CHICAGO — Developing a self-service laundry requires a singular focus on creating the best store for your community and its potential customers. But do you think you could maintain that kind of vision when you pursue Store No. 2? How about Store No. 3? Or No. 4?
Yes, adding more stores to your portfolio means more revenue-generating options for you but it may also place much greater demands on your time and resources. Indeed, you could find yourself spread too thin should you fail to recognize if/when you need operational and managerial help. It can take a lot to keep all those plates spinning.
Depending on the scope of services you provide from multiple locations, it could require you to employ dozens of attendants and even hire managers to oversee things onsite. Based on interviews with four owners from around the country, standardization and technology may be the multi-store owner’s most important tools for success.
MEETING THE STANDARD
Liberty Laundry is a chain of three Tulsa, Okla.-area coin/card (SpyderWash) stores owned and operated by members of the Henderson family. Located within a seven-mile radius, each of the self-service stores with drop-off service has an average of six to eight employees, mostly working part-time, who are supervised by a store manager on salary.
Brian Henderson, one of the owners’ sons, was the chain’s operations manager for several years before leaving earlier this year to devote his attention to building his own company that provides point-of-sale systems for Laundromats offering drop-off laundry services.
“Since all three of our stores are pretty close to one another, we run all three stores the same way,” he says of Liberty. “We’ve all got the same equipment, hardmounts, Speed Queen equipment across all three stores. Our services are the same, our prices are the same across all locations.
“With the equipment being the same, and because all of our stores are relatively close to each other, we’re able to share our labor pool of employees. We have several team members who will work shifts at multiple locations, depending on their availability and our needs.”
It was Liberty’s reliance on systems and standard operating procedures that has enabled it to flourish, Henderson believes.
“As we developed the very first store, we built the system or ways of doing things, standard operating procedures, employee handbook and all that, we built the first store as if it was a franchise,” he says. “When we found an opportunity to build store No. 2, it was kind of a natural extension of that and kind of reaffirmed what we were already doing. By the time we grew to store No. 3, I don’t think we would’ve been able to do it if we really hadn’t hammered out those systems.”
Hank Walter owns 10 Whale of a Wash Laundromats (and three car washes) in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, all within an hour’s drive of the flagship store and office in Martinsburg. Only the flagship store is partially attended, Walter says, while the others are singular stores in rural towns of similar demographics; none of the coin-op stores offer drop-off service. He employs three full-time service technicians and eight custodial technicians.
“We use (the) same (operating) fashion and methods at all stores,” he says. “I was a route operator in Colorado in the ’80s and I decided my Laundromat business model here would be to keep machines in good, working order in a clean and bright facility.”
In Chicago, Paul Hansen owns a half-dozen stores on or near the Windy City’s South Side. Five located in Hispanic-heavy communities are each branded as Su Nueva Lavanderia (translates to “Your New Laundry”), the other located in a black community is called Mr. Sudsy. It’s the store’s 40th year at that location, making it the oldest under Hansen’s ownership.
“We pretty much do it all the same,” he says of store operations. “People can transfer from one store to the other pretty easily. We’re on a (CCI) card-based system and it’s the same system everywhere. It’s fairly easy. Our attendants are trained on how to use that.”
He runs large, attended stores that cover approximately 5,000 square feet on average and offer equipment ranging from top loaders to 125-pound front loaders. All but one utilize Huebsch washers; the other has Continental Girbau machines. Services offered include wash-dry-fold as well as app-based pickup and delivery. One of the stores serves as an overnight production facility for the pickup and delivery service.
“Employee-wise, we have around 55 to 60 employees total,” Hansen says. “Management-wise, I’ve got my general store manager. She does all the collections on the five (Su Nueva) stores, schedules, and handles employee issues, that type of thing.
“I’ve got a service manager who’s been with us almost 40 years. He’s a facility manager, equipment manager, and everything else. And then we have a mechanic who works with our service manager, does a lot of the heavy work, does a lot of maintenance, and is just a general handyman. That’s pretty much our management structure.
“My service manager takes care of [Mr. Sudsy] in addition to handling the service. There’s not a whole lot to do there. There’s just five employees. He does the service, the collection, and makes sure everyone’s working, doing what they need to do.”
Between he and his father, Hansen says they’ve owned and operated at least 30 different stores over the years. The six in his portfolio today have been in the mix the last 12 to 14 years.
Key Ramsey, president of 15 Keyway Supersudz locations in Mississippi, marks his 10th year in the laundry business in August. His stores cover an area stretching from Vicksburg to Meridian, a radius of about 180 miles.
“I started with one, the next year I did four, and we just grew from there,” says Ramsey, who’s been assisted by his two sons. “We were aggressive in our second, third and fourth years, pretty much.”
The company employs some 26 attendants and offers wash-dry-fold service at all of its stores, which are fully attended on weekends, partly attended on weekdays. Six Supersudz stores in the Jackson metro area generate the largest volume.
“When I first started, I went with an abundance of smaller machines,” Ramsey says. “Now, it’s more of a mix. I’m adding more bigger machines to every location I go to.”
All but one of the Keyway Supersudz stores uses Dexter equipment (the lone exception being one purchased that already had Speed Queen equipment). Four of the stores are open around the clock.
“We take a cookie-cutter management style,” Ramsey says of how the stores are operated today. “My youngest son, Chandler, is my operations manager. Then we have one employee under him, what I would call the Jackson metro manager. My brother (Jay) handles my Mississippi Gulf Coast locations.
“There are very few occasions when I have to get involved in operations. I’m a serial entrepreneur and I love building and developing things, so that’s why I wake up every morning.”
Coming up in Part 2 on Thursday: Tech savvy