By Bob Nieman | Jan 26, 2012
Ross Razak’s work hours are hardly 9 to 5. So, he was looking to start a small business with just as much flexibility.
Not surprisingly, he found exactly what he was looking for in the self-service laundry industry – opening Lawrence Laundry in Lawrence, Kan., last November.
“I’m a corporate pilot, not a businessman,” said Razak, who has been flying professionally for nearly 13 years. “With flying, sometimes I’m home a lot, and sometimes I’m gone a lot. I’ve got a lot of free time on my hands, and I wanted to parlay that into something that would help me out down the road.”
Since 2004, Razak also has been investing in rental properties. He currently owns 13 units – three fourplexes and a townhouse.
Initially, I got involved with rental properties,” he explained. “I live in a big college town, with the University of Kansas here – so rental properties are always a good investment.”
But Razak was looking to further diversify.
“I’ve always thought about other businesses, like a laundromat or a car wash – something that I could do with my schedule. I eventually decided that a coin laundry would be the best idea for me, and I had that idea on the back burner for a while.”
Then, one day a co-worker was telling Razak how he had borrowed from his 401(k) plan to start up a vineyard. And, just like that, a fire had been lit.
“I thought, ‘This guy’s not afraid to follow his dream.’ It motivated me to finally pursue the laundromat idea I had been putting off,” Razak said.
So, last spring, he went online and began looking for suitable locations. After a few starts and stops with different strip mall storefronts in and around Lawrence, Razak found the perfect spot right in the center of town.
“From the get go, I had envisioned an upscale laundromat,” he explained. “However, I was a little naïve about the whole thing, so I wasn’t wild about this location at first.”
Then, he shared the demographics with his distributor, Matt Lamons of Loomis Brothers Equipment Co.
“When I showed the demographics to Matt, he was really excited,” Razak recalled. “I was worried that I might be in a little bit rougher part of town, but he said, ‘It’s where you need to be.’”
With a large amount of rental property in the area, approximately 60 percent of the population within a one-mile radius of Razak’s location rents.
What’s more, the 2,500-square-foot facility, which was a former alterations shop, is located in a busy strip mall – featuring an Ace Hardware, a Family Dollar, a Rent-A-Center, a yoga studio, a pizza restaurant, a nail salon and an Asian market. And, according to Razak, there’s a Wendy’s, a Dunkin’ Donuts and a McDonald’s all within walking distance.
However, while the location seemed like a perfect fit for a new laundromat, the space itself required more than a little work.
“The place was pretty bad inside,” Razak said. “It was not set up for a laundromat at all, and it had been vacant for quite a while. It was a disaster.”
With the help of a Small Business Administration loan, which required only a 10 percent down payment on the project, Razak signed the lease and last September began work on finally making his laundry dream a reality.
“We completely tore the place apart,” he said. “We had to gut the previous space. We had to saw-cut the floor to run new plumbing. The electrical also presented some problems for us. We had to upgrade that service. It all turned out to be a bigger job than anticipated.”
In addition, due to the town’s construction codes, any public facility with more than 1,500 square feet of floor space is required to have at least two restrooms.
“Because I was on a very tight budget and there was already one restroom here, we simply partitioned off some of the back areas and turned them into storage space and an office, keeping the main floor area just under 1,500 square feet,” Razak explained.
All in all, the two-month renovation process cost Razak approximately $300,000, include the laundry equipment.
To help recoup his investment, Razak help a successful grand opening event, where all of his machines were free for the entire weekend, and one lucky customer won an iPad.
The first-time laundry owner also has been getting the word out about his store through the flyers inserts in the area’s newspaper, radio spots on the local country music station and a direct mail campaign to all of the apartments within a one-mile radius of Lawrence Laundry.
“I’m planning on doing some door hangers in the future,” he said. “I’ve been targeting those who live close to the store, but I think I’m going to see if I can start getting some business from other parts of town that may not even know that I’m here yet.”
One segment of the Lawrence population that definitely knows about Razak’s new laundromat are the University of Kansas students who live near the store.
“About 20 percent of my customers are students,” Razak said. “I’d like to see that number go higher. I offer free WiFi and a location that the students should really gravitate toward. It’s a clean and safe environment.”
In addition, the store’s color palette wisely picks up on the college theme.
“Matt called me to find out what colors I wanted the bulkheads, the seating, the folding tables and so on,” Razak recalled. “I hadn’t even thought about the color scheme, but as we discussed it, he said the wooden ceiling in here reminded him of the university’s Allen Fieldhouse basketball court, where the KU Jayhawks play. We picked up on that. So, the colors are the school’s red, blue and yellow; anything with those colors in this town can’t go wrong. It’s very bright and colorful. People respond well to it.”
Razak also has plans to add murals of the Allen Fieldhouse and the Jayhawks logo to the walls.
Lawrence Laundry further differentiates itself from its competitors by being the only store in town to offer credit-card acceptance.
“I’ve got credit card readers on my two 60-pounders, two of 30s and two of my 18s,” he explained. “I also have four dryers that accept credit cards. Right now, [credit card transactions] represent about 20 percent of my revenue; the coin is still king.”
Razak added that his 75-pound dryers, automatic front doors and the fact that his store is open 24 hours are other ways in which he tries to stand out from the other laundromats in Lawrence.
He’s also considering building his business by possibly adding a wash-dry-fold service, as well as serving local commercial accounts.
“It’s definitely a niche I think I can do pretty well in,” he said. “None of the other laundries in town offer it.”
Other potential future plans include expanding Lawrence Laundry to take advantage of its approximately 1,000 square feet of currently unused space, which he already has plumbed and wired for additional machines – or perhaps building a second store on the other side of town.
“Opening a laundry is a pretty daunting task,” Razak admitted. “But don’t let yourself get intimidated. The key is to find the right distributor to work with. Keep an open mind. Know you end goal, but also be flexible because things will change. Just go with the flow.”