CHICAGO — Housing rentals through Airbnb, Vrbo and similar marketplaces have skyrocketed in popularity these past few years, meaning guests’ dirty laundry regularly piles up for the owners of these listed homes, condos and more. It’s a growing market opportunity for laundromat owners willing to stretch beyond their self-service customers.
To learn about serving these “home hotels,” American Coin-Op interviewed a trio of business owners sprinkled throughout the country about their experience with vacation rental property customers and how they go about securing business from this niche market.
Instead of doing guest laundry themselves, owners of vacation rentals are looking for services to clean each unit’s bedding (such as sheets, pillowcases, comforters and duvets), bath towels and more in a timely fashion so these homes, condos or other dwellings can be rented out as soon as the next day.
How the service is provided ranges from individual properties dropping off and picking up goods themselves to a multi-property owner desiring its loads of dirty laundry be picked up and cleaned goods delivered.
A prerequisite to serving these accounts is the ability to perform wash/dry/fold service, sometimes in large volume. That necessitates personnel; available wash capacity; the ability to receive, route and track orders; and processing/storage space. If a service offers pickup and delivery, then obtaining those vehicles is an added necessity.
PROCESSES AND PROCEDURES IN PLACE
Tracy LeBlanc and husband Albert Ignacio own Monterey (California) Express Wash and Front Porch Laundry in Carmel, Calif., both renowned vacation communities. They’ve been serving vacation rental properties, mostly individuals, for several years now but that revenue stream surged when a company managing some 400-plus area Airbnbs grew unhappy with its then-laundry service and tapped them to take over.
“I mean, it really, it doubled our business immediately, the impact, and now they’re growing,” LeBlanc says. “So, every time they grow, we grow, and I think they’ve also doubled again. So, all of a sudden, we had to get much more efficient. We actually would shut down part of the laundromat, and then just had machines dedicated to them. Our efficiency had to go through the roof.”
Most vacation rental work is processed at Monterey Express, which covers roughly 2,000 square feet. Having opened less than a year ago, Front Porch Laundry is used for pressing tablecloths and other fine linens, and it also has an automatic folder. At press time, more laundry equipment was due to be installed there so the laundromat could welcome self-service customers as well.
The owners cross-train all employees so they can assist self-service customers or process for commercial accounts at either site. LeBlanc says they try to keep the staff number under 15.
“It’s really important that you have software that can manage it and … that you have processes and procedures in place,” LeBlanc says. “And everybody needs to be cross-trained because [vacation rental accounts] are not as forgiving as a customer that it’s their own laundry, because they are going to lose money if you don’t have their laundry ready, and that is unacceptable.”
Because LeBlanc and Ignacio run the laundries remotely from out of state, they rely heavily on their staff onsite: “We have an amazing manager who’s been with us for five years, and we have great employees who are just, you know, rock solid.”
Monterey Express utilizes a delivery van for its primary Airbnb client and is just starting to coordinate pickup and delivery through its multifunctional point-of-sale system. Storage space inside the laundry is at a premium, so the owners got permission to place a PODS portable container behind the store to maintain separation between soiled linen and clean linen.
The business has benefited greatly from word-of-mouth, plus it’s produced a video demonstrating its commercial laundry capabilities that can easily be shared online or via email.
So what has vacation rental work meant to the couple?
“It allowed us to buy another laundromat,” LeBlanc says. “There’s no way we could have done it without the Airbnb (work). And without the software, because … there's so much more that we can process. We’re not just using Excel spreadsheets and, you know, checking it off, right? It makes our employees extremely efficient. We can turn hundreds and hundreds of pounds of laundry in a few hours.”
Check back Thursday for Part 2: A bigger share coming?
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected] .