CHICAGO — If you finally have a handle on running one self-service laundry, have you thought about adding a second, or even third, store? Are you worried about overextending yourself? Does experience make the store-add-on process a bit easier?
Three owners share their views on the various challenges that running more than one store present.
How Many is Too Many?
How many stores one operator can handle by himself depends on the type of stores, says John Brennan, a multiple-store owner in the Tampa, Fla., area.
“If the stores are unattended, four is good for me,” says Brennan. “Four to five attended stores (2,800 square feet plus) is also about what I can handle. After that, repairs become an issue.”
“How many stores one can handle is a difficult question, because it depends on the way the stores are set up,” says Jimmy Brinkley, a multiple-store owner in South Carolina. “If the stores are less than 3,000 square feet and attended, one person can handle as many as four. After that, you need a repairman or another person to help, unless you want to work yourself to death.”
Phillip Viccinelli, a multiple-store owner in Texas, looks at it a bit differently. He operates two large, fully attended stores (3,500 and 3,800 square feet), and says three stores of this type would be enough for him.
With multiple stores, dealing with employees is the biggest challenge, Viccinelli says. “I vastly underrated the employee issue. I have two children, and I voluntarily inherited six more by opening two stores.”
Other than gaining experience from the first store, Viccinelli says there are no benefits gained from multiple-store ownership.
Brennan says dealing with employees and “bad” timing when it comes to certain issues are his key challenges. “Problems at stores never happen at a convenient time. Problems can pop up at two or three stores at a time. You have to manage your time and visit the stores.”
Multiple-store ownership has meant taking advantage of some supply and part specials (buying in bulk), Brennan says. His marketing efforts are also made a bit easier. “You can list two or three stores in one ad in the same weekly newspaper.”
While incurring no major damage to his stores, Brinkley says vandalism is a major challenge, despite utilizing surveillance cameras. He believes vandalism can occur at any store, regardless of whether it is attended or unattended.
“Challenges are the reason we are in business. We thrive off of these things.”
Brinkley is also involved in the snack, car wash and storage businesses. He has been able to take advantage of “bulk” purchasing and even integrates some of his equipment from other businesses into his laundries.
“The car wash business is five or six years ahead of laundry in terms of technology.” It’s not uncommon for him to buy changers for his car washes, and eventually use them in the laundries.
Creating a Chain
Brennan has thought about establishing a chain, but knows that this hasn’t worked for others.
“Each area is different; not all areas are set up for the same type of operation, such as with McDonald’s.”
Franchising would be a problem, he adds, because the service you would be selling is not unique enough.
Brinkley agrees with Brennan. He says you can’t take a plan like McDonald’s and put it into effect; you have to cater to the clientele of the market. “None of my operations are alike. Then you have to put someone in charge, and they won’t know what they’re doing. A group of investors wouldn’t care about the laundries. Laundromats don’t run themselves.”
Viccinelli has a somewhat different take on the subject. “I’m sure a chain could be done.” He’s even thought about franchising. But he also sees some problems with these concepts.
“The down side would be creating a mid-layer of management controlling the money. The equipment mix would also have to be considered.
“The profitability of this business doesn’t justify extra layers of management.”