Coin-Op and Commercial Laundry: Maintaining a Dual Identity (Part 1)

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(Image: © iStockphoto/PeopleImages)

Bruce Beggs |

Whichever side of the line you’re on, it’s about best serving all customers

CHICAGO — The concept of adding commercial account work after opening your self-service laundry is well established in our industry, and many owners maintain such multi-faceted operations that boost their collective bottom lines.

But it’s important to understand how these two similar operations differ and how to best coordinate them when offering both so that one doesn’t impede the other. Whether it’s the walk-in customers standing in the next aisle over, or the commercial accounts whose representatives you may rarely see face to face, whichever side of the line you’re on, your goal should be to best serve your customers—all of them.

In a way, it’s about creating and maintaining a dual identity.

GETTING STARTED

Michael “Stucky” Szczotka co-owns New Wave Laundromat in Sterling Heights, Mich., just north of Detroit. He says his business has been doing laundry work for commercial accounts for approximately 14 years.

His staff of three full-time employees and three part-time employees processes a few thousand pounds of commercial work each week for the likes of cosmetic surgeons, party rental companies, spas, dental offices, massage therapists and dry cleaners to keep his wash wheels turning when walk-in business slows. But it’s done under a separate banner: New Wave Laundry Services.

“The store wasn’t ramping up as quickly as I thought,” recalls Szczotka, who also owns retail and commercial drycleaning operations and a textile restoration company. “With my background on the drycleaning side, I figured I could very easily just bring some accounts in.

“I go anywhere from $1.55 a pound all the way up to $3.20 a pound, depending on what kind of work it is. I realized very quickly if I had a 50-pound washer that I had vended for $6.30, if I could load up 30 pounds in there for $2 a pound, turning those wheels for $60 rather than $6.30, even though I had to pay some payroll, was worthwhile.”

The facility housing both measures just shy of 3,500 square feet and boasts 38 washers (ranging in capacity from 20 to 75 pounds), 22 dryers (16 are stacks, the remainder are 75-pounders), and a flatwork ironer, all from Continental Girbau.

In Norwalk, Conn., roughly an hour northeast of New York City, Bjorn Wisecup is a co-owner of The Laundry Basket (self-service Laundromat) and LBN Linens (commercial laundry). Here, the two operations are in adjacent, connected buildings, with 2,800 square feet of space dedicated to the Laundromat and approximately 1,400 square feet dedicated to commercial linen processing.

The Dexter brand washers used in the Laundromat include five 20-pounders, eight 30s, eight 40s, two 60s and two 80s. There are 14 30-pound stack dryers, two stack 50s and two 80-pound standalone machines.

LBN Linens uses larger OPL (on-premise laundry) equipment, including Milnor 140- and 160-pound washer-extractors, a 180-pound ADC dryer, and a Chicago Comet flatwork ironer.

The Laundromat turns 7 in March, and LBN Linens has been operating nearly six years.

“We started that pretty quickly after we started hiring attendants for the Laundromat, just to fill the void when they weren’t doing wash-dry-fold,” Wisecup says. “It was a great revenue-producing source because the employees were on salary and they weren’t always busy for 40 hours a week. The labor, which is one of the biggest expenses in the commercial (side), was already in place and built into the revenue model of the Laundromat itself.”

Wisecup says LBN Linens started small with gyms, salons, physical therapy centers, and a nursing home: “Very simple, easy stuff to do. It doesn’t really take a lot of chemicals to get sweat out of towels.”

Since expanding and dedicating space to commercial accounts, LBN nows also serves 50 restaurants.

He employs a staff of 10, including three part-timers. There is a plant manager responsible for processing and handling the commercial accounts, two attendants doing wash-dry-fold work, and everyone else works on the commercial side.

As his company embarked on handling commercial accounts, Wisecup says it was important to decide which accounts to take on based on their processing needs.

“They’re good, small accounts. If you do wash-dry-fold, you can squeeze a couple in and not fall behind too bad. Handling the medical stuff, we’ll leave that to the 100% dedicated linen companies that are properly set up and have the staff safeguards.”

Liz Snowdon is director of operations for Get Fresh Laundry, a 1,200-square-foot facility in Vancouver, B.C., that offers walk-in, commercial and other laundry services. For a decade, the company has processed goods for hotels, sports teams, massage clinics, shelters, bakeries, churches and other commercial accounts. The self-service and the commercial aspects of the business are “viewed and treated as separate entities,” she says.

Equipment utilized by walk-in customers includes 10 front-load washers (six 20s, two 30s and two 40s) and 10 dryers (six 30s and four 45s). A 75-pound washer-extractor and 55-pound dryer are exclusive to the commercial business.

The pursuit of commercial accounts was done “for the consistency of workflow,” adds Snowdon, who employs a staff of 12.

“It helps keep everybody busy and buzzing with things to do. (It) helps the customers feel more comfortable when they are dropping off their laundry, seeing all the work going on, which gives them a feeling that we know what we are doing. We then don’t just rely on walk-in customers, we have something to fall back on.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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