CHICAGO — Housing rentals through Airbnb, Vrbo and similar marketplaces have skyrocketed in popularity these past few years, meaning guests’ dirty laundry regularly piles up for the owners of these listed homes, condos and more. It’s a growing market opportunity for laundromat owners willing to stretch beyond their self-service customers.
To learn about serving these “home hotels,” American Coin-Op interviewed a trio of business owners sprinkled throughout the country about their experience with vacation rental property customers and how they go about securing business from this niche market.
Instead of doing guest laundry themselves, owners of vacation rentals are looking for services to clean each unit’s bedding (such as sheets, pillowcases, comforters and duvets), bath towels and more in a timely fashion so these homes, condos or other dwellings can be rented out as soon as the next day.
How the service is provided ranges from individual properties dropping off and picking up goods themselves to a multi-property owner desiring its loads of dirty laundry be picked up and cleaned goods delivered.
A prerequisite to serving these accounts is the ability to perform wash/dry/fold service, sometimes in large volume. That necessitates personnel; available wash capacity; the ability to receive, route and track orders; and processing/storage space. If a service offers pickup and delivery, then obtaining those vehicles is an added necessity.
Randy Roberts partners with a cousin in operating Columbus Express Laundry in Whitehall, Ohio. Roberts says his partner owns the facility while he’s responsible for delivery of services there. The company services vacation rentals through its public laundromat and a private, off-site facility, both just under 2,000 square feet.
Columbus Express staffs between four and a dozen people at its private facility and three or four attendants at the public laundromat, which handles overflow work. Equipment used at either location include the typical 20- to 60-pound washers and dryers most laundries have, Roberts says.
The company prefers to separate commercial work from self-service under the belief “that not having the distraction of somebody in there doing laundry at the table beside you improves productivity.”
It has a variety of vehicles available that can be used to pick up and deliver. Smaller vans can get into and out of neighborhoods where pickups are smaller. Sprinter vans and a box truck can handle the larger loads and more heavily weighted routes.
With the infrastructure in place, then it’s a matter of inviting and encouraging vacation rental owners to take advantage of a laundry’s service.
“A customer will ask you for something as quickly as you’re willing to deliver it, right? So some of it is expectation setting, and for us to be able to support a wide multitude of customers, residential business, Airbnb, Vrbo, all of those different types of businesses.
“We put in place a standard practice associated with turnarounds. So there may be a special need from time to time that we might accommodate, but in reality, we use the same system, the same process, the same timeline.”
Columbus Express’s growth hasn’t occurred by “happenstance,” says Roberts, who brings a career of corporate sales experience to the laundry venture.
“The first and most important thing you do is you need to get your website optimized,” he says. “Meaning you’ve got to target the things that you believe there is significant value in and make sure that you’re found when the various search engines are searching for you. We believe we’ve done a good job there. We’ve selected a good partner for the website, we’ve selected a good partner for our search engine optimization company.”
Vacation rental work has become an important but complementary niche to Columbus Express, and Roberts says it’s as deeply focused on growing that part of the business as any others.
“We believe there’s a significant opportunity not only with Airbnb, Vrbo, but we believe there’s a significant opportunity for residential services as well,” he says. “We’re trying to raise the ship with both sides of the business.”
Roberts offers this warning: “I want to caution people from taking that as an ‘only’ focus because there’s a lot of other business opportunity out there. And if you take your eye off that, you’ll miss some very important and significant opportunities. … I think (vacation rental work) is a very important component of an overall strategy for wash/dry/fold, but it’s not the only component to that strategy.”
Alliance Laundry Systems’ Mike Hand describes how offering large-capacity equipment can help decrease turnover plus attract customers eager to clean bulky items their home equipment can’t handle.
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