OJAI, Calif. — Your Laundromat can be much more than the small business that provides your livelihood and supports your family. It can be a community gathering spot, a place where families can come to do their laundry but also enjoy a holiday party, bring their children for after-school tutoring, or even get health testing.
During its recent Excellence in Laundry Conference here, the Coin Laundry Association invited a handful of store owners who actively promote community activities through their stores to speak to their peers about why they involve themselves in more than just providing laundry services.
Tom Rhodes owns seven Sunshine Laundry Centers in Vero Beach, Ft. Pierce and Port St. Lucie, Fla.
“I want to make my small corner of the world a better place, pure and simple,” he says.
His business gives laundry vouchers to a ministry that supports the poor, hosts “Loads of Love” events several times a year, donates a portion of revenue from a “blessed washer” used between Thanksgiving and Christmas to a local charity, and hires from a local jobs training program, among other community endeavors.
But you can think outside the box, too. Rhodes and crew built a water “mister” within what looks like a washing machine. They take it to some outdoor events for kids to play in. It carries the Sunshine Laundry Center brand and is often photographed.
Rhodes recounted a story about a customer who, while waiting between cycles in one of his stores, was reading newspaper clippings about Sunshine’s community activities on a bulletin board. Upon recognizing Rhodes from a picture, the man said simply, “You’re a good man.”
“Think about how many deposits I made in that man’s mind, and how I differentiated myself right away from the other Laundromats in town,” Rhodes says.
He urged attendees to keep their eyes open to the needs in their own communities and then find a way to step in and fill them if they can.
“You guys can do that in your own way,” Rhodes says. “Your community may be a little different than Vero Beach, but I imagine a lot of the needs are still the same. Just open your eyes, read the paper, listen to what’s on the radio. There are an abundance of opportunities for you.”
Tyrone Akins and Brian Holland are co-owners of The Laundry Café, with two 24-hour stores in Philadelphia and a third on the way.
Before opening the first store, “We had a decision to make,” says Akins. “Did we just want to become a business within that community, or did we want to become part of the fabric of that community? Our goal was to understand the interests of our clients, our customers.”
At The Laundry Café, “Family Night” encourages families to gather for free pizza and a movie one night a week. “Honor Roll Sweepstakes” provides community youth who make the honor roll the chance to win prizes like an iPad, Nintendo Wii or Kindle Fire. The “Halloween Costume Showcase” gives local kids the opportunity to flaunt costumes and enjoy free candy, music and movies.
Other programs, which are free and open to the public, focus on heart health, hypertension and breast cancer awareness.
“It takes so little of your time, but your return on investment is incredible,” Akins says. “When you say return on investment and you think business, you always think about dollars. What we’re talking about is your return on neighborhood investment.”
“It’s the small things that make a huge difference in another person’s life,” Holland says.
“A lot of times, it’s not all of the work that we do, sometimes it’s just making your store the venue for good things to happen,” says Akins.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!