RALEIGH, N.C. — The yellows, blues, greens and shades of red at Calvary Laundromat in Raleigh are decorator-designed to create an inviting atmosphere, says owner David Makepeace. But the intangible atmosphere, the one that customers find welcoming, is created by his staff.
Makepeace says he’s “extremely” happy with sales at the 3,000-square-foot laundry, located in a small shopping center in the midst of large apartment complexes. “The success of it depends on the people you hire,” he says. “I have wonderful attendants.”
He names several other contributing factors, including the technological sophistication of its 30 front loaders and 28 dryers.
STARTING ON GOOD FOOTING
Makepeace is a former commercial banker in Charlotte and Raleigh who decided 13 years ago that “I wanted to go out on my own, to find a business and learn it and eventually buy it.” He was drawn to a cleaner/laundry because “It’s not going to go out of fashion like the buggy whip. Everybody’s going to need to get their clothes cleaned.”
He approached the then-owner of Medlin-Davis Cleaners and proposed, “You train me, and I’ll buy it from you.” Over the years, he rose to president, supervising three cleaning plants, three pickup and delivery routes and nine stores in Raleigh and neighboring towns, plus one small coin-op in the long-established Cameron Village shopping center in Raleigh.
Four years ago, unsure about the owner’s intentions of selling, he determined to start his own laundry while continuing to supervise Medlin-Davis. His wife Lee offered her full support.
It was at the beginning of the recession, but some businesses, including laundries, do well in that environment, he believes.
To financially strapped customers who need to clean their clothes, “This is a very affordable way to do that, rather than going to Lowe’s or Home Depot to purchase a washer and dryer.”
He’d worked with Medlin-Davis’ 1,500-square-foot laundry so he “had a general feel of how they operate.” Plus, T & L Equipment Sales gave him the specific knowledge he needed.
Makepeace discovered the Coin Laundry Association and joined immediately. “They had an absolute wealth of information they could give me.”
Co-owner Lee worked as full-time attendant the first six months, and David gives her credit for starting the laundry off on a good footing. “She did a wonderful job of establishing relationships.”
In 2010, he bought the part of Medlin-Davis that operated in Raleigh and the nearby town of Wake Forest: two cleaning plants, four dry cleaning stores, three pickup and delivery routes for cleaning and wash/dry/fold, and the Cameron Village coin-op.
His wife became head of accounting and administration, while he functions as head of operations. They have 60 employees.
Wash/dry/fold work for the routes is done at one of the cleaning plants. Wash/dry/fold work for the Cameron Village coin-op, which is unattended, is processed at Calvary along with its work.
Makepeace is a firm believer in keeping up not only equipment but appearances. Four-year-old Calvary has already been repainted once, and the checkerboard of floor tiles there is stripped and waxed every quarter, he says. Recently, some floor tiles were replaced, and a chair rail was added. “It’s very important that we keep up with wear and tear.”
At the 1,500-square-foot Cameron Village coin-op, Makepeace renovated everything: floor, walls, ceiling. He replaced all the machines with new ones after he found, “Stuff was always breaking down. I was losing business.”
Once again, he turned to his wife’s decorator friend for a color scheme. This one is more subdued—lots of pale blues and browns—in keeping with the supposed preferences of the retirees and North Carolina State University students who are its customers.
He added a large-screen TV, Wi-Fi, and new furniture.
He’s now enlisted the help of a marketing firm in designing not only a marketing plan but a logo, revamped storefronts for the cleaners, and even “the lettering on our vans.” And he says he wouldn’t mind having another coin-op.
After a 10-year apprenticeship and now four years of ownership, Makepeace believes he knows “what it takes to be successful.”