CHICAGO — Self-service laundries located in smaller communities or rural or remote locations don’t have the vehicular or foot traffic numbers of their big-city brethren. Opportunities to garner business may be fleeting.
These small-town businesses are often community-minded and place a premium on building personal relationships with the members of their customer base. Let’s meet one of them today:
FROM ONE LITTLE LADYBUG
Ladybug Cleaners is an eight-store Northwest Indiana coin laundry chain headquartered in Francesville, a village of less than 1,000 people. The Francesville store was the company’s first and Logan Wuethrich, who’s responsible for Ladybug’s operations and facilities, says that starting in a small community gave ownership the ability to learn the ropes while incurring less risk.
“My father (Tim) started the company back in 2002, basically as a side income,” Wuethrich says. “At the time, he was a real estate agent and a farmer. Francesville is our hometown, that store came up for sale and he thought it was a good opportunity to diversify.”
Soon, there were Ladybugs in the larger communities of Knox and Valparaiso. The Wuethrich portfolio at the time also included a car wash, tanning salon, movie rental store and check cashing services, and when it was clear that the Valparaiso store was going to be a good producer, it was decided to focus on laundromats.
“Real estate costs in Indiana really don’t change, whether you’re in a small community or large,” Wuethrich says. “Machine costs are the same, utilities are the same, a lot of the fixed costs are the same, which means the more volume you had, the more money you could make.”
Today, the Ladybug chain also includes laundries in Rochester, La Porte, Hobart, Michigan City and Gary; Gary is the largest community served by the chain, with a population of roughly 76,000. All Ladybug stores are open 24 hours and partially attended … except Francesville.
Administration, as well as processes and procedures, were the areas where Ladybug learned and evolved, according to Wuethrich.
“Having the time to devote to getting rid of pilferage, people stealing from you,” he says. “When you’re a low-volume store, it’s easier to monitor and you can catch mistakes really quickly.”
And when your return on investment only goes so far, you learn how to “cut the right corner.”
“You find ways to save money that you wouldn’t think of initially,” he explains. “Things like doing our own plumbing, doing our own electric, working with our HVAC guys.”
A smaller store is also a proving ground for equipment mix, and what works and what doesn’t.
“If you have too much equipment or the wrong equipment, you won’t get your money back, so you learn those kinds of things. I also learned how important supplemental income is, making sure that if you staff that laundromat, you supplement that income through a drop-off service, check cashing, a car wash on the back side of the property, stuff like that.”
Plus, there’s generally some distance between you and your distributor/service technician, which creates a greater need to do equipment maintenance and repairs yourself, he adds.
Every step taken along Ladybug’s 20-year path has helped the laundromat chain fine-tune its operation.
“Had we started in the bigger areas, it would have cost us a lot more money from all the mistakes we would’ve made,” Wuethrich says. “We learned a lot doing smaller-volume stores that really translated over well to the higher-volume stores.”
Check back Tuesday to meet Jessica Haney of Jess’s Laundry Wash & Fold!
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].