JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Talk about a long commute. Every time Thomas Landenberger visits his newest coin-op, it’s a day of airport connections and a long-haul flight across the Atlantic. He’s by no means a jet-setter; just an international laundry entrepreneur living la dolce vita (the sweet life).
The American expatriate is a rare breed in an industry where most operators get behind the wheel and reach their stores in minutes, not hours sitting in coach. Although two of his laundries are just down the winding road from where he calls home in Italy, the third is 5,000 miles away on the Florida coast. Despite the distance, connecting with store operations for this tech-savvy businessman is just a click away.
In Part 1, we got to know Landenberger and “explored” his two Italian stores. In my conclusion, we’re getting a closer look at his Veterans Coin Laundry anchored in a strip center near Jacksonville’s Naval Station Mayport.
ATTENTION TURNED STATESIDE
After the second Wash & Dry Lavarapido branch was humming in Italy, attention turned across the big pond to Florida, a stateside destination that checked all the boxes: warm weather, a growing economy and, most importantly, a place this father of three could put the wheels in motion for an income-generating engine should his daughters desire to uproot and study or live abroad.
He flew over and eyed a few residential rental properties along the state’s northeast coast before an adrenaline rush of soap suds ran through his veins whenever a coin-op came into view.
In Jacksonville, he spotted an index card posted in the window of a shuttered laundry leading him to the strip center’s landlord and a months-long lease negotiation carried out back in Tuscany. Before departing, Landenberger reached out to Laundry Pro of Florida’s Carlos Noriega, whom he became acquainted with earlier, to advise on a top-to-bottom rejuvenation of the 1,500-square-foot premises.
The approach to the project on the Atlantic mirrored those undertaken earlier in the Mediterranean.
“It’s going in, taking out all the old, putting all the new in and starting over,” Landenberger says. “That’s what I had to do in Italy and here, too.”
Top loaders — along with a mixed bag of worn-out washers and single-pocket tumblers — were scrapped in favor of 20 new front loaders and 20 stack dryer pockets. The five largest 60-pound washers take center stage, backed by an equal number of 40-, 30- and 20-pounders. For simplicity, vend prices are all in whole dollar amounts, ranging from $3 and $5 on the smaller models to $6 and $8 on larger washers.
Veteran Coin Laundry’s six 30-pound and four 50-pound stack tumblers are also priced in dollar increments, with $1 and $2 starts delivering 15 and 20 minutes of dry time, respectively. Dollar top-ups during the vend cycle add 15 minutes on the 30-pounders and 10 minutes on the 50s.
A rear-loading changer dispenses dollar coins for bill insertions of $1 to $20. Customers carrying in quarters can opt to feed them at the dual acceptance drops fitted on all washers and dryers. Landenberger says catering to traditional quarter customers while instituting dollar pricing and higher-denomination coin circulation mirrored the industry online buzz.
Months into the new operation, hours were extended round-the-clock coupled with an overnight 50% promotional discount on wash cycles. Having the capability to initiate time-of-day pricing, program equipment, and monitor performance of his 40 machines while overseas led him to enhance the store package with a state-of-the-art management platform during buildout.
High-resolution surveillance cameras allow Landenberger to keep watch on the comings and goings by phone or computer while overseas.
“When it’s midnight or 1 a.m. here in Florida, I’m waking up over there and having coffee,” he says in response to a question on the dreaded late-night call. “What’s the first thing I’m doing in the morning? I’m watching my Laundromat.”
Collections, maintenance, and daytime service counter duties are carried out by a team of loyal employees. Key personnel — including Landenberger — have their contact phone number posted in the event assistance is needed during unmanned hours. After a year of operations, the owner reports his system of checks and balances have worked well, leading him to think his transatlantic itinerary can be cut down from the current bimonthly schedule.
He relishes the time inside Veterans Coin Laundry and breaks our conversation to peer into the middle aisle where his staffer takes a respite from wash-dry-fold duties to greet guests stepping in amid a morning downpour and engages them in playful banter to help wash away laundry day blues.
Landenberger shares a special bond with military personnel who make up a segment of the clientele. Conversation with retired vets — especially those who served in Europe — often turns to life overseas past and present. The operator says a vet-owned, patriotic-themed laundry has proven a good drawing card in a metropolitan area that includes both the Mayport facility and Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
But, just like in Italy, he hopes cleanliness backed by responsive customer service keeps them coming back: “If you have pride in what you own, then the people who come in will also take pride.”
Comparing Tuscan-style self-serve laundry to American-style, Landenberger is quick to point out that, back home, he never recalls an incident when a customer’s clothes left with someone else.
What he really longs to carry over the Atlantic from Italy to Jacksonville is the vend price: “If I could get six bucks for a half-hour dry over here, I’d be very happy.”
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.