MILWAUKEE — From the mid-’80s until 2000, Sean O’Byrne’s family operated a successful chain of Laundromats. For nearly 10 of those years, he helped manage the business, repairing machines and running day-to-day operations.
The O’Byrnes’ first store opened in 1984 after a distributor suggested the family turn their out-of-business gas station into a Laundromat. That store was so successful that the family opened six more stores across Milwaukee, a city of roughly 600,000 people known for its brewing and manufacturing.
In 2000, Byrne and his mother, Rosemary, sold their shares of the company to a relative and left the laundry business.
“At that time, I was interested in pursuing other career opportunities, and my uncle was able to give his growing family a larger piece of the laundry business,” O’Byrne says. “We came to an agreement, which allowed all of us to pursue our own goals.”
He went on to establish two successful executive search firms while Rosemary spent a lot of time with her grandchildren and became a full-time resident of Florida. It wasn’t until more than a decade later, when deciding what to do with inactive car-wash property that Rosemary’s late father had owned, that the mother-son team took another look at the laundry business.
Relying on their industry experience and taking advantage of advancements in machine and control technology, the pair opened SUDS Your DUDS Coin Laundry on Sherman Boulevard in north Milwaukee.
THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT MIX
The former car wash property was already equipped for the water and drainage demands of a Laundromat, and the rehab took just three months to complete.
Today, the 2,400-square-foot store features 54 stainless steel Speed Queen machines, including washer-extractors ranging in capacities from 20 to 60 pounds, and a mix of 30-pound and 45-pound stack tumble dryers.
The O’Byrnes’ distributor sales representative, Dan Baker, vice president of sales for Minnesota Chemical Co., says the mix of larger equipment will help the store generate a greater profit while making efficient use of utilities.
“Customers want larger machines so they can get more loads done at one time,” Baker says. “Newer machines are also more efficient, especially front loaders, because they use less water, electricity and (natural) gas than top-load machines.”
Customer Shakenn Allen was able to wash three weeks’ worth of clothing for her family within two hours at the O’Byrnes’ store.
“These machines are bigger than the ones at the Laundromat I used to go to,” Allen says. “That store only had machines like the ones we would use at home, and it took a lot longer to get my laundry done. This store is nice because I can get in and out quickly.”
The O’Byrnes chose to purchase Speed Queen equipment because they had used it in their former Laundromats. “We know Speed Queen is reliable because some of the machines we bought 30 years ago are still operating in our former Laundromats,” Sean O’Byrne says.
Each machine in SUDS Your DUDS is equipped with Speed Queen’s advanced Quantum™ Gold control system. It features revolutionary technology that unites equipment control, programming and store management. The full-feature control gives the O’Byrnes total command over their store by seamlessly integrating store operation data, equipment monitoring and performance with the option to network the store for remote access using a computer with Internet access.
It’s easier to operate a Laundromat this time around, says Rosemary.
“We used to have to be in our stores all day long in case something broke,” she says. “Today, we just pull out the iPads and check our software. With me living part-time in Florida and Sean working full-time at his company, there is no other way we would be able to have this business if it weren’t for the improvements in technology.”
One afternoon, while Sean was watching a golf tournament, he received a call from a customer who was having problems operating a machine after she paid to use it. From his couch, O’Byrne opened his laptop, logged onto the Quantum program and was able to start a new machine for her to use within five minutes.
“The customer was amazed that not only could I start a new machine for her, but she also didn’t have to wait for a refund,” he says. “The control system is phenomenal. That day, I’m positive, I got a customer for life.”
SERVING THE COMMUNITY
The neighborhood has responded positively to SUDS Your DUDS. The store is the one of a few Laundromats available to residents within a two-mile radius.
“The demographics in the area are definitely in Sean and Rosemary’s favor,” Baker says. “There are lots of renters, and the homeowners will use the big machines to wash larger items like comforters and curtains.”
Prior to the store opening, Allen took public transportation more than six miles to the nearest Laundromat. “This is a much better location for me and is way more convenient.”
With the store’s ongoing success, Sean says they plan to open more locations in the Milwaukee area.
“We want to open at least three to four stores total,” he says. “We’re already seeing high return on investment – these stores pay for themselves and are so profitable.”
Many investors like the O’Byrnes aren’t aware of how lucrative the laundry business can be, says Dan Bowe, North American sales manager of Speed Queen’s commercial division. He and the Speed Queen team have been actively recruiting investors to the industry; Bowe is on target to open 100 new Speed Queen-equipped Laundromats within the year.
“Laundromats offer a high return on investment with little to no employee overhead, making it an excellent business investment for any entrepreneur,” he says. “Today’s Laundromats are bright and inviting, state-of-the-art and family-friendly—making the business a destination within any area or shopping center.”
“This is a great business that my family knows and respects,” Sean O’Byrne says. “We’re committed and have full confidence that we’ll be even more successful this time around.”