CHICAGO — Consumer interest in wash-dry-fold (WDF) services had been on the upswing for quite some time when the coronavirus pandemic created an environment that emphasized staying clean to stay healthy. But what if a customer, aware of the risk of catching the virus by being around others, wouldn’t visit their local Laundromat but still wanted someone else to do their laundry?
Hello, pickup and delivery.
Now, this aspect of laundry service isn’t new. Self-service laundries, especially those in heavily populated metropolitan areas, have been picking up and delivering for years. But if ever there was a time to consider adding the option, this may be it. And even if your operation hits the road as a matter of routine, growth in the WDF marketplace could signal the need for you to fine-tune things to stay top of mind in your area.
The Coin Laundry Association (CLA) recently hosted a webinar that focused on starting a pickup and delivery service. President Brian Wallace moderated a panel of operators whose experience ranges from roughly a year to more than three decades.
A STATE OF READINESS
Before offering to pick up and return a customer’s goods, it’s important that laundry owners evaluate the market potential as well as their operation’s current capabilities.
“Do a Google search in your area for pickup and delivery and see what the competition is, if there is any competition,” says Chris Balestracci, owner of Super Wash Laundromat in East Haven, Connecticut. He’s been in the business since 1988 and bought, renovated and sold four different stores during that time.
“Do you have the infrastructure, in other words, do you have the size of Laundromat that can facilitate both pickup and delivery and your regular business? And do you have the employees? Do you have a manual that shows each employee how to do the laundry exactly the same way every time, like McDonald’s? You can’t have Sally come in and do it one way and Jane does it another way.”
Dave Menz owns four Queen City Laundry locations in the Cincinnati area. He launched his delivery service in 2016 and now has three trucks handled by seven full- and part-time drivers. Once his stores were retrofitted with brand-new equipment, he found that he had a lot of excess capacity. Offering pickup and delivery was a way to generate additional volume.
“Pickup and delivery came up at one of the Clean Shows. I just did some due diligence, looked into it … we already had a pretty mature team as far as wash-dry-fold. … Market potential is there, excess capacity is there, team already knows how to process laundry professionally … so it just made all the sense in the world to dive in.”
Matthew Simmons of Super Suds Laundry in Long Beach, California, says one of his goals was to “have machines spinning at nighttime.” The operation now handles at least 600 pickups a month.
“The best way to determine if there’s a market is to look around your Laundromat—is there a market for wash and fold? If there isn’t, is there a place that you could drive where there is a market for wash and fold? People are paying a premium for wash and fold. It’s a different business, different client expectations. It’s a service business.
“What do they value? They value convenience and saving time. If someone is OK taking their clothes to the Laundromat, they’re probably OK with you picking up their clothes from their house. It’s more convenient and it saves them more time. … We’re doing pretty well in pickup and delivery but we feel like we’re just scratching the surface. There’s way more business than any one Laundromat could do.”
DEPARTURE FROM THE NORM
Jonathan Babcock opened a WaveMAX laundry franchise in Knoxville, Tennessee, in late 2019. He, like other panel members, has found pickup and delivery to be something completely different than self-service laundry.
“It really is a totally different business than owning a Laundromat. The skill set to operate it is totally different,” says Babcock, whose professional background is in technology and mobile business. “In my mind, pickup and delivery is a marketing and logistics business. The product is the same as what you’re offering in the store … but it’s all about whether you can run a logistics business. Can you implement systems and processes … so that you’ll do it the same way, every time, no matter who the employee is? Do you have the back-end software that can handle making sure clothes don’t get mixed up?”
“Even with in-store wash and fold, you have a lot of moving parts,” Simmons says. “Did they pay? What are their preferences? The weight. Customer information. Then it becomes exponentially more when it’s pickup and delivery, because you’ve got the payment information, address, driver notes. I’d say the No. 1 thing to automate, in a sense, is communication.”
And just because you have a healthy WDF business doesn’t mean those customers will readily convert to pickup and delivery.
“Of the number of (pickup and delivery) customers we got from our existing WDF customers, very minimal. Maybe 5%,” says Balestracci. “Those customers like the lower price point. They like to bring it in and they don’t care about making the drive. The pickup and delivery customer is very busy working from home, has two or three kids, doesn’t have the time, has the extra money and wants to have the pickup and delivery.”
“Traditional demographics as we know them in the Laundromat business aren’t very applicable to drop-off or pickup and delivery,” says Menz. “Really, what you’re looking at is disposable household income. And that’s not something that shows up on a demographic report.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!
The Coin Laundry Association frequently offers webinars that cover topics such as marketing, store operations and management, new investor education, and more. Visit www.coinlaundry.org/events/webinars to learn more.