GLENDALE, Ariz. — Once you buy an existing laundromat, how do you take the needed action to adapt it to your operational vision? Moreover, what actions are needed?
There are different goals for different buyers, so what is it you are looking to accomplish? Did you buy for a short-term flip, the tax benefits, or some side income? Are you looking to grow a chain, or is it just something to keep you busy after retirement?
No matter what the goal, if you want to achieve your vision, you should have invested enough money to reach a tipping point where you can “wow” the public.
Laundromats are a capital-intensive business, and one of the biggest causes of business failure is not enough capital. This means that if your mat doesn’t have relatively new equipment, then it will cost you one way or another.
Installing some brand-new machines is an excellent way to draw in new customers. New equipment really does boost sales, even if it’s only a partial replacement of, say, 10 new triple-loaders. Curiosity will draw them in.
If the store is really run-down, you’ll have to spend more money and time to renovate it enough to make a difference. You need to make a difference.
If your vision is to just hang an “Under New Management” sign and expect people to flock in without making any perceptible improvements, you’ll be disappointed because the customers will be disappointed.
You’ll need to spend some decent money to win back customers who left. You need to create a beautiful store. When you do this, make sure you renovate the storefront and exterior signs to showcase that difference. Only then will you truly earn the moniker, “New Management.”
On the other hand, if the mat was already well-run, you don’t want to scare away customers who liked what the previous owner did. If that’s the case, wait a while before you make any noticeable changes. Customers will be on guard to make sure you will continue in the vein of the previous good management. You may also want to structure your deal to have the previous owners stay on board for a few weeks to ease you in.
CHOOSING YOUR PATH
So, where to start? Good planning is the very first step, and this requires research and due diligence.
If you are new to the business, don’t rush in. You need to do your homework. You need to gather as much knowledge as you can about your specific location, as well as the industry as a whole.
You’ll want to identify where your customers will be coming from. Demographics are important. Can they easily spot your store from far away? Do they have easy access to it? Is there plenty of parking? Hopefully, these are all things you considered before you signed your deal.
You’ll want to differentiate your mat from your competition. As mentioned earlier, new equipment really helps in that regard. Just make sure you have your equipment programmed correctly to give a good wash and dry.
For instance, a pet peeve among customers is not being able to see the water sloshing around their laundry. You want to save water, yes, but be careful not to program the water levels too low or you may lose customers.
The same goes for dryers. Keep them hot enough to impress, at least in the beginning. You can always raise your prices later on after you have built up your customer base, but be wary not to lower quality. The important thing is to maintain a quality experience that’s still affordable for people.
You’ll want to study the different brands of machines as part of your planning. I’m not getting into brand specifics but each has its own plusses and minuses. Installing new equipment is a long-term thing, so be sure to get this right.
Speak to different distributors in your target area. You’ll often get different answers. The best way to find out the minuses for each brand is to ask competing distributors. It’s been my experience that a distributor will be happy to point out a competing brand’s weaknesses.
You’ll also want to decide if you want to offer a drop-off service or even a pickup and delivery service. If you’ve never done pickup and delivery, and are new to the business, I recommend you perfect your drop-off service operation first before taking on pickup and delivery.
If you have a partner or partners, do as much brainstorming with each other as you can.
BECOMING ‘NEW MANAGEMENT’
If you are taking over a well-run mat, keep the fact there is new ownership quiet in the beginning. But if you are building new, or closing the mat for big renovations, you’ll want to shout this as loud as you can … but not until you are sure everything, including your employees, is working well and ready to take on a hopeful rush of customers.
Let’s say you discover the boiler is not producing enough hot water. You’ll want to know this early on when you have only a handful of customers so you don’t upset a lot of folks on their very first visit. They will be judging you closely their first time, so make sure they love your mat.
Even as a seasoned operator, after building new or renovating, I would quietly open the store for a few days to work out the bugs—call it a “soft opening”—before I went full-blown “grand opening”!
The equipment is getting more high-tech every year. Most of this is good, such as saving on utilities and being able to program the equipment the way you want.
But keep in mind that a share of the public can get “tech-weary.” People just want the easiest experience when they visit. So, when it comes to operating the machines, try to keep it simple and easy for them to understand how everything works.
Consider offering conveniences that your competitors don’t. For example, I highly recommend installing automatic entrance doors. They’re extremely convenient for customers lugging laundry in and out. Most mats don’t have them, which can make your mat unique, plus it’s a selling point for word-of-mouth recommendations.
When installing folding tables, consider granite, quartz or a synthetic solid-surface material. Yes, they can be expensive initially, but over the course of owning a mat many years, the amortized cost is negligible. These high-quality tables look terrific in advertising photos, are another talking point for word-of-mouth, and will look great for decades while boosting your mat’s resale value when it’s time to sell.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].