CHICAGO — Owning and managing a vended self-service laundry has its share of challenges. And making the decision to keep your business open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, introduces still others.
There are costs related to staying open around the clock, including utilities, evening/overnight help, and problem-solving. And leaving stores unattended at times, especially during the overnight hours, presents opportunities for vandalism and for homeless people to use a store as shelter.
But under the right circumstances, “keeping the lights on” offers up added revenue opportunities and serves to generate goodwill among shift workers and other late-night or early-morning patrons in your area who can appreciate having the ability to do laundry on their schedule.
Here’s a look at a handful of today’s 24-7 stores and how their owners approach operating a business that never closes:
24-HOUR MEADOWTHORPE LAUNDROMAT, KENTUCKY
Rich Peot acquired his 24-Hour Meadowthorpe Laundromat in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2010. The 1,850-square-foot store located in a small strip mall on one of Lexington’s main downtown arterial roads offers 27 washers and 28 dryers. Two convenience stores nearby means police are patrolling the area every night. It wasn’t until he purchased new laundry equipment several years ago that he first entertained the idea of staying open 24-7.
“I just started out doing it gradually in the spring of 2014,” Peot says. “We had the normal ‘Last wash at 9:30, doors close at 11.’ But people were too rushed, in too big of a hurry. My staff wanted to get out the door at 11 o’clock, that kind of thing. It just seemed more customer-friendly to stay open all night.”
After a successful two-month trial period staying open 24-7 on weekends only, Peot shifted the operation to being open around the clock full-time.
“The first year or so, it was pretty much unattended through the night. Business was really slow to build up. We were doing some advertising, that kind of thing. Today, I’ve got seven part-time attendants and myself; my Laundromat is less than a mile from my home, and a mile from what I call my day job (as a cattle dealer).”
The attendants work staggered schedules, with only one on duty at a time. The store is unattended from 5 to 10 a.m. daily, and Peot relies on the security cameras he can access from his computer or smartphone to monitor the store then.
“Anytime there are issues that come up, questions about, like somebody left a cell phone on a table one day and then they said it went missing. I can go back through and pinpoint when something happened, if there’s a dispute, or I can keep an eye on my employees. It’s just a lot of peace of mind knowing that I can go back and double-check something.”
Peot maintains a no-tolerance policy on loitering in the store: “If they’re not doing laundry, they’re asked to leave very quickly. I don’t know if that word gets out among the homeless community or what but we have—knock on wood—very little problem with people hanging around or causing any kind of trouble.”
How much autonomy does Peot give his attendants to handle issues as they arise?
“As much as I absolutely possibly can. And they pretty much handle it. I’ve got some people who’ve been totally dedicated, totally loyal. I leave a bucket of quarters in the back room. If someone needs a refund, give them a refund and write it down.”
WASH WORLD, LOUISIANA
New Orleans’ Wash World, developed by Scott Wolfe Sr. in 2012, benefits from its attachment to a Po’boy shop (as featured in this Goin’ with Cohen column). This busy 4,000-square-foot 24-7 laundry, and other stores Wolfe sold years ago, “always had sister businesses that I operated to share the labor and oversight costs,” he says.
In a trio of back-to-back bulkheads running perpendicular to the dryers in Wash World, card-operated front loaders occupy four of the six sides. The remaining two are set aside for booth seating and folding. Washers range from 20 to 77 pounds capacity, and dryer pockets are either 30 or 45 pounds.
“Most customers just walk over to the Melbas Po’boys if they encounter a machine problem, and the Melbas management makes sure the Laundromat is always clean. The restrooms for the Laundromat are located inside Melbas.”
Wash World is so busy at times, it offers free dryers from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. “Our sales went up with this marketing concept,” Wolfe says, “and we shift a good amount of traffic to overnight.”
He’s always been a proponent of staying open around the clock.
“All my retail businesses over the past 40 years have been 24-7,” says Wolfe. “I find it easier than opening at 7 a.m. and closing at midnight. By the time staff closes and cleans up, it’s really a business that runs from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., leaving only five hours to spare. (Being open) 24-7 tells the public we’re open anytime, don’t even think about it.”
His two brothers run the day-to-day operation, but Wolfe visits the store weekly for management meetings. Running what Wolfe says is the busiest Laundromat in New Orleans means there are always people coming and going, and security cameras record it all.
“We are now considering upgrading our camera system with facial recognition just to open office doors, closets and machines, along with loitering,” Wolfe says. “Once we input a person who loiters outside or inside our store and mark them as trouble, the cameras will text us every time that person comes back.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!