If I Had It to Do All Over Again... (Part 1)

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Tim Wuethrich |

Indiana businessman shares what he learned after opening 1st laundry

LA PORTE, Ind. — The rearview mirror is a key component to safe driving, but what about for your business? Often, we are too busy and wrapped up in the day-to-day elements of running our laundries to take a peek at where we have come from. It’s no wonder, our days are packed: employee management, accounting and reporting, machine maintenance, customer relations and marketing, the list goes on. Plus, for some, there’s a full-time job in addition to the store activities.

However, as business owners, we have to evolve or face being left behind – that is, if we are truly building a business and adding locations.

I’m sure we all know owners who have been content to run their only store the same way since the “open” light was switched on during the Jimmy Carter administration – same equipment, same management style, same way of addressing problems. The rest of us evolve. We learn from mistakes. Each of us, I am certain, could point to mistakes we have made along the way and just shake our heads. I know I have.

So, the rearview mirror not only gives us a chance to see how far we have come in this business as vended laundry owners, it also reminds us to be flexible and grow. This column is my list of changes I might make if I had those early stores to do over again.

MORE EQUIPMENT AUDITIONS

Why didn’t I talk to more equipment distributors? Starting with store No. 1, I spoke with one distributor and decided the equipment would work for my store. I had seen it installed in other stores (it must be great, right?).

If I had it to do over again, first, I would have looked at more equipment brands and, second, talked to more owners about their experiences with specific brands. It took me way too long to finally arrive at the brand of washers and dryers I have today. That meant suffering through too many silly repairs.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a solid distributor and decent service, but with that first store, I assumed that the frequency of repairs was normal. I see now how wrong I was in that thinking. I also know that the brand turning in my stores right now offers advanced controls and management systems, is reliable, and services and supports its products.

Keeping on the equipment theme, if I had it to do over again, I would never put myself (and customers) through the headache of buying a first-generation model. It’s easy to want to install the latest and greatest models … until you realize they weren’t so great. In the past, I had my distributor remove washer-extractors as well as tumble dryers. Let another laundry test-drive those early first-generation models and work out the bugs. Better to wait for the second generation.

STICK WITH THE BIG STUFF

If I had it to do over again, I also would invest in more of the larger-capacity equipment early on.

As my business has grown, the number of large-capacity models has grown with it. I would eliminate top-load washers and focus on 20-, 40- and 60-pound models. In fact, with my latest store in Michigan City, Ind., I doubled the number of 60-pounders compared to the locations before it.

The benefits of these pieces are many and include better efficiency, higher revenue and profit potential, and higher g-force extraction (faster dry times, lower gas consumption).

Now, I’m sure some owners might be asking why not more 80s or even 100s. My stores are in smaller markets, and I’ve found the 60-pound units to be adequate to meet the needs of customers in my area.

Powering those pieces, I would have opted for an on-demand water heating system vs. a large boiler system. They are a third of the cost and far easier for owners to work on.

On the drying side, the store would have been converted to all 45-pound stacks, no singles. I would also ensure I had adequate makeup air for the tumble dryers. That’s one big mistake I made early on in my laundry career.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Tim Wuethrich

Lady Bug Cleaners

Co-Owner

Tim Wuethrich is a 15-year veteran of the coin laundry industry and, along with his wife, Sally, co-owns Lady Bug Cleaners (www.ladybugcleaners.com). They have eight locations throughout northern Indiana.

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