GLENDALE, Ariz. — I’m a few years retired and speaking to you straight as a mat owner of 41 years with no allegiances to any manufacturers or distributors. In this column, I aim to provide the unvarnished version of my experiences, good and bad.
So, are you well suited for this career or not?
If you’re thinking that mats run themselves and you can just sit back and empty the coin boxes, then no, this business is not for you. A laundromat is a business that must be managed properly, just like any other.
First, you need to think real hard if this is something that you really want to do. There will be times when it can be stressful and challenging: a new competitor arrives, rent goes up, there are employee issues, you’ve been robbed a few times, flood or fire impacts the place, etc.
It helps greatly if you are dead serious about opening a mat, and not just playing around. It also helps greatly if you are the type of person who can take a few high-stress hits, then get back up and do what’s necessary to make things right again.
Here’s the good part: If you do your due diligence, come up with a logical business plan, learn everything you can about laundromats, find a great mat with potential and make it greater, then you can have many years of a nice, steady income ahead.
Small-business owners must wear many hats to succeed. Laundromat owners require a couple of more. As I started to explain in Part 1, you’ll need basics such as:
Common Sense — I saw a 5,000-square-foot mat built in the same building two doors down from a barbecue restaurant. Dryers need to draw in plenty of incoming makeup air, some of which infiltrates from neighboring stores. This mat had a big problem with customers’ finished laundry smelling like food!
What were they thinking, or were they not thinking at all? Think they talked to any of the neighboring stores about the landlord and building before acquiring the property? I suppose not.
Common sense tells you to think logically, not emotionally when making business decisions. It tells you to avoid a mat that has very little parking. It also tells you not to open a store too close to a big, well-run mat.
Case in point: I had a customer years ago who would always pepper me with questions about my mat. I knew she was up to something, so I kept my answers short and vague. Sure enough, she opened a mat near one of my stores! It was a tiny one that she worked herself, and it failed in less than a year. Common sense should have told her it was too small and the neighborhood was already being served by a bigger, better mat across the street. You could also figure that she didn’t have enough capital to build a properly sized, fully equipped mat.
Sufficient Capital — An important trait to have is being good with budgeting money. After all, you’ll need to come up with a hefty down payment.
You want to have enough money so you can build/renovate your mat the right way, without risky shortcuts. In short, you need the bucks to build a mat that will clearly be more desirable than its competitors. You also need enough to carry the mat until it reaches breakeven.
How long this takes can vary greatly. Some mats never breakeven. It took three months for my first mat, two weeks for my last. I always used a simple rule for capital: Add up everything that it will cost to build your mat to get it up and running, then add 20-25% for the unexpected!
Luck — I believe you can tweak your luck!
Every business will have plenty of challenges. Sometimes, you can have an outright disaster happen to your mat that is not your fault. If another retail store catches fire and takes part or all of your mat with it, that’s bad luck! However, if you were prepared for such unexpected losses, you would have enough insurance to build your mat back, maybe even nicer than before.
Luck can even throw you a bone once in a while. For instance, one day one of my mats grew really busy. Sales rose each day for about two weeks straight. Turns out that the neighboring apartment houses installed new “water-saving washers” that the residents hated because they “couldn’t see the water in the washers.”
Basic People-Management Principles — I had some basic principles for employees: Be nice. Be polite. Be creative. Be funny (when appropriate). Be fair. Be generous.
Try not to lose your temper, but don’t let anyone push you around. Keep high standards, and expect everyone to do their best.
Never correct an employee in public. However, some people don’t take well to management, and after a couple of warnings, must be fired.
If you think that you get along with others well, and that people look up to you, then you could become a great boss! If you often have petty, emotional arguments with people, and come up with draconian rules for them, you may not be well-suited to be a boss. This is especially true in today’s environment where it’s hard to find good help.
Personally, I always wanted my own business. I never liked having bosses, and I craved the freedom of my own choices. But when I finally opened my first mat, I felt … alone. There was no longer anyone there telling me how to handle things. I was so used to being told what to do, the newfound freedom scared me at first. It took me a good year to get comfortable with being responsible for my own decisions.
Check back Tuesday for the conclusion!
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].