By Bob Nieman | Sep 28, 2011
When the Sims family took ownership of Brite ’N Clean Washateria in Corpus Christi, Texas, there was more than a little room for improvement.
The 1,800-square-foot laundry, which the family acquired as part of its purchase of the adjoining Shady Grove Mobile Home and RV Park in 2009, has been in business for decades – and was in bad need of a makeover.
Fortunately, Ernie and Wanda Sims – who have their hands full with the three other RV parks that they own – eventually convinced their son, Brian, to return to Corpus Christi and manage the laundry for them.
And, in April 2010, the Texas Tech graduate, who had been working for Konica Minolta Business Solutions in Houston, gave notice at work and returned home to the family business.
“My dad’s been in the RV business for 30 years, and most RV parks have their own personal laundromat for the people who live there,” Brian explained. “He and I own Brite ’N Clean together, but he also has little laundromats at the other three parks, and those laundries have about 10 machines each.”
While the family’s three other previous laundries are accessible only to those staying at the RV parks, Brite ’N Clean is their first store that’s open to the public as well.
“My dad’s always thought that it was a great business to get into,” Brian said. “Plus, it gives me a part-time job. I’m able to work for my family. It allows me to learn the business, learn how to manage money, manage employees and help customers.”
And with only about half of the 24 original washers and barely seven or eight of the dryers in working order, Sims also learned a lot about the laundromat renovation process.
“The building was in great condition, as far as the walls and the structure,” he noted. “However, the ceiling had to be completely redone. We have to put in a new ceiling and new lights. In addition, the air conditioner and the water heaters needed to be replaced. We also painted the building – inside and out. And we just repaved the parking lot.”
What’s more, a new ceramic tile floor was installed, and the restroom was completely remodeled.
“We also had to move some doors around,” Sims explained. “We created a security room, where I can safely access our change machine, where our employees can keep their cleaning supplies and where we house our wash-dry-fold business.”
During the renovation, the Simses also decided it would be a good idea to build a laundry cart room, rather than having the carts just sitting in the middle of the store and clogging the business’ traffic flow. The cart room creates more usable space within Brite ’N Clean, according to Sims, and it provides the store with a more central location for its folding tables – namely, where the carts used to be.
“Whatever could go wrong did go wrong,” said Brian Sims, of the seven-month, $285,000 process. “It seems like everything in the store had to be replaced. Everything was 20 years old or older.”
As for equipment, the Simses added two 60-pound frontloading washers, five 40-pound frontloaders, seven 30-pounders, eight 20-pounders and four toploaders. The also replaced all of the laundry’s dryers withy 10 30-pound stack units and two 50-pound stack tumblers.
“It was interesting working with my dad on the renovation,” Brian said. “Sometimes it was difficult to make a decision because parties disagreed. I had fresh, new ideas, and he had what he’s known – and what has worked – for so long. But, in the end, it worked out great, and we were able to come to agreement on everything.”
Although the Simses own four RV parks, three of them are for strictly recreational vehicles only, so the tenants are seasonal, or “winter Texans,” as the locals refer to them. They arrive in October and stay until about April or so.
However, Shady Grove is a mobile home park as well, so the majority of the tenants are year-round – and, not surprisingly, those people make up a good portion of Brite ’N Clean’s customer base.
“Quite a few people who live in the RV park do their laundry with us,” explained Sims, who said the store’s clientele is an equal mix of Hispanic and Caucasian customers. “We also have a naval base a couple of miles down the street. And there are a lot of residential neighborhoods around the laundromat, as well as a school and some government housing.”
With all of the recent changes and upgrades that have occurred at Brite ’N Clean these days, the Simses are planning a grand opening (or perhaps a grand re-opening would be more accurate) to get the word out about their laundry. In addition, Brian, who holds a bachelor’s degree in electronic media and communications, is putting his college education to work by creating a website for the store, as well as making sure that Brite ’N Clean is front and center at Google Places.
“I also have advertised our laundry business in the local sports program guide for the high school, middle school and elementary schools, along with having a presence in the local newspaper.”
Beyond the major renovation and the use of various advertising outlets, the Simses have built positive word of mouth by keeping their laundry spotless and having at least one of their four attendants on duty at all times.
Another boost to the business came from a change in the store’s hours of operation.
“Before we renovated the laundry, it was open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Sims said. “We were missing out on a huge amount of business after 4 p.m. And, in fact, our last wash was at 3 p.m.
“Once I got the new machines in, I opened up the store until 7 p.m., and customers began using it all the way up until then,” he continued. “So, now, we’ve just added two more hours, staying open until 9 p.m.
“It’s definitely been a positive. In fact, from February through July of this year, our profits are what they were for all of last year.”
In addition, the laundry now offers free WiFi access to its customers, and Sims is working on building a steady wash-dry-fold business, with thoughts of adding commercial accounts as well.
“My dad is a great entrepreneur,” he said. “He’s very knowledgeable. And I’m eager to learn.”