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Be the Center of the Community (Conclusion)

Partnerships with agencies specializing in community service can be beneficial

CHICAGO — You can say your self-service laundry is a “community service,” just by virtue of providing the means for your neighbors to clean their clothes. But there are ways it can offer customers greater assistance in areas involving laundry and beyond.

Here’s a brief look at another handful of laundry business owners whose service-minded attitude bring them to the center of their local community.

SPREAD THE WEALTH

Mark Vlaskamp is co-founder and managing partner of The Folde, a relatively new delivery-focused laundry business that serves the Austin and Houston, Texas, communities. The operation runs 12 routes per week in Austin and nine routes in Houston from laundromats and distribution centers located in those cities.

When COVID hit in 2020 and The Folde saw some coin-op customers were laid off or without work, it started a fundraising campaign that allowed some of its higher socio-economic pickup and delivery customers to cover the cost of laundry for eligible coin-op customers. The donors donated directly through The Folde’s website and recipients could apply for funds with a simple, confidential application online.

“Almost all of the recipients were afraid to leave their home and were without access to on-site laundry,” Vlaskamp recalls.

In 2020, more than 5,800 pounds of laundry service between the two locations were donated to those in need in the form of unlimited monthly service subscriptions.

Then, in February of this year, Texas was hit with a massive winter storm that caused people’s pipes to burst. The fundraising geared up again and within weeks, The Folde was able to donate another 2,000 pounds of laundry service to those in need.

Not much was needed to start the program — a simple landing page on the website paired with donation forms and an application for free laundry.

“The resource that was absolutely essential was the buy-in from everyone on our team,” Vlaskamp says. “In the midst of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, our team found comfort in showing up to work, leaning on each other, and staying as busy as we could helping others.”

LAUNDRY BY THE BOOK

Stacey Runfola owns three laundromats in the Lake Worth and Delray Beach area of Florida, ranging in square footage from 1,500 to 4,600. All offer full service: walk-in, drop-off, and pickup and delivery. At her smallest store, in Delray Beach, she works with the local library in partnership with the Homeless Coalition to offer a literacy and laundry day one Wednesday afternoon a month.

“The library will coordinate different programs. Sometimes they’ll bring in water, sometimes snacks and things, and they bring in books. Sometimes they give away books. Sometimes they do other programs that bring literacy. And there’s washing clothes for free for people who need it.”

To keep things manageable, several people are invited to participate each month. Runfola covers half the cost and the library covers the remainder. “They do most of the heavy lifting. They do all the sign-ups and everything like that. They make my life very easy but I get to feel really good about it.”

Now in its second year, the program has donated just under 100 loads of laundry and who knows how many books.

“The first week that we did this, I was in the store talking to people, and the gratitude that people had for clean clothes was something … to really hear people thank you for coming in to wash their laundry. Somebody actually said to me as they were taking their stuff out of the washer, ‘That smells like self-respect.’”

FIND A NICHE, FIND A PARTNER

If you’re a business owner who’s interested in offering a community service that builds on or even expands beyond laundry, these store owners have some tips for you:

“Find a niche or a need and work on it,” says David Rebolloso of the North Tryon Laundromat. “It also helps when you have support, whether from your spouse, your children, an associate, or partnering with a non-profit.”

“Always put people over profit,” comments Christy Moore, Social Spin. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but a good business decision, too.”

“Use your customers as a launch pad!” suggests Vlaskamp. “Your customers want to help you and see you succeed. If you can put a good plan together, test it out with your current customers first to see if there is any traction. If it is something they are excited to get behind, they will. And if it is something that they aren’t interested in, you’ll know.”

Elizabeth Wilson, SUDS Laundry, advises partnering with local churches or schools: “They can tell you what needs they see in the neighborhood and help you reach those who need your help.”

“My best tip is find a good partner in the community,” Runfola says. “You have to work with somebody, because we aren’t in the business of community service, so we don’t have all the resources and all the knowledge. Working with some sort, preferably a not-for-profit who has a hand in that world on a daily basis is really beneficial.”

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.