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.

The orders might be shuttled through the back door but they’re handled up front. 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.

CONFIDENT IN ONE-TWO PUNCH

The estimated $1.25 million project is set to occupy a 6,000-square-foot vacant storefront in Hamilton, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati’s beltway. It’s a clean slate for Menz, who built his laundry roster with a handful of retrofits.

“Our competitors can only match, they cannot one-up us,” he says. “As an overall model, we believe that an operator, regardless of their financial backing or business acumen, can’t compete at a higher level than us.”

This ambitious 10-year veteran isn’t inviting a challenge. To the contrary, Menz is so confident in the one-two punch of top-notch self-service and premier pickup and delivery that he’s letting everyone in on it. Laundromat owners, he believes, can both defend their turf and prosper.

“It’s all about having options. We decide how we serve the community and our competitors don’t get to make decisions for us,” Menz explains. “No one can come in and affect me and my family financially in a way that would cause me to regress in the level of commitment that I have to the community.”

Queen City is by no means the first coin-op to hit the road in pursuit of roundtrip door-to-door garment care. The same goes for running a graveyard shift. Yet Menz’s approach is noteworthy not because of how he does things, but rather where and why.

Unlike pickup and delivery pioneers on the East and West Coasts sitting smack-dab in some of the largest urban markets, he’s blazing a trail in a metro area that barely sneaks into the top 30 population-wise. And then there’s Cincinnati itself — geographically challenged with no street grid and a curvy river bisecting the terrain.

Beyond the physical is the philosophical. Menz sees a reflection of himself in countless others who are driven to succeed in the laundry business. He views things from 30,000 feet and isn’t constrained by four walls awaiting customers passing through the door. The operator relishes a chance to give back to an industry that has given him so much by sharing his thoughts with peers.

Walking the Clean ’15 floor kick-started an interest in pickup and delivery. Menz followed his instincts, read up and eventually gave it a go. The move coincided with a societal shift to what he calls “the in-and-out economy,” where time is valued above all else. Toss in the drudgery of doing wash and it was “the perfect storm” for him.

“One thing that became obvious to me in the first three months is that this was going to be humongous and a game changer in every way, shape and form for people who were interested,” the owner says, adding that he wasn’t converting drop-off customers, but rather “serving a market that we weren’t currently serving and couldn’t serve.”

COMMITMENT AND CAPITAL

In-house wash-dry-fold was something both he and Adams, who oversees all four locations, found themselves in by default when the chain’s third store with a service counter was brought online.

Menz tapped his distributor, H-M Company, which put him in touch with a seasoned full-service laundry operator to gain some hands-on experience. He also leaned on industry contacts and magazine articles for guidance and tips.

Together, Menz and Adams crafted Queen City’s drop-off laundry processes and rolled them out to the branches so store managers and staff would deliver consistent, professional service.

When the switch was flipped for pickup and delivery, Menz says having systems and manpower in place helped ease the transition, but concedes ramping up had its challenges.

“The first six months, it’s gravy, easy money. And then there’s this period for about a year and a half where you’re basically reinvesting everything you’re making.”

Taking pickup and delivery beyond an accommodation to customers requires both commitment and capital, Menz emphasizes.

As the route’s bundles and revenue stream grew, so did payroll. Menz and Adams eased in, adding a dedicated daytime order processor to supplement the store’s shift attendant.

With pickup and delivery still in its infancy, he calculated his next step.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!