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Improving the Industry Roundtable: Where Do We Stand?

Experts share views on ways to keep winning over customers

CHICAGO — With the last calendar page flipping to reveal another year has passed, how would you rate your self-service laundry operation? Do you think it has improved, has gotten worse, or is about the same?

The self-service laundry industry, while well-established, is still subject to internal and external influences. The basics of your laundry operations are largely unchanged but there are factors at play when it comes to building your business.

American Coin-Op invited representatives from several manufacturers and distributors, along with some store owners, 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.

Q: In a general sense, how would you describe the current state of the self-service vended laundry industry today compared to five years ago—better, worse, or unchanged? Why do you feel that way?

John Antene

John AntenePresident of Coin Laundry Sales and MarketingCoin-O-Matic

Better, due to many factors. We feel the influx of new tech-savvy investors seeking opportunities to maximize their revenue potential while utilizing the advancement features in today’s newest machine features and capabilities. Another area we see gaining strength is the established business owners capitalizing on the strength of the economy and realizing the [greatest] return on their investment dollars.

Kurt Archer

Kurt ArcherSales RepresentativeWestern State Design

The state of the self service industry in my area is becoming a story of two worlds. The expenses in California continue to escalate. Many absentee owners who treat their business as a hobby are finding it difficult to survive. However, I am seeing an increase in professional owners who have upgraded their stores with modern, efficient, large-capacity equipment who are thriving. Multi-store ownership continues to grow. Many owners are realizing that, with the new management technologies being unveiled every day, they can effectively know day to day, hour to hour the condition and status of their laundries from anywhere. The increase in information allows owners to manage more stores with greater involvement from almost anywhere. This added responsiveness is resulting in a much better customer experience and increased profits.

Brian Brunckhorst

Brian BrunckhorstMulti-store owner based in California

The booming economy, more relaxed financing, and low interest rates has fueled a resurgence in the renovations of old, run-down Laundromats. This revitalization is bringing up the overall quality and standards of the average self-service laundry, essentially putting owners of neglected stores on notice.

The sophistication of owners entering the industry appears to be increasing. There are more college-educated professionals, with corporate work experience, buying not one but multiple locations. The numbers of multi-store owners and number of stores owned by each is growing. In addition, the average store size is also growing, not to mention the number and the amount of ancillary services being offered in each location. We are also seeing more community involvement as store owners give back to their neighborhoods.

Technology improvements is changing the way our customers do and pay for their wash. But it’s also helping owners keep pace with the rising costs of utilities through reductions of water and electrical usage. Additionally, owners now have more flexibility to not only remotely manage their equipment, but also monitor their store’s performance from anywhere in the world. We have seen the evolution of third-party payment systems migrate to customers’ phones through payment apps, and large increases in the wash and fold and pickup and delivery services using phone apps and websites. A greater number of stores are actively using social media for advertising and customer service interactions. All of this is leading to better overall customer satisfaction.

Michael Finkelstein

Michael FinkelsteinMulti-store owner based in Virginia

I think the industry has dramatically improved in the past five years because the operators have gotten better, I think the image of the industry has improved, and I think the equipment has made the experience more efficient and actually better for consumers.

Connor Frankian

Connor FrankianVice President of SalesD&M Equipment

I believe the current state of the self-service vended laundry industry has evolved in the past five years in the same trend as in many other industries, that trend being the integration of technologies into everyday aspects of doing business. Our industry’s manufacturers have acknowledged this, and that is why we have seen the immense emergence of cloud-based and app-based technological integrations into the machines.

This integration, I believe, is great for the industry, and presents operators better opportunities to create more intimate experiences with customers than ever was possible even just five years ago. I also believe we are only at the beginning of this wave of technologies being incorporated into the industry. To ignore this, and not take advantage of the opportunities to capitalize on these advancements, would be foolish.

Gary Gauthier

Gary GauthierNational Sales Manager, Vended LaundriesPellerin Milnor Corp.

I think it is better, and the reason for that has everything to do with the owner/operators that I meet. So many of them have great industry experience, and quite a few of them are leveraging knowledge and skills that they’ve brought with them from other industries. Combine that energy with the exponential growth in technology that is available to owners today and I’m very encouraged at what our industry looks like.

Kevin Hietpas

Kevin HietpasDirector of SalesDexter Laundry

Today’s laundry industry remains very dynamic and is certainly continuing to get better. Manufacturers continue to offer new products and new innovations to allow owners to better operate and manage their business, and the innovations are across the board: washers, dryers, management systems, payment systems and a wide range of ancillary products. Such ongoing innovation certainly makes our industry better, and gives store owners numerous possibilities to better manage their business and take care of their customers.

Chad Lange

Chad LangeSales DirectorMaytag Commercial Laundry

The vended laundry business continues to see growth. In the last five years, we’ve continued to see some very positive trends in the industry. Many single-store owners have been choosing to grow their investments—expanding their vended business to include two or three more facilities. What’s more, we’re also seeing more new owners taking possession of older laundry facilities, and conducting facelifts and restorations on these aging stores. As a part of these renovations, owners are installing newer, more energy-efficient equipment, which can help to reduce utility costs and potentially increase a store’s bottom line.

It’s an exciting time to be in the vended laundry business. While some research models suggest the economy might be slowing a bit, the relative prosperity of the last five years, coupled with the thought that the vended laundry industry tends to be stable in good and bad economies, potentially mean that now is a good time to be an owner.

Cathy Neilley

Cathy NeilleyStore owner based in New Jersey

[I think it’s] unchanged. On one hand, the rental market continues on an upswing as evidenced by the number of new apartments (versus single homes) in development and loss of house tax deductions in the Northeast. Add on economic woes brought on by enormous college debt and the need to work multiple jobs and self-service projects upward. On the other hand, millennials are putting a slight downward pressure on self-service due to their thirst for convenience.

Kathryn Rowen

Kathryn RowenNorth American Sales ManagerHuebsch

Our industry is definitely better than five years ago. Consumers increasingly have higher expectations for where they spend their money; they want a higher-level retail experience. Savvy owners understand this and are ramping up their game to provide stellar customer service.

Tod Sorensen

Tod SorensenRegional Sales ManagerContinental GirbauVice PresidentContinental Girbau West

Laundries are bigger and more efficient and offer more services than ever before. The really cool thing of late is that laundries across the country are giving back to their communities. This seems to be a growing trend. By giving back, laundries differentiate themselves from the competition and build customer and community loyalty.

Brad Steinberg

Brad SteinbergCo-PresidentPWS – The Laundry Company

It seems that those Laundromat owners that have invested in their store are reaping the benefits. Those laundry owners that have made no improvements are getting squeezed worse and worse. It is not just about upgrading equipment, it is also cosmetic and amenity upgrades that are important.

Andy Wray

Andy WraySales ManagerACE Commercial Laundry Equipment

Current state of coin laundry business is a mixed bag, both good and bad in our market. Success is all lease-driven in a “higher-rent” market. Store owners with leases that were written many years ago are now coming up on “harsh” resetting periods and seeing rent rates really jump via new land ownership or raising market rents. [They are] competing for space with cellphone vendors, fast food, and other industries. Versus five years ago, we have seen stronger investors entering the industry, bringing management techniques and out-of-the-industry technology, raising the bar for operators to follow.

Coming Thursday: Seeking and planning for improvement where equipment and store condition are concerned