You are here

Making the Leap from Wash-Dry-Fold to Commercial Laundry (Conclusion)

2nd store being constructed will separate self-service, commercial: Brinks

CHICAGO — Increased volume and more specialized cleaning needs and demands are just a couple differences linked to taking on business-focused commercial laundry service. Residential wash-dry-fold service has become a staple for many laundromats and broadening a service menu to also include commercial accounts can generate greater revenue.

But it’s important to recognize the distinctions between the two customer types. What a commercial customer wants or needs can be quite different from a family of four with their everyday garments, potentially placing new stresses on a laundry provider.

American Coin-Op spoke to a trio of laundry operators with a variety of experience about their take on commercial laundering at their scale and what they’ve learned to do it successfully. Earlier parts of this article featured Brian Henderson of Liberty Laundry in Oklahoma and Kelly Castillo of Bubbles Laundry Service in California. Let’s conclude by meeting Sharon Brinks in Kansas.


Brinks purchased her first laundromat in January 2014, then she and husband Steve built their flagship store, The Laundry Station, from the ground up in Wichita, Kansas. It opened in 2018, and two years later, they started a wash-dry-fold pickup and delivery service called Laundry Express.

“It looked like it was a response to the pandemic but we’d actually started planning it in 2019, we decided to offer pickup and delivery as well,” Brinks says. “As opposed to having a dedicated (commercial) processing area, at the moment we’re using laundromat facilities just during the daytime.”

Total staffing sits at six but Brinks expects to add four more soon. The couple is building a second Laundry Station about five miles away in south Wichita that should be open this summer. It’ll utilize the same types of equipment, payment system, etc. to capitalize on the “synergy,” according to Brinks. But there will be a physical separation there between business segments.

“The second store then, the front part will be laundromat, the back part will be the pickup and delivery processing or staging area,” she says. “We may be having to shift our hours to more of an evening or nighttime production schedule. We did go ahead and plumb and set up all the infrastructure in the back for dedicated OPL [on-premise laundry] washers and dryers. … We are out of room where we’re at right now.”

She estimates the current customer mix to be two-thirds residential and one-third commercial, “but it’s probably flipped when you go to the revenue piece of that.”

A massage therapist, short-term vacation rentals, dentist’s office, entertainment center, barber shop and a restaurant are just some of the commercial clients that Laundry Express serves.

There aren’t a lot of restrictions on the commercial work that Laundry Express will accept. Brinks dismisses the notion of any controversy in the wash-dry-fold world about what’s sanitary and what’s not.

“I raised two boys. If I can wash and not gag at it, you can do it,” she says. “We’ve got the best equipment. Trust the equipment, trust the chemicals, trust our process, the detergents and everything.”

But the business draws the line at rags heavily soiled with oils and grease. It won’t take them.

It’s policy that self-service customers always get first crack at using the 30 Laundry Station front loaders, Brinks says. “Most of our (commercial) stuff is getting processed early enough in the morning that we’re not in people’s way. And we only operate Monday through Friday at the moment for pickup and delivery.”

The Laundry Station and Laundry Express are treated as separate business entities with their own LLC designations for accounting and legal purposes, according to Brinks.

“If a van hits somebody, it’s not ‘The Laundry Station,” it’s ‘Laundry Express,’” she says. “That’s why we did it. On the other hand, it’s frustrating to me because I have all these extra bank accounts, extra insurance, I have extra LLCs, I have so much extra to keep track of. … It would be nice if it were just one business some days.”

Knowing what she knows now, Brinks admits she would have chosen a different name for one of them.

“Our pickup and delivery business is branded separately as Laundry Express. When I named it, I didn’t realize that about every other pickup and delivery business in the United States is either Laundry Express, Express Laundry, some sort of variation. I would do something different if I had it to do over again, but at the moment, it is what it is.”

Eventually, Brinks wants to adopt a production model similar to dry cleaning’s “hub and spoke” approach. She envisions all wash-dry-fold goods being cleaned at the south Wichita facility about to open, then delivered to Laundry Stations elsewhere in Wichita.

Labor quality and a desire to get back to focusing on assisting self-service customers influence that vision, she says.

“Right now, I’ve got my one set of people trained in how I want wash-dry-fold to be done at the store, and the pickup and delivery; it’s basically the same group of people,” she says. “So then we open the second store. If I let it go the same way, then I’ve … got store No. 1 doing wash-dry-fold, I’ve got store No. 2 doing wash-dry-fold, and then I’ve got people in the back with Express pickup and delivery doing wash-dry-fold.

“I’ve got three sets of people to train, and you know the turnover. It’s hard to get good help. … I’d like to be able to shuttle it all down to the one store and process it in one area. That will get my attendants back to … the attendant is there to take care of the customers, the self-service customers. I want to get back to that.”

Brinks believes they were prepared to take on commercial work from the outset.

“I really like the commercial stuff because there’s no matching baby socks, no trying to get spit-up out of a onesie. It’s rags, it’s sheets, it’s dentist smocks.”

What has been your biggest challenge in taking on the commercial laundry focus?

“Trying to get the word out that we exist,” she says. “Once we get customers, we really don’t have any problem retaining them. The quality and the reputation is there. We’re not growing as fast as I would like but that’s OK. It’s slow and steady.”

Making the Leap from Wash-Dry-Fold to Commercial Laundry

A wide view of the original Laundry Station in Wichita, Kansas, including the Customer Care counter where wash-dry-fold orders are accepted, tagged and routed. Owner Sharon Brinks is pictured in the inset. (Photos: The Laundry Station/Laundry Express)

Making the Leap from Wash-Dry-Fold to Commercial Laundry

A look at the space under construction in the south Wichita store due to open this summer that will be dedicated to Laundry Express.

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