ATLANTA — You might be surprised to learn what Yvette Morton Williams and Jerry Doliner are doing to drive sales. Their coin-ops are among a small group of hybrid operations dotting the map from Alaska to New York where you can buy time to use equipment on the floor and out in the lot. Washers and dryers, trucks and trailers — they’ve hitched up do-it-yourself moving to self-service laundry.
While it might seem a little far-fetched, consider that both business models rely on patron-supplied labor and each follows a familiar sequence: prep, load, run the load and unload.
With an estimated 40 million Americans relocating annually, and three out of four transients doing it themselves, some operators believe a sideline rental fleet is just the right move.
FIRST STOP: WASH & SPIN
“We have the distinct advantage of being the first stop for people coming into this neighborhood,” relates Morton Williams as we sit down to witness Monday-morning trade ratcheting up here inside her Wash & Spin Coin Laundry.
“If they haven’t selected a Laundromat, which they probably haven’t given much thought to at that point in their moving process, they will come back here and this will become the place where they wash their clothes.”
The 5,000-square-foot laundry certainly makes a good first impression, boasting a lineup of 48 dollar-increment-priced washers, ranging from top loaders to a trio of 80-pounders and a 100-pound model affectionately known as “Big Bertha,” along with an equal number of dryer pockets.
The front loaders are activated by changer-dispensed dollar coins, as well as credit and debit cards and smartphone payment apps. Complimentary-dry vends and soap for wash customers, free Wi-Fi access, a fully furnished children’s play area, widescreen TVs, and a computer rental station are among the creature comforts.
“Make no mistake about it. This is a Laundromat and we rent U-Haul trucks. This is not to diminish our U-Haul customers in any way, but this is a Laundromat first and foremost,” the operator states.
When she traded a lucrative career in the pharmaceutical industry to take over the reins of the coin-op on Atlanta’s southwest side seven years ago, the rental sideline was still in its infancy with two vehicles on the lot. Today, up to 17 trucks and trailers are typically on offer.
Morton Williams describes the dealer arrangement as “low risk” with no capital outlay for equipment. Vehicles and trailers are owned and maintained by U-Haul, and service-related calls handled directly by the company.
Supplies — from boxes and protective covers to packaging tapes and tie-downs — can be either purchased outright or credited against rental commissions. While truck and equipment rates are set by U-Haul, pricing for incidental over-the-counter products is determined by the individual dealer, the owner notes, adding that she “stocks what moves.”
Commissions, which vary according to vehicle class and whether the transaction involves a local or one-way move, “go a long way to defray labor costs” at her combination full-service laundry and rental center.
Operator and staff training is provided through the online, interactive “U-Haul University” and integrated into the store’s employee manual. Hands-on, proactive support through a designated area field manager supplements the initial training, including regularly scheduled vehicle checks ensuring “an extra layer of support to make sure the trucks are as safe as possible,” she emphasizes.
Reservations can be placed by phone as well as on U-Haul’s or Wash & Spin’s website. Internet bookings secured with credit cards streamline outgoing vehicle transactions while a new mobile app speeds returns.
Moving trucks, vans, pickups and trailers are parked round-the-clock in designated stalls along a mid-section of the shopping plaza’s common area lot. Maintaining good relations with the landlord, property manager and neighbors is critical to ensuring its continued use, the owner says, noting that cross traffic trade generated by vehicle rentals is “beneficial to all tenants.”
Given the lot’s open access, vehicles and equipment are vulnerable to occasional incidents of tampering and theft. “If you can think of it, it’s probably happened,” Morton Williams tells me matter-of-factly.
Storing and renting vehicular equipment raises safety concerns. She recommends prospective dealers consult with both their insurance agent and landlord beforehand.
Late returns also present challenges.
“Many times, things are out of our control, but it doesn’t release you of responsibility of being accountable to the customer,” she stresses. “I like to give my attendants flexibility to do what they are hired to do — first and foremost, you’re in customer service. Feel empowered to do what it is going to take to get this customer to the point where they’re happy to complete their move, do their wash, use the computer, or whatever it is that they came in to do.”
Wash & Spin’s seven staffers typically man the laundry in teams of two during the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. rental window. The front-counter nerve center just inside the entryway is within sprinting distance to vehicles.
“We all stay in shape here because there is a lot of walking back and forth,” Morton Williams smiles. “We work as a team all the time. While one attendant does the paperwork, the other is walking across the lot and pulling up the truck. It’s a team effort and goes smoothly for the customer.”
Attendant Katrina Cheatham says alternating between floor duty and U-Haul transactions “keeps me moving and allows me to put my customer service skills to work.” She pitches the laundry’s offerings to newcomers renting out or returning equipment.
Asked if anyone ever trucked in a household full of clothing, Cheatham nods, recalling one night when a renter pulled a 15-footer up to the curb an hour before closing with “the whole back filled.”
Thursday’s conclusion: It’s business times three for North Carolina’s Jerry Doliner