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Look Before a Laundry Leap (Part 2 of 2)

CHICAGO — Are you looking to make a larger splash in the laundry industry? Are you ready to go beyond self-service laundries? If so, you may be thinking about exploring opportunities in the multi-housing laundry industry. The two industries are similar in some ways (The Same Only Different, American Coin-Op, April 2011).

Having experience in the self-service laundry industry is one thing, but expanding into the multi-housing laundry side is far different, says David DeMarsh, BDS Laundry Management, St. Paul, Minn.

Moving Forward

Like any business, the multi-housing laundry industry is not without its challenges. Instead of visiting laundry rooms, people prefer to have in-unit hookups, he says. However, installing in-unit washers and dryers can be cost-prohibitive on many fronts for the building owners, especially when it comes to utilities cost. Apartment owners may also buy inefficient equipment (leading to higher utility costs) to save money, he adds.

“People have a tendency to do one piece of laundry at a time, especially if they are not paying for the utilities,” DeMarsh says. “It’s up to the multi-housing operators to convince apartment owners that it’s far more efficient to offer laundry rooms and efficient equipment using 12-13 gallons of water per cycle, than buying in-unit equipment that can use nearly 50 gallons of water per cycle.”

The industry hopes that the growing emphasis on going “green” will prevent more in-unit hookups, DeMarsh says. “We have been competing with in-unit hookups for 15 to 20 years, and it’s a struggle.” The goal is to educate apartment owners, architects, etc., about the importance of conservation, he adds.

Government legislation aimed at conservation may also prove beneficial to route operators in their business quest.

Multi-housing operators keep a close eye on apartment vacancy rates. During the housing boom, more apartments were unoccupied. Things are changing, and the industry likes to see apartment vacancy rates of less than 5%, DeMarsh says.

Still thinking about investing in the multi-housing laundry industry? Then think about soliciting business, DeMarsh advises. “The fight [for business] is over the laundry rooms in buildings existing from 1990 or earlier. These are the bread-and-butter buildings [from a business standpoint]. Almost all the buildings built in the last 15 to 20 years have some in-unit hookups.

“The experienced route operators are competing for business, and they are dug in. This is an extremely difficult business for newcomers.”

Do it Right: 10 Laundry-Room Tips

Being a successful self-service laundry owner means knowing what customers want. Route operators face a similar challenge—the need to make the laundry facilities appealing to residents, while providing property owners with a valuable leasing tool.

Here are 10 ways from the Multi-housing Laundry Association (MLA) to keep laundry customers happy.

Convenience is the key. The primary design consideration of a laundry room must be convenience to residents. Community-area laundry rooms should be located near main traffic areas. A good rule of thumb is to place laundry facilities within 250 feet of any unit, and preferably on the same floor. This may mean having several smaller rooms, rather than one large, centralized one.

Safety counts. Just as with a self-service laundry, taking a few extra security measures, such as placing the community-area laundry room in a well-lit and adequately visible location, goes a long way in promoting resident safety. Also, consider making the room accessible only to residents by placing locks on laundry-facility doors.

Keep it clean. Arrange regularly scheduled cleaning of the facility, and provide plenty of lined trash cans to encourage resident participation in keeping the area clean.

Make sure the equipment works. Equipment needs to be checked regularly to ensure it’s in proper working order. Encourage residents to immediately report when equipment is not working properly.

Keep costs down. By charging reasonable fees for washers and dryers, you’ll see an increase in resident business.

Supply enough machines. Having the right amount of washers and dryers in a community-area laundry room reduces wait time and increases resident satisfaction. The demographic makeup of your property will help determine the number of machines you’ll need. The equipment mix will differ in number and capacity from self-service laundries.

Add technology. Technology makes doing laundry easier and more convenient for residents. Card systems are something to consider.

Don’t ignore the social element. Community-area laundry rooms are a place where residents socialize. With a few added amenities, like ample seating, you can promote a sense of community and develop the social aspect of the community-area laundry room.

Make it brighter. A fresh coat of paint will go a long way in brightening up a laundry room. Select a color that goes with the overall design and color scheme of the property. Also, by simply updating lighting, you can increase security and enhance the appearance of the laundry facility.

Accessorizing matters. Laundry rooms, like self-service laundries, don’t have to be boring places! Add a TV or stereo, and make the facility a more enjoyable place to be while clothes are getting clean.

Click here for Part 1

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected] .