By Jeff Gardner | Jun 20, 2012
Drive around your marketplace. Most likely, there’s a hair salon on seemingly every corner.
And hair salons can become great commercial clients. Many salons work with large commercial laundries, due to the great number of dirty towels they create on a regular basis – or they have their own washer and dryer on site and do their own laundry.
However, with big commercial laundries, the scheduling is often an issue for many hair salons. For a commercial laundry to handle a hair salon the way it wants – and needs – to, that salon must have a great deal of towel storage, because the commercial laundry is going make only one or two trips per week to deliver clean towels and pick up dirty ones. And, fortunately for us, a lot of salons simply don’t have that kind of storage capacity.
One thing we can do that the commercial laundries can’t do cost-effectively is be more reactive to the salon client. We can pick up and deliver on Fridays and Saturdays – and later into the evening. We can take care of these clients during their peak business times so that their towel inventories don’t need to be so massive that they have no place to put them.
And, even with some salons that have their own washers and dryers, there still may be a good business opportunity there for you.
For example, I have a salon account that uses us only on Fridays and Saturdays, because they can do their own laundry the rest of the time and keep up with their business. However, they can’t keep up on Fridays and Saturdays, so we handle the overflow. So, we’ll get four or five large laundry bags from them on Friday night that we’ll wash and get back to them on Saturday morning.
I’ve also discovered that hair salons with their own laundry equipment often have toploading washers. If that’s the case, they’re likely burning through their linen inventory a lot quicker because toploaders tend to really beat up towels and other items more than our frontloading machines. Therefore, we can, in essence, offer salon owners extended life on their linens, which they appreciate.
It’s just another commercial segment were we, as laundry owners, can be of service and fit ourselves into the needs of these hair salons. We can offer a customized, boutique-type service for them.
As long as the salon items don’t have dyes, it’s fairly easy to wash. Salon clients generally want us to use a fabric softener to combat static electricity. In fact, in my laundry business, we’ve gone as far as to put fabric softener in the load, as well as adding it again to the drying cycle in the form of fabric softener sheets. Static electricity is a big issue for the stylists, because it can really hamper them when they’re trying to work on someone’s hair.
But perhaps the biggest challenge to cleaning salon items is hair dye. So, if you’re renting linens to your salon clients, understand that they’re going to destroy them. In fact, a lot of hair salons use black or dark-colored towels because they’re dying hair – and with white towels, once the hair dye gets on it, it’s dyed.
Hair salons typically separate the towels they use for the washing and cutting hair from the ones they use for the dying process or even for doing manicures and pedicures. Nail polish from manicures and pedicures isn’t as big an issue as hair dye, but there is a potential issue there, so they’ll usually separate out those three towel types.
Again, as far as removing hair dye from white towels, it is virtually impossible, so take that into consideration if you’re renting out white towels – because you’ll have to replace a lot of the towels over time. When commercial laundries bid on such salon accounts, they will plug in a higher replacement cost, so be sure to factor that into your pricing as well.
Of course, if they don’t have their own towels, you can – and should – offer your salon clients black towels that are dedicated just for dying hair. Again, we’ve done this and it works for most salons.
With most hair salons, the bulk of their laundry loads are towels. However, some full-service salons may also offer massages, so they may have some sheets and blankets mixed in with their towels; if that’s the case, it’s worth noting that blankets are something the most linen companies traditionally won’t clean, which gives laundry owners an advantage when targeting this type of salon.
If you choose to move up to a higher grade of salon, which would include massages and other spa-type treatments, you’re likely going to come across items such as slippers, bathrobes, wraps, bath towels and so on.
With these types of clients, one of the things you can do to separate yourself from the traditional commercial laundries is to offer custom folding.
At my store, one of the things we’ve done for a certain salon/spa client was to custom-fold bathrobes with a pair of slippers inside the front; we would then tie the robe and shrink-wrap it. It was presented to the commercial client as a complete package that could then be placed in its spa treatment rooms.
Again, the two big challenges with hair salon clients are hair dye stains and dealing with the demand, because you’re probably going to have to take care of something on a Friday night.
Although there is a massage element to some hair salons’ offerings, massage therapy is a stand-alone business in itself – and also a great potential commercial client.
With massage therapists, some of the items you’ll receive, in addition to sheets and blankets, are covers for the massage table head rests. You’ll also potentially see headbands (which are used during facials), as well as facial towels.
One of the challenges of servicing this type of client arises if the therapist offers water treatments involving hot towels. With water treatments, there is generally a lot of moisture in those towels, so you need to pick up and deliver to these clients on a more frequent basis, especially during the warm summer months – otherwise they may tend to develop mold and mildew. So, you want to be proactive and know the types of massage therapy your clients offer.
Another major challenge with massage therapists is getting out the various oils these clients use in their businesses. Certain oils are more difficult to remove than others. For example, nut- and petroleum-based oils can be extremely difficult to get out.
For removing oils, it’s critical to wash the sheets and other items at the proper water temperature with the correct solvents. Typically, a citrus-based cleaning solvent will do the job well.
However, at my store, for items we can’t get clean even at 160-degree water temperatures, we have entered into an agreement with a local drycleaner – we save up the sheets with the troublesome stains and send those out. If you do this, be sure to get a bulk rate from the drycleaner.
My drycleaner charges me a flat rate of $25 for a large laundry bag, and that’s how I’ve dealt with some of the really tough commercial stains.
Despite the challenge of the massage oils, massage therapists are great potential commercial clients. The nice thing about them is that they are small businesses. The therapists are typically individuals or sometimes of small group of professionals, so they are ideal customers for us, because when they go to the big commercial laundries, those big guys don’t even want to talk to them because they can’t provide enough volume.
A lot of the larger commercial laundry companies won’t even stop their delivery trucks for less than $50 or $100 – whereas a typical massage therapist is an ideal size for us. They’re small businesses, and they’re easy to deal with. As a matter of fact, they’ll often bring their laundry loads into your store, because they’re usually mobile. Several of them will literally go to their customers.
Light Medical Accounts
As you delve into the “light medical” sector of the commercial laundry world with massage therapy accounts, another great one to consider is acupuncture. Acupuncturists typically will have similar types of laundry needs as massage therapists; however, these accounts also my include headbands, pillow cases and exam gowns. In fact, I personally inventory both exam gowns and pillow cases.
Exam gowns are probably the most difficult thing to fold and make look neat, because a lot of them don’t have a way to zip up the back end; therefore, it’s one of the more labor-intensive commercial account items.
However, for a smaller account that only uses a few of these gowns, it’s a garment for which you can get a good price, because you’re at that volume threshold where the large commercial laundries simply aren’t even interested.
I charge my clients as high as 80 cents per exam gown, and as low as 40 cents. If you’re only doing 10 or 20 a week, it’s clearly way too small of an account for the big guys to bother with, but then again, it’s one of those ideal little niche markets for coin laundry owners. And, like massage therapists, many acupuncturists also are mobile, so they’ll often bring their laundry to you.
Occasionally, with acupuncturists, you’ll get a garment with a spot of blood on it – usually not very much, just a small black spot on a sheet, literally the size of a pinhead. And you can almost always remove that blood stain with a little hydrogen peroxide.
Acupuncturists make great commercial customers. It’s a small niche market, with low-maintenance packaging and low risk.
Other great light medical accounts are sleep centers. Personally, I’ve never done any work for a sleep center, but I’ve heard a lot about them. In general, these accounts include bedding – sheets, pillows, comforters. It’s typically larger items, where you can make a lot of money.
What’s more, comforters are the types of laundry items that most commercial laundries don’t want to deal with – again, making them an ideal client for us, as laundry owners. We can become a one-stop shop for these sleep centers.
Hospitals are also great sources for certain niche commercial work. One of the things I have discovered is that, once you get into a hospital, there is so much business you can do for it. For example, you can wash all of their dust mops, which are easy to clean; but sometimes hospitals don’t want to put their mops through the internal laundry service because they’re not specifically “medical” items. So, there are a lot of little “ins” when it comes for working within the hospital environment.
I’ve received a lot of commercial business from hospitals and small medical centers – everything from comforters and blankets to lab coats and personal drycleaning. One laundry owner I know built his entire business on renting exam gowns to hospitals and medical centers – that’s all he did.
There is a huge demand for the customized services a self-service laundry can provide, if you’re willing to specialize in these types of light-duty medical accounts. Again, most of the work is going to be exam gowns and lab coats, as well as some sheets and pillow cases.
And if the account is small enough, you’ll likely be able to offer these potential clients better prices than the commercial laundries – and still make a very tidy profit.