CHICAGO — With today’s consumers looking to conserve their personal time for pursuits that are more fun than doing their laundry, more and more self-service laundromats offering wash/dry/fold are adding pickup and delivery to their offerings.
Smartphones that enable users to handle virtually every detail have fueled the public’s embrace of services that come right to their doorstep. COVID-19’s 2020 arrival in the U.S. pushed interest in pickup and delivery—PUD, for short—for laundry and other services to new heights.
But before a laundromat takes the leap—hits the road?—there are some things to consider. After all, it would be foolish to think that adding transportation to the production mix wouldn’t create some new challenges.
And thus American Coin-Op is posting a three-part series this year on incorporating pickup and delivery, starting this month with a look at labor and workflow.
The first installment of Part 1 introduced three PUD service providers and described what was involved in getting them started. The second looked at the associated labor pains and physical plant changes. Let’s conclude today with PUD’s impact on self-service workflow, and gathering the courage to give PUD a try.
IMPACT ON IN-STORE OPS
“Pickup and delivery does have an impact on your in-store operations,” says Matt Simmons, who runs Super Suds Laundromat in Long Beach, California, with brother Aaron. He commented on this during a 2021 episode of the American Coin-Op Podcast. “Employees started competing for machines with customers, and customers were taking clothes out of the washing machines, so you do need to identify which orders your employees are working on. Our overall goal was to open up at nighttime but it did take time before that made sense.”
Mark Vlaskamp is co-owner and managing partner of The Folde, a laundry pickup and delivery service that relies on laundromats it owns in Houston and Austin, Texas, as processing hubs. During regular retail hours, rather than setting aside specific machines for walk-in customers and others for PUD processing, The Folde tries to maintain an unused ratio, he says.
“We need more than half of the machines to be unused and open at any given time,” he explains. “So if a loader is loading and the folders are folding slow or we have six folders call out because Grandma’s sick on the same day, that loader needs to not load how he usually would. We need to make sure everything is flowing through, so if we got a rush of walk-in retail customers, they could all have a machine.”
Colleen Unema, owner of Brio Laundry in Bellingham, Washington, says offering pickup and delivery hasn’t impacted Brio’s hours of operation, and that self-service customers will always have a place in her laundromat.
“We always prioritize machines for walk-in customers and fit in our machine needs as we see opportunity,” she says. “We will use machines at the end of the day or before we open. The way we process laundry allows for different stages to be done throughout the day, for laundering later in the day.”
And Brio never combines customer clothes, not even using mesh bags, she adds.
“We process laundry as the deadline dictates. When you have a two-day turnaround, you have time to build your day’s laundry list. This auto-prioritizes the process list for attendants. The manager is full-time and performs the audit every morning and again before he leaves the shop.”
Aside from workflow, you can bet that adding PUD will create new managerial stresses, according to Vlaskamp.
“Whether your shop is open or closed, you will be thinking about this, or getting calls about this. Employee headaches, customer headaches, equipment headaches, it’s going to extend the hours of you’re thinking about all that.”
But that’s where the added revenue of a popular service helps soften the blow.
GETTING INTO IT
While it may seem that everyone is offering pickup and delivery these days, “it’s not too late to get into the game,” says Simmons.
“A lot of people are hesitant because they see more competition than ever. Before, if you did a search on Google for ‘laundry pickup and delivery near me,’ you might have seen one or two people. Now, you’ve got pages and pages of responses. And that can be intimidating.
“We have more competition than ever in Long Beach, where our laundromat is, but we’re also making more money than ever. It’s a growing market. That’s what to keep in mind. It’s a growing market, so even if there are more people playing ball there, it’s because they’re making money. So, I would just get in.”
“Demand is out there. It’s relatively low-risk to start and try out, if you’re asking me, compared to years ago when you had to educate a whole customer base,” Vlaskamp says. “People are searching for this. The Google trends on the searches are crazy right now. People are actively seeking this out, so a laundromat owner that wants to test it out isn’t going to have to spend a whole ton of money marketing to it.
“Get a driver, get a folder and try to get a few orders. You should be able to get four or five orders to see if you like it or not.”
Part 2 of this series will arrive in May!
Miss earlier installments of this article? You can read them here: No. 1 – No. 2
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].