CHICAGO — Owning and operating a single laundromat takes plenty of work. Making the decision to build/acquire and run a second store effectively doubles (and perhaps then some?) the ownership challenges one faces day in and day out. But preparing for, acquiring and operating Stores No. 3, 4 and so on seems to get easier with each addition because of experience gained from running their predecessors.
That’s the consensus of several multi-store owners and/or operators interviewed for American Coin-Op. They spoke of the benefits of operational consistency and systemization; their biggest challenge when adding that second store; how technology can simplify multi-store ownership; and more. We introduced the owners and operators in Part 1. Let’s continue:
What one issue did you find most challenging once you expanded to two stores?
“Initially, (it was) understanding the pulse of the business cycle: when to pull coins and cash (which can change seasonally in the summer), the cleanliness of the store, and maintenance and upkeep,” says James (Clark) Sowers, who with son Randy co-owns four differently named laundromats in and around Rapid City, South Dakota.
“The one issue we found most challenging … is keeping up with parts,” says Anne Sechler, the operations and marketing manager for Whale of a Wash, a group of eight West Virginia laundromats. “Repaired parts, spare parts, parts for testing, parts we stripped from old machines, etc. If there is one thing to put in place prior to expanding (and you handle your own repairs), have a central location for parts and a system for inventorying the parts.”
“The immediate challenge was to give the first store enough attention, because the second store took off immediately and made us hire and train more people, taking time away from the first store,” recalls James Radovic, who owns two fully attended stores in the Florida communities of Jupiter and Stuart.
“Well, spreading myself out too thin and not having a ‘substitute’ for me,” says Andy Merendino, who does repairs, improvements, collections, you name it, at the three mostly unattended but closely monitored Suds Yer Duds stores he owns in Carneys Point and Pennsville, New Jersey.
He adds that modernizing his third store this past year has been expensive and left him wanting a chance to get away, even for one night.
“The biggest challenge was people, it was the attendants,” states Rex Anderson, who with father-in-law Howard Shear co-owns three Heights Laundry locations (two in Ohio, one in Michigan). “We tried having one attendant oversee both (Ohio stores) and the demographics are quite different between the two stores, so that attendant wanted to spend more time on one store than the other.”
“When employees understand that you might not be coming in that day,” warns Omer Khan, who co-owns three Skyline Laundromats south of downtown Atlanta with his father, Abdul. “When they notice, ‘Hey, this individual isn’t coming in every day,’ they may try to take advantage of you.” When that happens, “you just have to make sure you’re on top of your processes.”
Joe Jepsen, who owns seven attended O-Town Coin Laundry locations in and around Ogden and Salt Lake City, Utah, had several challenges in mind but recalls time being the hardest to deal with: “As you expand, the amount of time you can spend at each location goes down substantially. If your first store is perfect in every way, it won’t be when you add a second and third store, simply because you don’t have the time.”
A HELPING HAND FROM TECHNOLOGY
Multi-store owners rely on themselves and, if their chosen business model calls for it, the attendants and managers they employ to make their businesses work. Beyond that, technology also can provide some tools to make running things easier.
“Technology is critical to being able to successfully handle multiple locations,” says Radovic. “Without a PoS system … and a financial bookkeeping system, it would be very difficult to understand where you are going with your business.”
“Security cameras viewed on your cell phone is probably the most important,” Merendino says. “Burglar alarms for the coin changer room. Automatic locks, lights, and HVAC systems.”
Jepsen admits tech helps a lot, from the cell phone each O-Town Laundry manager gets to the payment system that monitors coin drops, allows attendants to clock in/out, and more.
“IT doesn’t (assist) me, but it does for Randy,” says Sowers. “We advertise for help on Facebook and other platforms … we also advertise on those same platforms for marketing. I still believe in good, ol’ word-of-mouth, yet I know in tourist season, we receive many customers who found us on the internet.”
Khan counts a multifunctional PoS system, card payment system, surveillance system and automated access control among the technology assisting him and his staff.
Anderson says he can’t imagine running a store without the available technology, “especially having to rely on somebody to do the cash collection.”
“It would never be scalable, in my opinion, if you didn’t have that,” he adds. “The only way I can ever foresee us getting to 10 stores all over Ohio and Michigan is if we get to a point where every store has digital monitoring on the cash side.”
“The ability to remote-start machines, do a drum clean and spin, offer free-dry time, change prices quickly, and diagnose machine issues offers the multi-store owner a huge advantage in time saving and customer satisfaction rate,” says Sechler. “Technology has been a game changer, period.”
In Thursday’s conclusion: Advice for the store owner about to add Store No. 2
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].