GLENDALE, Ariz. — Most people will tell you that location is the No. 1 factor in laundry business success. I agree that location is one of the most important factors (it made the list I’m sharing here), but it’s not in my top spot.
What is the No. 1 factor? Why, it’s you!
I’ve said this before, and will continue to say it: Without you, there is no business. The path to success depends primarily on you. Entrepreneurs make things happen, and everything else follows.
So, let’s take a look at the first half of my list of important factors for reaching laundry success:
YOU AND YOUR DETERMINATION
You and your attitude will determine your success more than anything else! It’s you who will do everything you can to make your Laundromat a success. It’s you who will learn as much as possible about the other factors for success, including the clichéd “Location Factor.”
It’s you who will do the due diligence necessary to learn what will propel you forward, and what can sabotage your success. It’s you who will implement all the factors for success. It’s you who are already doing some due diligence by reading this trade publication column. It’s you who will get back up and push forward every single time you encounter a setback … and you will have setbacks.
Owning and operating a Laundromat is serious. It’s a business, not a hobby. If you don’t give it your all, at least one of your competitors surely will.
So, the single most important factor in my mind is not giving up. Don’t let getting knocked down demoralize you. Instead, use these events to redouble your efforts.
History is loaded with famously successful people who were initially beaten down. It took Thomas Edison a thousand attempts to perfect the invention of the light bulb. Bullheaded determination is in order.
CHOOSING A LOCATION
Location demographics can vary widely around the country. What works in one area could mean disaster in another.
In general, look for locations with a reasonable rent that have great visibility, easy access and plenty of parking.
In any given location, it’s better to be on the sunny side of the street. In fact, in some areas of New York City, the commercial rents are higher on that side of the street!
People driving by will tend to first notice the stores that are lit up by the sun, as opposed to stores that are shaded. In addition to the visibility, stores on the sunny side are more inviting. A store in a darkened area can feel a little creepy.
Find out about the demographics of the mat’s market. How many renters live nearby? Are they in apartment houses that have excellent laundry rooms? (It’s hard to draw people away from the convenience of the laundry rooms in their own building.) What condition are those laundry rooms in? Clean or dirty? Old or new equipment? Do people feel safe in their laundry rooms? Do apartment dwellers have washers and dryers inside their units? How many private homes in the area offer apartments for rent?
Income levels are important as well. It seems that sometimes the best mats are in the most dangerous neighborhoods, but there are always exceptions.
Make sure that people have easy access to the site. For instance, having a median strip in the center of the street that does not allow a left turn into the laundry’s parking lot does not make getting there easy.
A location can make or break you, but there is one scenario that has skewed conventional beliefs. When I operated multiple mats in New York City, I saw how nearly all the best locations to build were already taken by the 1990s. Therefore, it became expensive to rent, let alone buy the building, in many cases.
However, some smart guys came up with an idea at the time that made them successful. It’s risky if you don’t know how to assess the area’s potential. Some called it the “triple whammy.”
First, buy a bigger building in a less desirable location (or negotiate a sweetheart lease of 25-plus years if you can’t buy). The mat has to be fairly large, at least 4,500 to 5,000 square feet, so it can hold 75-100 washers and 100 dryer pockets. This allows for a great mix of machines, from 20 pounds to 80- or even 100-pound washers.
Big machines and plenty of capacity will attract big families with cars, so....
There must be plenty of parking, which is a wonderful lure in big cities where there is often no parking or it’s expensive. This allows bigger families with tons of laundry to drive right to the mat, something that is taken for granted outside the big cities.
And, finally, the store is fully attended and open 24/7 with easy access. If your mat “never closes,” it removes any customer doubt about operating hours. No worries about failing to make the “last wash.” I found that when I switched my store to 24/7, I did more business during the day as well!
Now, mind you, I’m not sure if this will work outside the “big city.”
I’ve seen this type of strategy work in cases where the building was bigger than what the mat needed, so they sub-letted the remaining space to a complementary business, like a dry cleaner or convenience store.
The key is that the real estate/rental must be much cheaper than the high-value locations nearby, and the mat must be big, beautiful, always open and have plenty of parking.
This removes these barriers that can prevent a customer from trying a mat:
- Parking worries;
- Competing with other customers for empty machines during busy times; and
- Rushing to get there before it closes.
Additionally, they wouldn’t worry about price because the store would be able to keep its pricing lower than competitors paying big rents. I guess you could say that offering a lower vend price is a fourth whammy, but I’m not listing it as such because it’s optional.
No matter what location you choose, don’t forget to first check out if a Laundromat is even allowed in your target location. Some landlords don’t want them. Some municipalities don’t allow mats to be built, or require big fees for each machine installed.
(And one potential negative to avoid that no one seems to talk about: Since a mat’s dryers draw tremendous amounts of air to flow through the goods they are drying, even if you have adequate makeup air vents, you don’t want to be in the same building with a fish store, or even a restaurant that cooks highly aromatic foods. A customer might like the scent of barbecue but not on their freshly washed and dried laundry!)
HAVING SUFFICIENT CAPITAL
This is a no-brainer. You worked hard for the money you will invest. Make sure you have enough before doing so.
I followed a certain rule for any construction: Take the highest cost estimate for your project and add 20% … because there will be additional expenses you don't anticipate.
You also want to have funds in reserve to carry the mat for a good six months in case it doesn’t take off right away.
Having too much cash or credit available is better than not having enough.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].