CHICAGO — As we come to the end of another year, where do you see your vended laundry operation? Is it improving? Growing worse? About the same?
While anchored in a service that is decades in the making, the coin laundry industry still is subject to influences both internal and external. While the basics of self-service laundry operations are largely unchanged, there are other factors at play when it comes to building your business.
American Coin-Op invited representatives from several manufacturers and distributors to size up the industry today compared to five years ago, to identify opportunities for stores to improve, and to establish the manufacturer’s, distributor’s and store owner’s roles in moving this industry forward. Their responses are being presented in a series of stories here throughout the month of December.
Seated at our virtual roundtable were:
- John Antene, president of coin laundry sales and marketing, distributor Coin-O-Matic
- Joe Frankian, president, distributor D&M Equipment
- Gary Gauthier, national sales manager, vended laundries, manufacturer Pellerin Milnor Corp.
- Kevin Hietpas, director of sales, manufacturer Dexter Laundry
- David Hoffman, sales manager, distributor Gold Coin Laundry Equipment
- Joel Jorgensen, vice president of sales and customer services, manufacturer Continental Girbau
- Bryan Rausch, regional sales manager, manufacturer Whirlpool Corp. Commercial Laundry
- Jim Rosenthal, North American sales manager, manufacturer Speed Queen
- Kathryn Rowen, North American sales manager, manufacturer Huebsch
- Mark Schram, North American sales manager, manufacturer Primus
Q: Let’s break down a vended laundry operation just a bit. For each of these aspects, name at least one way that any store owner can seek improvement, and describe a general plan or course of action to achieve said improvement.
PLANNING FOR GROWTH
Rausch: The first step? Do your homework. Store owners should vet the market, too. Do you know your audience? Are you fulfilling a need? How many stores will you be competing with? It doesn’t hurt to reach out to the community and put feelers out there—is the neighborhood open to a new store?
Rosenthal: Have a master plan. Many stores were designed 20-plus years ago to service a significantly different customer base. The equipment mix has changed, and the attraction and success of larger machines and more efficient layouts should be considered. Again, a knowledgeable and established distributor can help in this process and provide examples of potential financial benefits of a properly executed store upgrade.
Rowen: Owning and operating a Laundromat is a highly scalable business opportunity. Our top-rated distributors serve as business partners throughout the journey and have, in many cases, decades of family experience understanding the right and wrong things to execute. They are also highly apprised on the continuously changing and creative financing programs that we as a manufacturer can provide to help with the acquisition of another facility.
Schram: A good distributor is critical to every vended laundry owner’s success. Stay in contact with your distributor to follow industry trends, become aware of potential local business opportunities, and utilize them as another business consultant. Additionally, distributors often unearth great opportunities that create growth for store owners.
Antene: When you do all [that I’ve described in previous parts of this series] to the best of your ability, store volume and net revenue will go up substantially. Make sure you have enough dry capacity so customers don’t have to wait!!
Here is how we go about these aspects. Customer relations are free, and improving the condition of your store is relatively inexpensive, so start these two immediately. Schedule a meeting with your preferred equipment distributor to start a laundry equipment retool plan. You will be pleasantly surprised when you receive the improved cash flow from a properly executed laundry equipment retool program. And don’t forget to ask them what they see successful stores doing for marketing and promotions.
Frankian: I believe owners need to work closely with their distributor to ensure they are aware of changes in the industry. Make sure to get involved in the local coin laundry association, so you are aware of local and state issues that can affect your business. It is important to understand the store’s demographics so it can stay ahead of the changing needs of its customers. Take advantage of IRS tax credits along with local utility credits for upgrading equipment, etc.
Gauthier: Growth is a relative term — it could mean a bigger machine or an additional location. All growth needs a plan, however, and it should be carefully cost-justified.
Hietpas: My advice is to keep good records, and to write things down. The old saying is that “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” The most successful people I know seem to have a “what’s next” mentality. They have a ready list of “what’s next” plans, and each one has a deadline for when they plan to complete it; if there are multiple parts to that plan, each part has a deadline.
Hoffman: You have to make sure you’re maximizing the square footage of your laundry to accommodate increased business. That can be done by adding additional equipment, folding and seating areas, and storage for additional drop-off service.
Q: In what ways can manufacturers and distributors best help vended laundry owners succeed?
Rosenthal: Not only do leading manufacturers offer reliable and profitable equipment, they also provide comprehensive service and support. Distributors can help guide store owners through every aspect of vended laundry, from initial setup to laundry design, laundry-focused financing and service maintenance. Additionally, distributors can help you analyze and maximize your operation and bottom line.
Rowen: A manufacturer’s and distributor’s relationship with a Laundromat owner/investor doesn’t end with sale of the equipment—it truly just begins. That’s why we at Huebsch emphasize the critical importance of selecting a distributor partner with whom you feel extremely comfortable. As I intimated previously, many of these distributors have been Laundromat operators at one point in time or another so they have a veritable wealth of “lessons learned” and guidance they are graciously willing, ready and able to impart to their business partners, with the ultimate goal in driving success for the owner and the industry.
Schram: After-sale support is critical to any owner’s future success. The partnership between store owner, distributor and manufacturer must pass the test of time, and be fertile for all parties.
A critical component of your equipment purchase should be based on the after-sale support with manufacturers that have a proven track record of long-term support. After-sale support is not only based on equipment maintenance and repair, but also on technical support, financing and marketing.
Antene: Both manufacturers and distributors have a ton of experience in all sorts of markets, so we see what business practices work vs. what does not. Because of this exposure, we help store owners make better business decisions.
Frankian: The best way is by communicating. We offer annual open houses and service schools to our customers during which the manufacturer attends with us. We make sure the customers are informed of the changes being made to the equipment, financing offerings, changes in the industry, etc.
I would also recommend operators attend the Clean Show every two years to see all the offerings of the other manufacturers to see how proactive they are with their products. This is also a way to network with other operators from around the country to see what makes them successful.
Gauthier: Our best efforts can help owners recognize efficiencies through the machinery we provide. Our equipment can’t lower building rent costs but we can help vended laundries be successful and profitable through more efficient machinery. Distributors can be great partners for success in the field as they are closely in-tune with local trends and customer profiles. Most distributors are strong resources for any new investor or existing store owner and can help with layout drawings, demographics, and equipment sizing and site analysis recommendations.
Hietpas: Open communication and good information are critical for a market to function effectively. Store owners are the eyes and ears of what customers want and need, manufacturers are looking for ways to apply new technologies to improve equipment, and distributors are a key intermediary between the two.
In almost 30 years in the industry, I’ve met countless store owners who were incredible laundry operators, and while they focused on finding great locations and taking care of customers, their distributor was a valuable source of information on how to apply some new idea or innovation to that “next” store.
A new innovation from Dexter to help owners succeed has been the development of DexterLive and the ability to quickly and affordably network all the equipment at a store. Owners can better manage more locations by having better information about what is happening at the store and with each piece of equipment. With valuable remote-access features, DexterLive gives owners the ability to instantly resolve some common customer complaints and equipment issues without even going to the store.
Hoffman: By continuing to improve washer and dryer efficiency without reducing quality and longevity, and to continue to have special features to up-charge on the washers.
Jorgensen: Distributors can help with store assessment by providing a competitive market survey, analyzing existing operations, helping with ways to improve profitability and create new revenue streams. Distributors can also help by recommending equipment that works into that plan. If you’ve owned a laundry for a few years, call your distributor in to see how the neighborhood has evolved since you first opened. Your distributor can analyze pricing, your competition and demographics. Maybe bigger families have moved into the area and all you need is a 90-pound washer to give business a kick-start?
Manufacturers need to listen to distributor and customer likes, dislikes, wants and needs in order to produce high-quality and beneficial laundry equipment. At Continental, we also provide laundry ownership training (Continental University), technical service training, flexible financing and marketing support.
Rausch: Vended owners should rely on their manufacturer and distributor as trusted resources. They’re there to help with choosing equipment, store design, product installation and everything between.
Vended store owners should also create a regular maintenance program based on store size and machine usage—and stick to that program—to ensure they’re providing the cleanest and most inviting environment for customers. For a store to thrive, the owner must be involved with the customers and behind the scenes.
Web exclusive coming Tuesday: How do water conservation and energy savings figure into a store owner’s future success?
Previous stories in our series: