By PlanetLaundry staff | Mar 22, 2011
When Ken Barrett makes up his mind to do something, he doesn’t do it halfway.
The new laundry owner opened his first store in Anniston, Ala., in July 2010, which was quickly followed by his purchase of another laundromat in nearby Attalla last October and a third location Golden Springs in January 2011.
“I began investigating coin laundries in Alabama about two years ago, as I was planning to move to the U.S. to get married,” said Barrett, who is originally from Canada.
An industrial electrician by trade, Barrett worked for a vehicle manufacturer for 22 years. This allowed him to sharpen his skills at equipment maintenance, installation, plant construction and purchasing. His position also involved heavy doses of project analysis and budgeting, which prepared him well for his new life at a laundry owner.
Along the way, Barrett operated a wide variety of part-time businesses, including aircraft leasing, lawn care and home energy evaluations. None of these side ventures involved employees.
“I had discussed buying a coin laundry years ago with a friend in the business, but the opportunity didn’t work out,” he explained. “After leaving the corporate world, I was looking for something that would allow some flexibility. My initial plans were to open unattended laundries – automatic door locks, lights on timers, etc. This allowed me to set my own schedules and investigate other locations.”
Barrett’s first laundry, located in Anniston, is called Washin’ Anniston, and it was a complete renovation, except for the main bulkhead utilities.
“Everything else was repaired or replaced,” he said. “The location had been secured by my distributor. It was a laundry that had been closed for four or five years due to the landlord emptying the strip mall to sell it. When it finally sold, the new owner decided to keep the building and fill it up, as opposed to clearing the land.”
Two months and about $195,000 later, Barrett was in the laundry business, with a leased space in a currently vacant strip mall.
“The storefront is not an end unit,” he explained. “And the exhaust venting was not done properly, so there was two to three inches of lint above the ceiling tiles – I had to use a leaf blower and a shovel to clean it up.”
At the moment, Barrett has been working at his most recent purchase in Golden Springs.
“I’ve been at that the store from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day since the end of January, and I have another month or so before I get an employee in place there. My wife, Trina, has been helping me on the weekends so that I can do some of the renovations myself.”
The laundry Golden Springs, according to Barrett, features a variety of equipment, most of which has been installed within the last eight years.
“The store has been in the same location for more than 40 years,” he said. “When the equipment was replaced, there was no master plan, so things were all over the place.
Barrett is in the midst of a renovation to add new features and a color scheme to the store. “I will be hiring attendants to make it a partially attended store,” he added. “I am also switching from propane to natural gas.”
Barrett has advertised all three of his laundries aggressively.
“I have used direct mail, grand opening specials and giveaways, including a TV and gift certificates,” said Barrett, who enjoys a varied mix of customers from all walks of life. “The local radio station has offered some bargain rates and they are negotiable. I also used some local TV spots. And, lately, I have been following the advice of the CLA and made sure that my locations were listed on GPS maps and Google. I’ve also had some good response from Facebook advertising. I regularly search for coin laundries in my market area and look at the sites that list them, and then I make sure I ‘claim’ my listing on their sites.”
Barrett also has a full-page ad in the local apartment guide, which covers all three of his stores. What’s more, he is a member of the local chamber of commerce and has taken advantage of advertising in chamber mailings for new residents to the area.
Also, to help compete with the other laundries in his marketplace, Barrett’s stores offer free WiFi, children’s play areas, big-screen televisions and, above all… they’re bright.
“My wife told me from the beginning, ‘If I wouldn’t go there at night, why would anybody else?’” Barrett explained.
Therefore, at his Anniston store, for instance, the front window has no signs or advertising.
“If you drive up the street, you can see to the back of the store,” he said. “I have 26 lights in the 1,300-square-foot public area of the store, and I also have installed outside lights.”
Clearly, Barrett’s corporate career gave him a solid background to prepare detailed analysis and budgeting, which has been a huge asset during his initial industry investigations, as he quickly built up his three-store chain.
“I also have read a number of books and been to some seminars on new marketing techniques,” Barrett noted. “In addition, I have been able to keep renovation costs down, as I have years of experience dealing with contractors and doing my own work.”
So, are three stores enough?
“I am currently looking to build a new laundry from the ground up in another market, and I’ve targeted a few other areas,” he said. “I discuss plans with my distributor regularly, and I’m always looking for new opportunities. My goal for 2010 was three laundries, and I missed the target by 24 days.”