GLENDALE, Ariz. — During my long career in laundromat ownership, I fielded many questions about the self-service laundry business and what’s involved. For this month’s column, I thought I’d answer some of the questions most frequently asked of me while in my mats or when “cornered” at parties.
But before I do, let me say first that if you’re truly interested in owning and running a mat, read as much as you can. Go into the online archives of American Coin-Op where you will find a treasure trove of mat information. The Coin Laundry Association has many helpful tools for researching laundromats, and there are laundry-related forums on Facebook.
I covered a handful of questions in Part 1, including some related to equipment repair, selecting a store location, finding good employees and more. I'll conclude today by answering a few more:
Q: Can I sublease space to a complementary business?
Yes, sometimes this works if you have extra space, but make sure your lease allows it.
Some mats make a deal with the lessee to help maintain your mat in exchange for them doing business there. You lose some control, but you’ll have less worries about finding help.
This should be done through a lawyer so you can draft up a sublease that protects you from liability due to your lessee’s actions, and structured so the IRS is OK with it.
Recommended reading: “Protect Your Rights when Dealing with a Landlord,” December 2020
Q: What’s the best equipment mix?
Again, it depends on your market. Your distributor probably knows this best. Just keep in mind their tendency to overpack a mat with too much equipment. You need “people room” when the mat gets busy. Otherwise, there will gnashing of teeth.
There is a trend now for customers to favor big washers and dryers. Big machines attract customers with big loads. In some cases, really big … 100 pounds or more.
If you’re doing drop-offs, I like to see a couple of dedicated top loaders for your crew so they can open the lids to soak the laundry and work on stains.
Recommended reading: “Perfecting a Laundromat’s Equipment Mix,” July 2021
Q: What are the best brands of equipment?
Every brand has its plusses and minuses, I believe. Finding the best distributor in your area is just as important, maybe even more so, than the brand. In the beginning, their support can be priceless.
Important tip: Take the time to do your own laundry at different mats in your area! You’ll learn a lot, not only about the equipment you may like, but also how those mats are managed, and how the business feels from the customer’s point of view. If you plan on spending as much as $1 million on a mat, isn’t it worth it to do a few loads of laundry for research?
Q: Is crime a problem for laundromats?
Laundromats do experience burglaries and various thefts. They can also be targets of armed robberies, but that’s not nearly as common as in other retail stores, from my experience. This is due to the fact that most of the money is locked up in either the change machines, or the washers themselves. However, this leaves you, the owner, as the primary target when you come to collect.
It’s important that every employee knows to never give out any information about you, or your mat. Post a small sign next to your store phone to hammer that point home.
Criminals can get creative and say things like, “Hi, I’m Michael, Paul’s brother. He sent me to collect the day’s receipts.” This is one of the reasons I had everyone call me “Frankie.” If someone approached my workers using my “stage name,” the worker would see that the person didn’t know me and might be trying to scam them.
Video surveillance is your best friend! When combined with great lighting, it can identify both customer and employee thefts, verify if someone did indeed slip and fall in your mat, or identify anyone who is abusive to your employees or your equipment.
Recommended reading: “Maximizing Your Laundromat’s Security,” July 2021
Q: Do I have to have a pickup and delivery service?
The short answer is no, you don’t.
Most investors are attracted to laundromats because they see them as relatively easy to run as a part-time effort. If your mat is doing well without pickup and delivery, I would stay that way. It used to be that mat owners would only run a pickup/delivery service to boost their mat if it wasn’t doing well.
Having said that, advances in technology (such as laundry apps, texting, GPS, and cellphone navigation) have allowed some mat owners to greatly expand their sales, if they want to put the time in.
The plusses are you aren’t limited to your immediate area, you can charge more for this service, and you can build a much bigger business! The minuses are doing this right requires more time and effort from you, a vehicle or vehicles with proper insurance, drivers, and a good laundry app to support the service. Since there are more steps in the process compared to wash/dry/fold, having mix-ups or losing items is more likely.
I’m sure you may have more questions. As I mentioned at the open, read, read, then read some more. Don’t pull the trigger on a mat until you get all of your questions answered.
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].