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Annual Distributor Survey: Pandemic Economy Puts Dent in 2020 Business (Part 1)

45.5% say year-over-year total business better last year compared to 2019

CHICAGO — Given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on day-to-day life since early 2020, you might expect that laundry distributor business may have suffered a bit last year.

Nearly 46% of distributors polled in the 2021 American Coin-Op Distributors Survey say that their total business—including sales of newly constructed vended laundries and replacement business—was better in 2020 compared to 2019. That’s some 21 percentage points lower than the year before.

Roughly 36% of respondents say their 2020 business was worse than 2019’s, while 18.2% say that business held steady compared to the prior year.

As for how distributors expect their 2021 overall sales will compare to those in 2020, 56.5% think things will be looking up, 21.7% believe their year-over-year sales will be unchanged, and 21.7% think their 2021 sales will be worse than 2020’s.

Distributors listed in the previous print edition of the American Coin-Op Distributors Directory were invited to participate in this year’s unscientific survey, which charts 2020 business and makes comparisons to previous years. In this three-part summary report, percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

2020 BUSINESS

This year, 45.5% of distributors who were polled said business was better in 2020 than 2019. That’s down from last year’s survey in which 67.7% of distributors said 2019 business was better than 2018’s. The share of distributors reporting better business compared to the prior year was 56.3% in the 2019 survey, 53.1% in the 2018 survey, 63.6% in the 2017 survey, and 67.4% in the 2016 survey.

Those describing their 2020 business as being “better” attributed their company’s performance to factors such as low financing rates; good service and product availability; new investors entering the marketplace; and a large pipeline of orders that were already in place from late 2019.

The share whose business suffered in 2020 blamed it on COVID-related issues such as local lockdowns; a large portion of the workforce working from home; lack of available financing; a lack of confidence from laundromat owners; and “government handouts.”

REPLACEMENT BUSINESS

The area of replacement business took a distinct hit last year, with just 31.8% of distributors polled saying their 2020 replacement business was up compared to 2019’s. Slightly more than 61% of distributors surveyed last year said that segment was up in 2019 compared to 2018.

In older surveys, the share was 58% in 2019, 68% in 2018, 62% in 2017 and 64% in 2016.

Roughly 41% of respondents say they saw 2020 replacement business decrease from that of 2019, while 27.3% say it remained unchanged.

NEW-LAUNDRY CONSTRUCTION

American Coin-Op asked distributors to list the number of new laundries they built and/or to which they supplied equipment in 2020.

In this year’s survey, the share of distributors that built and/or supplied equipment to three or fewer stores accounted for 47.8% of respondents. In comparison to previous surveys, that number was 51.7% for 2019, 58.6% for 2018, and 62.1% for 2017.

Companies building, or supplying equipment to, four or more new laundries in 2020 accounted for 52.2% of the total. That compares to 48.3% for 2019, 41.4% for 2018 and 37.9% for 2017.

The actual number of new laundries that distributors were involved with in some way in 2020 ranged from none to one respondent reporting his or her company dealt with 93 new stores.

Following is a rundown of the most popular answers from this year’s survey:

1) 3

2) 4 and 10 (tie)

4) 5 and 12 (tie)

Roughly 46% of distributors said their new-construction total for 2020 was higher than the previous year’s. Comparing to previous surveys, 50% said that total was up for 2019; 46.9% said it was up for 2018; 23.3% said it was up for 2017; and 33.3% said it was up for 2016.

Nearly 32% of distributors surveyed said their new-construction total was lower in 2020 than in 2019. Previous surveys showed 27% with lower totals in 2019 than in 2018, 22% in 2018 than in 2017, and 47% in 2017 than in 2016.

Roughly 23% of distributors polled said their new-construction total remained the same as 2019’s. That compares to 23% reporting no change in 2019 from 2018, 31% in 2018 from 2017, and 30% in 2017 from 2016.

In Part 2 on Thursday: equipment mix and store size trends