CHICAGO — Not every Laundromat owner is strictly only that, a Laundromat owner.
While many businessmen and businesswomen find that owning/operating a self-service laundry or two is more than enough to keep them occupied, there are store owners who strive to take more onto their plates in terms of adding another business, volunteering in their local community, mentoring, you name it.
Whatever their reasons, there are go-getters who have the capacity and the drive for other pursuits. Laundry ownership was the first calling for some. For others, it’s just the latest sideline.
But any store owner worth his or her weight in quarters knows it’s all well and good to keep pushing, as long as there is work-life balance.
American Coin-Op spoke to three self-service laundry owners who have experienced or are experiencing balancing laundry ownership with other pursuits, and what they’ve learned along the way.
Wisconsinite Steve Dietzen often went to pawnshops during his service to our country in the U.S. Army. Today, he owns and operates three Fast-N-Easy pawnshops in Green Bay, Menasha and Oshkosh; he opened his first store 12 years ago.
He lists jewelry, electronics, sporting goods, guns, TVs, vacuum cleaners, hand tools, and camping equipment as the items you’ll find most often on his pawnshop shelves.
About 21/2 years ago, he got into the laundry business and opened the Green Bay Express Laundry Center.
“I have a strip mall (in Green Bay). My pawnshop used to be in the strip mall. I grew out of that, so I had to build a 12,000-square-foot building on the same site,” Dietzen says. “Originally, I had planned to do just one big pawnshop. I’d never thought about doing a Laundromat. As I was building the building, I had two different investment groups approach me to lease space for a Laundromat. So once that happened, I started thinking maybe I could do this myself.”
Dietzen allotted 3,000 square feet for the laundry and the remainder for the pawnshop. They share a common entrance; patrons turn one way for the laundry, the other for the pawnshop.
“What I find is it’s a lot of the same clientele. What really works well, when people are doing their laundry, you have a captive audience, so we send them over to the pawnshop. If they’re doing laundry over here and they buy something over there, I give them a certain percentage off.”
He and three attendants oversee the laundry operation. As for his schedule, he visits the Green Bay facility on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, then spends the other two days at his other two stores. He doesn’t work weekends.
“If there is one thing I would caution people, originally going into Laundromat (ownership), I thought it would be a little less hands-on. I thought it would kind of run itself. But to run a really good Laundromat … you have to be there. You have to see how the customers are interacting, plus I was new to the business, so I had to learn the business. I had to learn the flow of the customers. I had to learn how the equipment operates and if it breaks down, how do I fix it.”
Dietzen says to this point, he’s not had any issues with balancing his workload between the laundry and pawnshop businesses.
“It’s really to the credit of my general manager (Lee Dietzen, a cousin) that kind of runs the pawnshops for me. He does such a great job for us, it really frees me up so I can dabble in new adventures like the Laundromat.”
THE PATH OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Kurt Cargle was working full-time as a salesman for a Chicago car dealership when the Great Recession hit the U.S. economy hard.
“When the Recession starting hitting back in 2007, it was kind of difficult to deal with, and I decided to invest in buying some washers and dryers and setting up small laundry facilities in motel chains and apartment complexes,” Cargle says. “I wanted to make sure I had some passive income to offset the decline in the auto industry.”
He had an inclination for laundry ownership; his father, Elmer, opened the first of several Kurt D. Laundromats in Chicago in 1971 and operated the group for more than 30 years before selling them in 2002.
“I learned about myself that I had the capacity in order to be able to step up. I really had no choice. The economy tanked and I needed something that would be not totally recession-proof but something that would not be affected by the downturn in the economy.”
In 2009, Kurt bought his first store, a 4,000-square-foot facility on Chicago’s South Side. He devoted mornings to the laundry before starting his shift at the car dealership after lunch.
“It gave me the understanding that I could balance the two by establishing a schedule, putting myself in a schedule and a routine. That helped me to be more dependent on being organized.
“Balancing between the dealership, 50 hours a week, and running to the Laundromat daily, checking on the washers and dryers, the repairs, the coin collections … now, several years later, I’ve got seven locations throughout the city of Chicago and that’s what I do full-time.”
Cargle has partnered with pickup/delivery service Rinse; his business operates a van that makes daily pickups from the Rinse warehouse, transports the dirty clothes to a Neighborhood Laundry-Mat for processing, then returns the cleaned goods to Rinse.
He and two family members collect money from the laundries but he otherwise leaves the day-to-day operations to his staff. Cargle says he recently purchased a shopping center in a South Shore community and that new venture is occupying his time at the moment.
Cargle says that growing more confident in delegating responsibilities, as well as leaning on his Islamic faith, has helped him find balance, but he admits that it is a “task.”
“I think that many times, a lot of us, we get into a business and become what I refer to as ‘technicians,’” Cargle says. “We’re desirous to be self-sufficient, to do for self in entrepreneurship, but oftentimes, we fall into a person who is just self-employed. We take all of the responsibilities upon ourselves to achieve.
“I think that is one of the biggest things I had to realize, that I couldn’t be that individual … I had to make certain I chose the path of entrepreneurship, by attracting other talent that would be able to assist in operation of my business.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!