CHICAGO — Ralph Wagner, who owns Wash ’n Dry Laundry Services in Morris, Ill., has been working in the coin laundry business for 14 years. His store an hour southwest of Chicago occupies 2,000 square feet and features Maytag equipment totaling 33 washers and 26 dryers.
Up until last June, his business was strictly a self-service laundry. But since then, his sales have risen 25%. Why? Wagner attributes it to an extra service he started last summer, one that many laundries may already offer: wash/dry/fold.
Getting into wash/dry/fold was something he and his wife had always wanted to try. Wash ’n Dry competes with a couple other Laundromats in the market of about 25,000 residents, but the economy and the lack of actual wash/dry/fold service in the vicinity pushed Wagner to pursue it.
“We feel right now, with the economy coming back, that [it was] a good time to start it,” he says. “In our area, we only had one other Laundromat that offered the service.”
Wagner reached out to Kevin Meyer, president of distributor Dolphin Laundry Service, Bensenville, Ill., to help him get started. “It’s a tough thing to get going, but it’s gone pretty well,” Wagner says. “A 25% increase in our revenue is pretty good.”
Chris Brick, regional sales manager for equipment manufacturer American Dryer Corp., explains that up to 80% of attended coin laundries in the United States offer some form of wash/dry/fold service. “Wash/dry/fold brings a different customer base to a lot of laundries.”
“Household washers [or] small equipment within apartment buildings can have trouble handling comforters,” says Meyer, “so it solves a need for prospective customers.”
Considering the convenience such an added service offers to customers, it’s no wonder that many coin laundries have decided to cash in.
Dick Ruel, national sales manager at equipment manufacturer Maytag Commercial Laundry, attests to the profit potential. “If it were not for wash/dry/fold services, some laundries would not turn a profit.”
How much does such a service contribute to a store’s total gross revenue? Gary Gauthier, national sales manager for equipment manufacturer Milnor Laundry Systems, says it varies from store to store, while Meyer cites a range of less than 5% to up to 30%.
Considering how many laundries offer this service, what considerations must one take to truly profit from wash/dry/fold? Brick says the key to mastering the service starts with organization.
PROTOCOLS AND EQUIPMENT
For stores looking to get into wash/dry/fold, Brick advises owners to start with a solid foundation of policies and procedures.
Having a protocol on how to accept and organize garments is the first thing owners should lay out prior to starting a service. Establish procedures for weighing a load and asking the customer if they want any pieces spot-treated or loads separated by whites and colors, for example.
“Taking responsibility for customer goods means understanding fabrics and carefully processing those items,” says Gauthier. “Make sure that your wash/dry/fold staff takes the time to evaluate the goods they accept to ensure that they aren’t damaged.”
With a plan in place, owners may then turn their attention to equipment and the possibility of investing in new machines.
The experts agree that any coin store can start a wash/dry/fold service using the washers and dryers already in place, but there may be limitations.
“If all units within the store are top loaders, it limits your ability to process larger bulky items like comforters,” Meyer says. “[But] the majority of what a store will receive for wash/dry/fold is personals, which a typical coin store has sufficient machinery to handle.”
Wagner found this to be true, saying that he’s able to utilize the store’s current equipment for some of the customers he serves.
While he primarily processes residential wash/dry/fold, his initial goal was to go after commercial work. To date, Wagner has attracted business from what he calls “small commercial” accounts, catering to local hotels and senior housing facilities. For this reason, he installed a soaking tub and an Ecolab chemical and cleaning system for his machines.
Higher-capacity machines can process loads more quickly, but deciding which machines to invest in all goes back to a store’s policies and procedures, Brick says.
“If the customer wants to separate loads … then you’re going to use two smaller machines,” he says. “But if a customer does not want, or choose to separate [loads], then [you can] dump everything in a 60-pound [washer].
“In general, a 60-pound washer can handle the vast majority of commercial account needs a Laundromat might have,” says Meyer regarding higher-capacity machines. “However, if a coin store is in a market where an 80-pound machine might give it an advantage for attracting self-service customers, then that should be taken into consideration.”
Utility efficiency, a large profile for easy loading and unloading, and a five-year manufacturer-backed parts warranty are characteristics that Meyer looks for in assessing higher-capacity equipment.
Should a store that offers wash/dry/fold service make that equipment available to its walk-in customers? For Meyer, it’s all about catering to your customers, whoever they may be.
“We generally recommend making all equipment available to customers,” he says. “In practice, attendants will typically use the same one or two machines for wash/dry/fold accounts due to their proximity to the attendant station, or to high-visibility points in the store. But, there is no reason to limit availability.”
Though he limits the store’s cleaning system for commercial accounts strictly to employee use, Wagner has been able to process residential accounts while self-service customers are using the store’s washers and dryers, he says.
“We’re a smaller market so there’s always downtime,” he explains, adding that late morning and early afternoon is when the store usually experiences a lull in traffic. “We have enough machines for our market where there’s always some machines open. Most [customers] drop off regular loads for just one or two machines at a time.”
Check back Tuesday for Part 2!