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Going the Commercial Route (Part 1 of 3)

Paul Partyka |

It’s no secret that most operators are in search of some extra revenue, and when it comes to generating extra revenue, one’s thoughts often turn to extra services. Have you ever considered taking on commercial accounts?It may sound overwhelming at first, but on further consideration, this extra service may be ideal for your self-service laundry. Like anything else, there are pros and cons, but operators are doing it, and with some success, according to recent surveys and interviews.I think it’s always best to hear from the people who are doing this type of work to get a better feel for the challenges and benefits.AN EXPANDING OPERATIONLen Bazile operates Hollywood Laundry in Kenner, La. His commercial linen division is called Dirty Laundry LLC, and he’s preparing to open a second laundry.Bazile started out dealing with bar mops (towels) and aprons. That wasn’t profitable enough, but a new source of revenue emerged: Bazile’s partner had a catering business and sent some work his way. He handled table linen, and soon another caterer started using his service.“This didn’t require any advertising or marketing,” Bazile recalls. “It was just word-of-mouth that led me to picking up the work.”During the summer, Bazile took in dorm bed linen from Tulane University. Next was linen from a military base. He even got a call from the Department of Homeland Security to handle post-emergency laundry work. “Last year just exploded.”Bazile, on average, handles about 1,500 to 2,000 pounds a week at his 1,500-square-foot store. His largest equipment is one 60-pound washer, four 45-pound dryers, plus a 75-pound dryer. He also rents a 500-square-foot suite right next to the laundry that’s dedicated to linen processing — folding, packaging, etc.He processes linens of different sizes — from 60 inches square to 90 inches by 156 inches. A normal workday might start at 6 a.m., with the work concluding at 10:30 or 11 a.m. Larger orders may require some late-night work, and certain attendants focus solely on the commercial work.He says his schedule must be flexible, since walk-in customers get first priority. “I will pull linen out of a machine if need be for customers.”Bazile works at soliciting new business, but admits that he doesn’t utilize any “scientific” method for attracting new customers. He has cards made with a price list. He stops in at area party rental/catering businesses and introduces himself. He once even landed a new account by calling a number that he saw on a delivery truck. “I don’t use phone books or the Internet. I just keep my eyes open looking for opportunity.”Bazile has been doing commercial work for several years, and is still learning about cleaning techniques — food oil on linens is his toughest problem. He often tests new chemicals. “[Cleaning] is also about applying common sense. I now do all colored linen/polyester linen using a medium temperature, not hot. I also don’t overload dryers.”With additional accounts a possibility in the future, he wonders if he should rent a 3,000-square-foot warehouse and use larger machines, a flatwork ironer, etc. However, he’s worried about the downtime involved with a larger operation.If you’re thinking about commercial accounts, do some market research and make sure your competitors aren’t doing the same work, he advises. “Most larger commercial firms own their own linens. I do customer-owned goods. It’s a small, niche market. The last thing you want to be is the fourth person in the market getting into the business. I almost left this segment years ago because I couldn’t find more work.“I didn’t know all the different avenues; I now look for caterers, party rentals, and universities in the nearby area. If no one is doing the work, give it a shot!”Click here for Part 2.Click here for Part 3. 

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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