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Making the Leap from Wash-Dry-Fold to Commercial Laundry (Part 1)

Appreciating distinctions, balancing their unique needs to serve both well

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. Here in Part 1 we’ll hear from Brian Henderson in Oklahoma.


Henderson co-owns Liberty Laundry, a chain of three identically branded laundromats in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The stores offer wash-dry-fold drop-off laundry services in addition to robust self-service operations. The company employs a team of 29 individuals, including three store managers, an operations manager, a facilities manager, and co-owners Henderson and Ian Gollahon.

Liberty Laundry has been open to commercial laundry service since it first opened its doors in 2005.

“Commercial accounts, as we call them, are by far the lowest-hanging fruit in wash-dry-fold,” Henderson says. “They issue the least number of complaints per pound and they often write large checks or leave credit card information on file.”

Corporate housing, small medical clinics, multiple departments of a local school system (janitorial, child nutrition, blankets for Pre-K nap time, etc.), dentist offices, janitorial services, massage therapists, local Airbnb rentals, and event services make up Liberty’s commercial customers list.

“Not only do they have the biggest orders, but they are often the easiest orders to handle,” he continues in speaking about commercial customers in general. “Commercial accounts typically involve bed linens, towels, or uniforms. We’ve yet to have a commercial account drop off 100 pounds of baby clothes!”

Liberty has had to change its billing practices so they were in tune with commercial customers, because many of them — especially those reimbursed with tax dollars — can only pay on a monthly basis.

“This requires us to keep track of each time they drop off laundry and then send a monthly invoice or statement,” Henderson says. “Some organizations require (purchase order) numbers on their invoices or they will not pay it.

“Another peculiar requirement from government-funded organizations is that each bag must be labeled. It might seem like ‘red tape’ at first, but these requirements come from their lived experience. For instance, if they have 10 bags of white twin-sized bed linens and these get mixed up with the five bags of white queen-sized bed linens, everyone is unhappy.”

As far as staffing goes, the business does a “sizable amount” of commercial wash-dry-fold across its three Tulsa locations but the service doesn’t require the hiring of additional employees or assignment of shifts beyond what’s needed for its residential wash-dry-fold customers.

Some laundry businesses choose to separate their residential wash-dry-fold work from their commercial orders, sometimes designating certain laundry equipment and storage space for the commercial business either inside the store or somewhere off-site.

Customers at Liberty Laundry locations will see no such separation, Henderson says.

“The only separation between residential and commercial operations is digital. Our software keeps track of where all the orders are, who they belong to, and how we’re getting paid for each one. Our commercial accounts walk in to our counter just like residential accounts do.”

While caring for commercial accounts is important, Liberty recognizes that its business comes largely from residential customers.

“Our revenue is primarily self-serve, so they always take priority,” says Henderson. “If there are plenty of machines open, we expect our employees to be processing wash-dry-fold orders. While we sometimes designate a few machines for horse blankets, we don’t specifically allocate machines for commercial vs. residential — it just doesn’t work for our layout.”

One of the hardest parts about B2B laundering, he says, was training the team how to handle things that only come up every now and then.

“For example, attendants would ask commercial account employees for payment just like residential accounts, which was awkward for everyone. Not only should they not have been asking ‘On Account’ customers for payment each time, they actually should have been collecting a signature for each drop-off.

“Eventually we updated the software so that the only payment option for these accounts is ‘On Account’ and then the software automatically prompts for a signature or (purchase order) number. This way, the attendant automatically understands they shouldn’t ask for payment, but they do need to collect something else. It’s a smoother process for everyone.”

Do you think you were adequately prepared to serve commercial accounts?

“‘Adequately prepared’ is a great way to put it!” exclaims Henderson. “While we weren’t completely prepared, we quickly put processes in place as the volume grew. Invoicing and bag labeling were the two critical areas to get under control. You also need good training for the team.”

If given the chance to do things differently, he says Liberty would have added bag labeling sooner.

“Sticky notes tend to come off bags when you have 20 of them bunched up in one area,” Henderson explains. “Multiple customers with similar-looking bags will also get mixed up because the pen on a sticky note and the text on a receipt is too small. When bags get misplaced, customers get angry. Make-good and loss of business is far more expensive than thermal bag labels (which cost a fraction of a penny per label).

“We also wish we had made the leap to cloud-based software sooner. Invoicing multiple accounts from multiple stores with the click of a button from a main office is much simpler than visiting each store to hunt down all the individual tickets that need to be combined into billable invoices, typing up the invoices manually, then printing and mailing them!”

Coming Thursday in Part 2: Meet Kelly Castillo from Bubbles Laundry Service in California

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


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

Liberty Laundry’s 4,400-square-foot Delaware Avenue store on a busy night, with co-owner Brian Henderson pictured in inset. Commercial work is handled across Liberty’s three locations and doesn’t require adding workers. (Photos: Ian Gollahon)

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