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. Subsequent parts to arrive later in 2022 will address the tools needed (vehicle, computer software, etc.) and the marketing and promotion of such a service.
For Brio Laundry in Bellingham, Wash., the decision to add PUD can be directly traced to the coronavirus pandemic and its “regular customers who could not come in the store,” says owner Colleen Unema. The 3,000-square-foot laundromat located some 100 miles north of Seattle has two full-time and four part-time staffers.
Brio began offering WDF immediately upon opening in 2012 and added pickup and delivery in 2020 when COVID-19 hit. Whether a laundry starts from the get-go with WDF or not doesn’t really matter when it comes to adding PUD, Unema believes.
“What matters is quality control and logistical control,” she says. “We started residential pickup with the same software we use for WDF, and use the same set of systems to maintain quality of our laundry process. Both are critical. If you can’t produce a five-star load of laundry, you will not be able to charge a premium for delivery.”
Unema embraces systems and consistency. Meanwhile, PUD service can be full of what she calls “hiccups.”
“I have a pretty lukewarm feeling from it,” she says. “My customers love it. They just love it, so I have to love it. But I don’t love it.”
Matt Simmons, who runs Super Suds Laundromat in Long Beach, California, with brother Aaron, believes in firmly establishing walk-in WDF before taking on PUD.
“You want to have wash and fold (service) down,” Simmons said during a 2021 episode of the American Coin-Op Podcast. “Say that you know you’re going to be doing pickup and delivery, I’d start with in-store, because adding pickup and delivery is literally adding another moving part.”
His parents opened Super Suds in the late 1990s, and adding PUD was always the goal of his father, Sanford: “He knew he wanted to bring laundry to the laundromat. He wanted the machines spinning at nighttime, and he knew it was possible.” Super Suds and its roughly 200 washers and dryers handles some 600 pickup orders a month, according to Simmons.
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. The Folde utilizes 10 vans and 60 employees, with very few positions being full-time; out of the Austin store, it’s doing roughly 7,000 to 10,000 pounds of mostly residential work a day. That laundromat covers about 5,500 square feet and warehousing occupies the remaining 2,000.
“A lot of pickup and delivery companies like to be the antithesis of a laundromat,” Vlaskamp says. “But we’re laundromat guys. We have laundromats, we like laundromats. … A digital marketing firm can figure out how to get customers in and do all the bells and whistles. We like figuring out the operational workflows, fixing the machines, setting up the (standard operating procedures), things like that.”
On Thursday: Labor pains and physical changes
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