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Extra-Profit Centers: A Winning Hand

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Commercial route truck.
Commercial route truck. (Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Ian Hamilton)

Paul Partyka |

CHICAGO — Deciding to add an extra-profit center to your store is a bit of gamble, but with a little planning you may be able to deal yourself a winning hand.

Sometimes, doing a little research, putting in a call to another operator or just talking with (or surveying) customers can be the difference between launching a successful extra-profit center or dealing with a dud. For example, does your insurance situation change if you bring in an extra-profit center? Do you have space for the service, without disrupting your customer flow?Like anything else you do in the self-service laundry business, success is often determined before you collect your first quarter.Let’s look at three extra-profit centers and proper planning.COMMERCIAL ACCOUNTSArguably one of the fastest-growing extra-profit centers, commercial work appears ready to takes its place behind drop-off service as an industry revenue generator.It makes sense: You have idle machines and an attendant with time on his/her hands. Drop-off service works, so why not this?Based on conversations with operators offering successful commercial service, here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Master drop-off service before tackling commercial service.
  • Try to accumulate some stain-removal knowledge.
  • Avoid items with difficult stains, such as blood and food oils.
  • Be prepared to deal with deadlines and claims.
  • Market the service and aggressively look for accounts.
  • Be prepared when other operators “low-ball” prices.
  • Don’t forget delivery expenses, such as gasoline, when pricing.
  • Make sure your regular customers come first.

It can be advantageous to set aside a certain area to do the work. You don’t want to mix up orders, or have customers interfere with your work. Work during slow times to meet deadlines. Are you ready to pitch in if the attendants start falling behind?Operators says it’s best not to overshoot your market and court accounts too large for your laundry to manage. Remember, you aren’t competing with large linen-processing plants. Do you really want customers coming in and seeing a whole wall of dryers tied up with commercial loads?APPETITES AND THIRSTEating and drinking are natural diversions as you wait for that last dryer load. But what about “kicking it up a notch” when pursuing food-and-drink revenue? There are a variety of options.Owners can expand their vending-machine offerings by adding sandwiches and various drinks, such as espressos.You can also offer a specific treat, such as nachos. This requires an attendant, some equipment (cheese dispenser), and products such as cheese and serving containers. Your cost for this can be less than a dollar per serving, not counting the equipment cost.Other potential offerings include popcorn, hot dogs or snow cones. The equipment cost for such offerings varies, but it can start as low as $150. Quick question: What, if any, health requirements  must you deal with if you add any of these products?You can also offer a variety of food (pizza, sandwiches, soup, etc.) on site. While the profit potential may be higher on these items, there is greater risk of losing money with this type of offering.One operator who offers a varied menu strongly urges that others not tackle this without having some restaurant experience. Developing a successful menu and eliminating waste are two major challenges. How many sandwiches are going to be consumed on a daily basis? A lot of money can be wasted if food is thrown out.If you want to upgrade your vending or prepare food/drink on site, talk with experienced people in the food field service. It also helps to survey your customers. Their tastes may surprise you. Lastly, walk around the neighborhood. Are there nearby businesses offering the same things you are interested in offering?VIDEO GAMESHow could video games pose a problem for your store? Waiting customers spend a few quarters to pass the time. Makes sense.A Wire survey showed that 58 percent of operators favor video games, while 30 percent are against adding games. Twelve percent are undecided about bringing in games.It’s an old argument: Do you want to risk bringing in non-laundry customers to your store? One way around this dilemma is to focus on classic games (Pac-Man and pinball) to appeal to your older, laundry customers. Look for some type of children’s game. It’s much better to have the children playing games rather than playing with the washers and dryers.See if you can work out a creative leasing deal, one that calls for different games to be rotated throughout the year. You don’t want to get stuck with a game that no one’s playing.One other thought: Home-gaming systems have made great strides. Has this dampened the urge to pop quarters into games?As a self-service laundry owner, the buck stops with you. Look before you leap when it comes to extra-profit centers.

About the author

Paul Partyka

American Coin-Op

Paul Partyka was editor of American Coin-Op from 1997 through May 2011.

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