By Deborah Dower | Aug 08, 2012
When I was asked to share some tips and strategies about our green laundries, I went to work listing all of the cost justifications. I thought I might motivate existing laundry owners reading this article to call their local distributors and upgrade their boilers or replace some old mechanical slide toploaders with new electronic controllers or, better yet, invest in some high-extraction frontload washers.
But, after several attempts, I realized that kind of article is best left to the equipment manufacturers or perhaps a longtime owner who made the conversion and could tout the operational benefits he or she experienced with real-life examples.
Personally, we’ve only been in the laundry business for two and a half years, and we went with a green approach from Day One, so this article can best be summarized by the familiar proverb, “The Early Bird Catches the Worm.”
At one time or another, you have probably experienced a power failure in your home or business. Forgetting the power was out, you open the refrigerator but its dark inside, or perhaps you found yourself flipping on a light switch or trying to turn on the TV. You also may have even experienced water rationing, where your city or town restricts the days you are permitted to water your lawn.
At an early age, I experienced a valuable lesson in conservation. In 1971, my family lived on a small island that had suffered an extreme drought condition; it was so severe that the water would actually be turned off for days at a time. And, when it was turned back on, it wasn’t safe to drink, so we had to boil it before using it to cook or brush our teeth.
To prepare for this prolonged water rationing, we would fill all of the bathtubs, sinks and plastic jugs in the house with water to be used over the coming days. To flush the toilet, without running water, we had to use a bucket to scoop water out of the bathtub and pour it into the toilet to create a “manual flush.” The drought lasted for only a few months, but it left a lasting impact on me to never take for granted the value of clean running water.
Fast forward to 2009, after being laid off from my corporate career of 25 years, I was able to convince my husband, J.D., to enter the self-service laundry business. We recognized that the very nature of the laundry industry was one of being a heavy consumer of precious natural resources, especially water. So, I vowed to do what I could to make our laundromat eco-friendly. My childhood experience taught me that it was the right thing to do for our community, as well as being vitally important to the future of our planet.
Living in California for more than 20 years, we had experienced huge increases in residential utility costs. In fact, in July 2004, a $1,300 electric bill spurred J.D. to seek a solution to reduce our monthly electricity costs. As a result, he hired a company install solar panels on our roof – enough to support our entire household energy needs, which brought our monthly bill to under $100. At that point, J.D. was more than convinced that green energy is good.
Between my passion to save water and my husband’s desire to keep our operating costs down, we had a vision of building a brand new state-of-the-art laundromat from the ground up with all of the ecological features available today. It was going to have solar everything and possibly include a water reclamation system.
Unfortunately, we discovered that California has some of the highest sewer impact fees in the country (not to mention land costs), and with other building regulations, we had to settle on renovating an existing laundry.
We found a rundown laundromat located in a small strip mall. It had 21 toploading washers and six small frontloaders, and it was grossing just enough money to break even. The day we closed escrow we put up a sign in the window: “CLOSED for REMODELING.”
We knew that our green implementation was limited to fixtures and tenant improvements, but we were committed to doing everything we could within our rented space. All of the improvements were relatively easy and equipment financing from the manufacturers allowed us to outfit the entire store with brand new high-efficiency washers and dryers.
And while J.D. was busy upgrading the facilities and overseeing the installation of the equipment, I turned my focus to our business practices, operations and marketing.
The first item on the agenda was to establish a brand image and logo. The font color was the easy part. And, to promote the idea that a green laundry is good for the environment, I wanted the “y” to represent the stem of a blooming flower. One of my favorite flowers on earth is the Bird of Paradise, which grows in beautiful tropical climates. So, by combining those two ideas, the name of our new business was born.
Since all of our equipment was new and had electronic controls, we were going to be able to offer variable temperature pricing. I decided to price our hot-water wash at market price, reduce warm water by 25 cents and reduce cold water an additional 25 cents – using the logic that, if customers didn’t need hot water, the need for natural gas would be reduced so we would pass those savings on to the customers.
This single decision has become the foundation of our branding and the inspiration behind our company tag line: “Wash Green – Save Green.” The original intent was to promote the ecological benefits of coming to Paradise Laundry. At our laundromat, customers would be doing their part to be kind to the planet; however, the double meaning of saving good old greenbacks is probably the bigger motivator for most of our customers.
I have since increased our vend prices so that warm water is at market price. Therefore, our customers now pay more for hot water, yet still receive a discount for cold-water washing.
Power of the Press
Having worked in sales and marketing, I knew direct mail and print advertising was effective, but it requires multiple mailings to be impactful. We needed to get the word out about our new green laundromat without using our entire year’s marketing budget in the first 90 days.
So, I took a lesson from Barbara Cochran, one of the “sharks” on the hit reality show, “Shark Tank.” In her first book, Cochran shares some of the strategies that helped her turn a $1,000 loan into a business that she eventually sold for $66 million.
How did she do it? She sent out press releases about the New York real estate market, which gave tremendous credibility to her company – so much so that she received a call from Donald Trump.
With that in mind, I went to work writing our first press release, using examples I had found online. I realized it was going to be a challenge to get the press release in front of the right people at all of the local newspapers and radio and TV stations in our community, so I hired a company that, for a relatively small fee, distributed the press release for me.
And it worked!
Several electronic news outlets picked up the story, and a couple of the community newspapers also ran the release. But, in the end, it was the two local morning television stations that wanted to come out to our store and conduct live interviews that really put Paradise Laundry on the map. The exposure from the two television stations doing a community service story on green energy solutions in the coin laundry industry was the best promotion of all. We never could have afforded to buy that kind of advertising exposure. (Visit paradiselaundries.com to view the news broadcasts.)
In the two years we have been open, several other laundromats in town have followed our lead and upgraded their equipment or switched to variable temperature pricing, but it is no longer newsworthy.
We may not have built our green dream store, but we are continuing to look for ways to make our laundry business a darker shade of green by seeking approval from our landlord to install a solar thermal system to pre-heat our water.
Contrary to what a famous frog once sang, being green is easy, and being the first to go green could have a huge advantage. The bottom line is that there are many variations to a green laundry. Don’t let your competitor define it for you.