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Going Green: A Long Way to Go (Part 2 of 3)

Paul Partyka |

When someone mentions a “green” laundry, what comes to mind? Some believe that a green laundry offers the most energy-efficient washers and dryers. Some believe that a green laundry utilizes nontraditional industry equipment, such as solar panels, water-reuse equipment, etc.Whatever your definition of a green laundry is, here’s another question to ponder: How green is the self-service laundry industry? We posed that question, and others, to distributors from across the country.SOLAR SHOULD SOAR IN ARIZONAIf you are reducing your utility costs, you are a green store, says Bob Ropp, Sunshine Sales, Glendale, Ariz. “They are just starting to talk about solar energy out here,” Ropp says. “This should have been done 15 years ago, with all the sun we have here. Few people have an interest in [solar energy and other alternatives] because it’s just too expensive; you can’t recover the cost.”Ropp says some of the operators are utilizing better cooling techniques and use simple things like window coverings. However, he estimates that only about 5% of the laundries could be considered energy-efficient.Like others, he believes that the economy has prevented operators from implementing solar solutions. In addition, store ownership affects solar decisions. “Landlords frown on putting solar panels on roofs. They just don’t want anything to do with them.”While some local government energy incentives are available in his area, it’s hard to find them, he insists. “I called the city about [these incentives] and criticized it for not advertising [the incentives] more. But the city just shies away from doing this. It’s like they have it, but they aren’t going to tell you about it!”If the economy improves a bit, Ropp believes there will be a bump in energy-efficient equipment sales. “The greenest equipment is the most expensive equipment, but if you use it, your utility costs can come down to 15-16%.”In the future, the self-service laundry industry will be referred to as a green industry, he predicts. “The equipment already exists; people just need to purchase it. If they purchase it, it will, in a short time, pay for itself. Some owners just can’t figure this out. If utilities shoot up more, things will change.”Ropp would market the green aspects of a laundry if he owned one, but area demographics would ultimately determine the success of such a marketing campaign.“The younger generation is tuned into the green efficiency ratings. The older people don’t really care.”TOP LOADERS STILL A HITGreen stores are environmentally friendly stores, says Dale Ring, Clean Source Service Co., Broken Arrow, Okla. “There aren’t a lot of stores in my area that meet this definition; maybe 10% have green equipment. There is still great top-loader usage in this area.”Cost is a major factor when it comes to being more efficient. “I have put some high-efficiency units in Laundromats, but for the most part, especially in smaller communities with the grannies, they [prefer top loaders].”On a scale of 1-10, Ring rates his community a 2.5 on the green factor. The government has yet to impose green rules and regulations on stores in his area, although there is an extremely high tap fee for laundries in Broken Arrow, he says.“In the future, way down the line, the West Coast will have a green laundry industry. It won’t happen in this market.”Based on that prediction, he isn’t a big advocate of green marketing. “I don’t think there is value in marketing a green laundry here. This is a fast-paced world; people really want to get in and out of a store. Green is nice, but so what?”COMPETITION BOOSTS GREEN MOVEMENTEven though he hasn’t run across a solar-powered store, people have been talking about using solar power to heat wash water, says Rod Malcolm, Century Laundry Distributing, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.As to what makes a store green, that is debatable, Malcolm believes. “When you define efficient washers and dryers, where do you draw the line? Do you compare top loaders to front loaders? You can achieve efficiency through high extraction. Water consumption also plays a role with efficiency.“I believe it will always take a certain amount of water with mechanical action to get clothes cleaned. From an efficiency standpoint, when you have high-extract 200-G or more, that is when you really start to see efficiency benefits.”Malcolm believes about 20% of the stores in his area have some high-efficiency equipment. The cost of such equipment, as well as the newness of it, has kept most stores from going the efficient route. “Even some of the dealers don’t have a lot of experience with some of this new, efficient stuff. It’s hard to convince owners to buy this, if we don’t know much about it.”The recession isn’t the only reason that people aren’t buying more efficient equipment, he says. “In this part of the country, business may be off a bit, but the utilities have also come down. We’re finding that the laundry owners haven’t suffered as much as the drycleaners. The sales numbers may be down, but saving on utilities has made it a wash for a majority of the operators.”The green feeling in Malcolm’s community is about a 5 on a scale of 1-10, he says. He’s not worried about any upcoming legislation forcing small businesses to go green. “People still have to do their laundry, and this will always require water. However, [efficiency] regulations may come down the line.”What he is sure of is that the self-service laundry will become green in the future. “Absolutely, it will be green. Small businesses are driven by competition. The coin laundry industry’s No. 1 expense is utilities, unlike other businesses, where labor costs rule. The more efficient some operators become, the more competitive the industry will become. This pushes the entire industry to becoming green.”Marketing green in the Midwest has moderate value, he opines. “Location is the big thing with marketing. Marketing green in California would be huge.”Click here for Part 1 of this story.Come back next week 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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