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Expanding Your Business: How to Become a Multi-Store Owner

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Multi-store owner image
Photo: ©iStockphoto/Rob Friedman

Sonny Rogalla |

PITTSBURGH — Congratulations, you’re a successful laundry owner. You have a great location, a solid customer base and well-maintained machines—but now what? It may be time to look at expanding your business and opening a second store.

By now, you know the basics of running a laundry business. Unfortunately, a complete replication of your first store may not make for a successful second store. It is important to go back to the basics and look at everything from location to equipment mix and store naming.

LOCATION

Here’s a challenge for you: don’t just find a location as good as your first one, find one better. Understand that this is no easy task and will require lots of time and research.

The first thing you should consider when looking for a location is how far away from your original store your second one should be. Carve out an area of no more than an eight-mile radius from your original store and use that as your market. Having your stores in close proximity—no more than 45 minutes from each other—allows you to easily move between stores. Also, if your stores are all close together, it can be a great way to corner the market from your competition.

Now it’s time to talk with your distributor. Since you already have a successful store, you most likely are already working with an experienced distributor. Make sure to continue to cultivate that relationship, as it can be a great benefit when looking to purchase an existing store or build a new store.

Distributors typically have information on existing Laundromats coming up for sale and will approach you to judge your interest. The distributor can easily identify whether this laundry is a potential good investment, knowing the performance and location of the store.

Rehabbing a store has its pros and cons, but can make a great second store if proper due diligence is done. A benefit to choosing a store to rehab is that utility company charges and codes are more likely to be grandfathered in, meaning you will not have to deal with the hassle of obtaining multiple permits from the city and retooling plumbing or electricity to meet building codes. This varies between municipalities, so make sure to ask your distributor before assuming this is the case.

If there are no stores for sale in your target area, it’s time to start scouting other possible locations. Get in your car. Learn about your surrounding neighborhood. Look for areas where there are many apartments or maybe even a college campus. Once you’ve identified an area, it’s time to consult with your distributor. Your distributor will be able to pull detailed demographic reports that will be able to provide you with an idea of the surrounding population near the proposed location. If the demographics look favorable, it may be time to buy the land or storefront and start your second store.

ADVANCED CONTROL OPTIONS

Whether rehabbing a store or building one from the ground up, it’s time to rely on what you’ve learned from your first store. You already know what works—now it’s time to make it even better. Look at the machines your distributor has to offer; there are probably new advancements since you last purchased equipment. It may also be time to look at investing in advanced controls if your previous store doesn’t have them. Advanced controls can be a great resource for multi-store owners.

Certain manufacturers produce controls that allow an operator to program a machine right from their PDA. With the control, you can alter the time-of-day pricing and retrieve audit data right from the palm of your hand. Reports pulled can detail how each machine performed throughout the day. If a machine is taking too long to drain or is not filling with water to the appropriate level, the report will show this. Without these reports, it may take days or weeks to catch problems like these. In conclusion, these reports help prevent wasted energy and water.

Specific controls can give owners the option of choosing from up to 30 water levels, which can save thousands of dollars a year in water and energy savings when compared to older machines without advanced controls. Customers can benefit from having up to 24 cycle selections with these controls, keeping them happy and in turn giving your store a good reputation for being technologically advanced.

THE INVESTMENT

Although the rewards and return on investment can be great from owning multiple stores, the initial investment for a second store is not inexpensive. It’s important to work with your distributor and commercial laundry machine manufacturer to develop a financing plan that is suitable to your needs. Some commercial laundry manufacturers will allow you to finance directly through them, which streamlines the financial process.

Financing through a laundry manufacturer is far better than using a bank. Manufacturers not only understand the industry better than anyone else, but can also tailor a financial solution that meets an individual laundry owner’s and/or facility manager’s needs.

Choosing a financial service provider that is unfamiliar with the commercial laundry industry can lead to unnecessary risks and costs, including overpaying for services, hidden fees, slower response to time-sensitive opportunities, and limitations on the long-term success of the business.

Another financial area to consider is the cost of employees in your new store. Many stores in the Pittsburgh area are unattended, for example, but the trend is moving toward attended stores. Customers want to be able to interact with someone when they have a problem. This is a great benefit for customers who want face-to-face interaction and for you, having the peace of mind of someone always being on-site to deal with any issues that may arise. If you do choose to open an attended store, you will need to factor in this additional cost.

If looking at an attended store, I would suggest a credit/debit card store. Although the upfront investment of a card system is more than a traditional coin system, the ROI down the line may be higher. Along with that, card systems save busy multi-store owners time since they do not have to empty coin boxes regularly, or make multiple trips to the bank on a weekly basis.

FINISHING TOUCHES

After you have all your logistics figured out, it’s time to name your store. I suggest that multi-store owners keep the same type of name for each store. Customers will make the connection between your stores; if you’re already known for running one successful business, why waste time rebuilding your reputation?

Throughout the whole process of becoming a multi-store owner, it is important to have confidence in your distributor and your equipment manufacturer. They will be your go-to source during this transition and before you know it, you could be opening your third, fourth or fifth store!

About the author

Sonny Rogalla

Pittsburgh Laundry Systems

Owner

Sonny Rogalla is the owner of Pittsburgh Laundry Systems, a Huebsch distributor in Pittsburgh, with services in western Pennsylvania, as well as northern West Virginia, western New York and eastern Ohio. He can be reached at 412-351-4500 or by e-mail at sonny@pittsburghlaundry.com.

 

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