bill-to-bill changers) are all through the wall.
• Walls of FRP or tile.
• Central vacuum and floor scrubber.
• All tables and chairs are permanent so that customers can't move them around the store.
• Several LCD televisions with cable/satellite.
• Video games (touch-screen with more than 100 games)
• T-8 or LED lighting.
• All professional-looking signage (that the customers can read!).
• Predominately unattended, but if the demographics supported wash-dry-fold, the store would then be attended.
While I’m discussing the perfect laundromat, how about a few words on the “perfect customers?” You know the ones…
• Don't overload the machines.
• Don't over-soap the washers.
• Clean up their soap spills.
• Pick up their dryer sheets off the floor.
• Leave their kids at home, or at least have control over them.
• Promptly remove their laundry from the machines when the cycle is done.
• Understands when the owner needs to increase prices.
Give me these perfect customers, and I will give you the perfect laundry.