CINCINNATI — Dave Menz is cooking up something mighty fine here and wants to share the recipe. It’s not the city’s famous chili, but just as hot.

Ingredients are picked up daily, prepared overnight and delivered fresh to the customer’s doorstep. Forget food and think clothing. Menz isn’t stirring pots. He’s turning machines.

His Queen City Laundry chain may dot eastern Cincy with four stores, but the customer base encompasses an entire metro area and stretches across the mighty Ohio River into northern Kentucky thanks to a strategy employed at its 5,200-square-foot Mount Washington outpost.

Here is where Menz, General Manager Marlene Adams and a team of pros don’t wait for clothes to come in — they go get ’em. The operator tells me pickup and delivery rings up 70% of sales at the branch with some 30,000 pounds of wash a month. And in a little over three years, the customer database has hit the 1,200 mark, logging an average of 400 weekly pickups by a three-truck fleet traversing nine routes.

Nightly at 10, Queen City’s self-service floor gives way to what Menz calls his “factory” — a third-shift moneymaker that the owner says generates approximately $600,000 of the chain’s $1.5 million in annual sales.

Bundling over-the-road and do-it-yourself laundry services under one roof has been such a hit, the 43-year-old entrepreneur is ready to embark on his biggest venture — a store model he believes is unbeatable.

COMMITMENT AND CAPITAL (CONTINUED)

“This was the perfect opportunity to utilize my infrastructure in a way that leverages me beyond almost every Laundromat owner in the country,” he says.

For Menz, that meant having the iron on the floor work past closing time: “This stuff’s made to run. It’s not built to sit.”

With incoming volume on a steady upward trajectory, an overnight crew was brought on to sort, wash, dry and package in the aisles out of sight — and out of the way — of daytime traffic.

Menz and Adams focused on maximizing efficiency. Third-shift productivity, the owner notes, achieves rates of 50-60 pounds per hour at “a high quality.”

Unlike a brick-and-mortar Laundromat and its local draw, running trucks will open new avenues, he says. An initial 20-mile radius quickly blossomed to a metroplex.

“With pickup and delivery, I could determine what communities I serve.”

Menz got to know his base.

“One of the misconceptions of laundry pickup and delivery that I was guilty of when we started was that I thought it was just a service for rich people,” he says. “The reality is it’s not true.”

Regular weekly service with next-day turnaround is priced at $1.79 per pound plus tax, and on-request pickup is 10 cents more. In-house drop-off laundry is $1.50 per pound.

Over on the retail side, Queen City delivers a royal treatment. The Mount Washington branch is a prime example with a lineup of 36 washers and 32 dryer pockets. Dollar coins are dispensed and accepted along with walk-in quarters at all machines. Top loaders vend for $3, 80-pound front loaders for $10. The 25-pounders, 40-pounders and 60-pounders vend for $4, $6 and $8, respectively.

This coin-op doesn’t have folding tables — it boasts folding stations, totaling some 400 square feet of surface area. Double-wide, purpose-built platforms are within easy reach of dryer doors while offering spacious elbow room to the neighboring customer. A dozen laundry carts roll along 7-foot aisles, reflecting off diamond-plate panels.

“Cushy” describes the patron experience. Four sofas and anti-fatigue mats pepper the floor. Wall-mounted TVs are on offer as is the well-appointed children’s corner play area.

CONCENTRATING ON BIG PICTURE

Queen City’s self-service sector, complemented by its full-service component marketed under the HappyNest brand, is the culmination of Menz’s 10 years in laundry.

He spotted his first store minutes from home on Craigslist. The coin-op would serve as a proving ground for the Flint, Michigan, native who longed to start up his own business.

While he was set to take on the neglected Laundromat, his wife Carla was ready to wave it off. She nearly burst his bubble on her first walkthrough.

“I would never do laundry in here. This place is sketchy,” he recalls her saying. It seemed Menz’s big rehab plan was falling on deaf ears.

He made a final pitch, promising to hold onto his daytime job as a Cincinnati Bell lineman and pour profits back into fixing up the place: “In a worst-case scenario, it would be an act of charity if nothing else.”

It was at that first store where Menz aligned with H-M Company, who he hired to fix machines. The Cincinnati distributor continues its support today with advice, repairs and equipment.

With things running on all cylinders and Menz’s own sweat equity, the once-fledgling coin-op turned around, paving the way for a retool and new opportunities.

His second store, acquired in northeast Milford the following year, was doubled in size to 5,000 square feet — not to pack in more equipment, but to afford customers the luxury of an entire storefront dedicated to Queen City’s signature drying department with spacious folding stations. The operator says the expansion doubled sales even though overall machine count went up by only three stacks.

“My philosophy is more on throughput. When people come to a Laundromat, no matter how nice it is, they don’t want to spend any more time in there than possible,” Menz relates. “So my focus is getting them in and out as quickly as they want to.”

By store number three, Menz had made the decision to both leave his lineman job and hire staff.

“If you want to operate the best Laundromats, they can’t be unattended,” he asserts. “It provides another layer of customer service that’s physically impossible regardless of technology.”

While acknowledging that many coin-ops neither need nor can afford attendants, it wasn’t for him. Manning stores, he notes, would allow him to provide an amenity package and serve communities as he saw fit. Building a team — and revenue to support it — would be key.

Menz credits his GM with much of his company’s good fortune. Adams brought skills honed in the restaurant industry to the chain seven years ago when it was strictly a self-serve affair and has been instrumental in the growth that Queen City’s retail and HappyNest pickup and delivery components enjoy, the owner says.

With personnel in place and his days of pulling double duty on the telephone lines and store aisles well behind him, Menz can concentrate on the big picture. His Hamilton flagship, positioned well north of his current Mount Washington home base, will enhance the launderer’s footprint while improving logistics by rerouting trucks.

Menz is eager to put a decade’s worth of know-how into play where his ideal package of location, layout, equipment, amenities and staffing can deliver to customers whether they walk in the door or opt for door-to-door.

“Ten years in self-service, seven years in drop-off and three in pickup and delivery. We feel like we’ve really honed in on something,” he says. “I feel like we’ve cracked the code.”

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.