By Bob Nieman | Jun 14, 2012
For many, the career path to coin laundry ownership is a long and winding one, with several detours along the way – but perhaps none more so than the road Kevin Olson traveled to eventually opening 24/7 Laundromat in Belvidere, Ill.
“I have a background in many different areas,” Olson explained. “I went to school to be a gunsmith. I was a farrier for seven years. And I owned an industrial hammer manufacturing business.”
Currently, Olson operates a gas station, a convenience store and a Chinese restaurant called the Happy Wok, which are all located in the Belvidere strip mall that he owns.
He also includes a construction business on his resume.
“We do everything in construction – complete turnkey packages, whatever,” Olson noted. “We’ll do commercial or residential construction; however, in recent years, we’ve gotten away from doing a lot of the residential work.”
So, from guns, horses and hammers to gasoline, commercial real estate and Chinese food, Olson has kept his mind wide open and his entrepreneurial interests quite varied.
Where does a self-service laundry fit into the business mix?
As it turns out, Olson’s brother-in-law owns a couple of coin laundries in neighboring Iowa, so he was able to walk Kevin through the pros and cons of laundry ownership.
“When you’ve got family in the business, you get a lot of advice,” Olson said. “We’ve always felt that the laundry business was a good business for retirement – something a little less demanding than some of the other businesses we’ve been in and are in, such as the restaurant and the convenience store. I was looking for something that takes a little bit less work management-wise and labor-wise.
“Plus, the most important factor is that we felt the community really needed a laundromat.”
Finding a suitable location is the first, most crucial and often most time-consuming step of all. Fortunately for Olson, he happened to own just such a location – right in his strip mall.
The 2,800-square-foot storefront had previously been a billiards room and, more recently, a florist.
“We completely gutted everything,” said Olson, who renovated the space himself, with coaching from his distributor, D&M Equipment Co., based in Chicago. “We removed the concrete floor, as well as the walls down to the bare outer walls. Basically, we started over.”
The actual construction phase of the 24/7 Laundromat took about two months to complete. However, the project was almost scrapped before it ever started.
“After a couple of months of planning, locating the water line and making sure what we had for available water, we submitted our plans,” Olson said. “It wasn’t until after we submitted those plans and were waiting for our permit that we were notified of a very large water impact bill. The city came to us and wanted $30,000 for water and sewer. That was quite a shock.
“As a matter of fact, it almost forced us to look at another one of our spaces outside of this community,” he added. “But we convinced the city to work with us and spread out those payments over five years. Otherwise, it would have made it almost impossible to open.”
In addition to 24/7 Laundromat and Olson’s other businesses, his shopping center includes a Mexican restaurant and a Papa John’s pizza location. What’s more, a daycare center is currently being built out.
Beyond being located in a busy shopping center, 24/7 has benefitted from great “laundromat demographics.”
“It’s a very heavily Hispanic community,” said Olson, who currently employs one part-time laundry attendant. “And I would estimate that 65 percent of the community is under the $30,000 per year income range. There are a lot of apartments and rental houses. So, we thought it was just perfect for a coin laundry.”
And, like his other service businesses, Olson did his best to create an exceptional facility for those living in the neighborhood.
“We did it with our gas station,” he explained. “We made the inside atmosphere different from every other gas station around. And we think we did the same thing with our laundromat as well. We made it extremely comfortable and very clean looking – all stainless steel bulkheads, the walls are tiled all the way to the ceiling, LED lighting, four 60-inch plasma televisions and plenty of seating.”
24/7 Laundromat also features free Wi-Fi access, a cable TV package, arcade games for the kids, and both vended and over-the-counter soap sales. In the near future, Olson said he plans to add a few computer stations for his customers to use, as well as perhaps implementing a wash-dry-fold service for those who are more interested in simply dropping off their dirty laundry.
But perhaps 24/7 Laundromat’s biggest selling point is right in its name – the store never closes.
“I have a hard time with keys,” laughed Olson, who is on-site at his various businesses within the strip center about 60 hours per week. “I own the gas station out front and the C-store, and we did that 24 hours, too. We are open 365 days out of the year. We do not close for any day. I believe that a business should be available to people when they’ve got time to do what they want to do.
“I’m very strongly customer-service-oriented,” he added. “I believe that the customer has to be taken care of 100 percent. There are a lot of businesses out there, and there are a lot of businesses out there just like ours. So, we can’t just look pretty – we have to treat people right. I demand it out of the gas station employees, and I require the same in my laundromat.
“Our customers are taken care of. Whatever we have to do, we try to do it to keep them happy. Without them, we’re nobody.”