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New Country, New Business

Paul Partyka |

When you built your first self-service coin laundry, how far was it from your home? Elhadi Abbas came more than 7,000 miles in search of a new home and a new business opportunity. How does a successful importer/exporter from Sudan end up in Michigan running a self-service laundry? Education plays a key role in the answer.“I moved to the States in 2001, mainly because of the schools,” says Abbas. “We were living very comfortably, but I wanted to give my children a better education.” He and his wife settled on Michigan to be close to other family members who were already living in the area.When his children were settled in and pursuing their education, it was time for Abbas to take the next step forward in his business future.A NEW OPPORTUNITYAbbas knew that research would be the key to finding business success in his new country. “I wanted a long-term investment where I know I could profit quickly, and where the market would have no effect on the outcome of the investment.” After experimenting with several ideas and opportunities, he decided to take a closer look at self-service laundries.He approached his due diligence methodically, reading articles, attending seminars, speaking with various owners, and visiting stores up and down the East Coast. It took him four to six months to learn about the business, and he’s still learning, he admits.His investigative efforts paid off. Abbas discovered that the self-service laundry business was a reliable, recession-resistant business, and he was confident that he could successfully operate a store.He contacted Duane Dolitsky, regional business manager for Bermil Industries, to find out about equipment. “Utility bills are the most important variable factor for any store,” Abbas says. “So having energy-efficient equipment is the controlling factor for any store.“Again, I did my research and found Wascomat washers and dryers to be the most reliable, technologically-advanced, energy-efficient, and all-around best equipment on the market.”Dolitsky recommended Abbas meet with Dave Wakefield, a local distributor from Integrity Advanced Laundry Systems, Houghton Lake, Mich.Wakefield helped Abbas scout out and secure the ideal location for the store — a former Laundromat in a thriving business plaza in Ypsilanti, Mich.While the location was ideal, there was plenty of work that needed to be done. “The former laundry had been abandoned by a poor operator and was a total mess,” Wakefield recalls. “The previous owner left behind a few machines that Elhadi decided to sell.”A PEEK INSIDEAbbas started fresh with 12 40-pound washers, nine 20-pound washers, and a couple of 55- and 75-pound washers, along with 12 30-pound stack dryers and four 50-pound dryers.“With Wascomat’s Compass Control washers, my utilities are running at only 12% per month of my gross sales. That’s incredible, especially with the national average being about 25%.”With a reasonable lease agreement and floor plan in place, the team set out to remodel the entire store. The city of Ypsilanti was also firmly committed to investing in the economic development of the area, and after seeing the depressed conditions firsthand, Abbas, too, felt the community deserved better.“I wanted to give my customers decent prices, a clean space, and an environment where they felt safe and at home.” The goal was to transform the location into a state-of-the-art Laundromat. A new drop ceiling and lights were installed; drywall was repaired and painted; and in tribute to the University of Michigan, two strips of maize and blue were painted around the store.To keep customers occupied during their stay, Abbas took a slightly different approach. He didn’t bring in arcade games; instead, he set up a computer terminal to offer his customers Internet access and free WiFi. What’s more, the nearly 2,000-square-foot store features high-definition plasma TVs.In June 2008, Super Kleen Coin Laundry celebrated its grand opening. Special grand-opening prices along with free drying with every wash, free coffee, and monthly prizes attracted a good customer base at the start. He also generated interest by distributing flyers throughout the surrounding neighborhoods as well as creating a Web site to further showcase the store’s amenities. In addition, word-of-mouth proved to be the best advertisement, he believes. Going door-to-door with advertising material was also beneficial. “The customers were simply amazed at our beautiful, modern store.”MEETING GOALSEducation was the catalyst for relocating to the United States, and things have gone well in that area. His daughter is a University of Michigan graduate who earned her degree in engineering; his eldest son is currently attending the University of Michigan, finishing his pre-med degree; his middle son will also attend the University of Michigan next year; and his youngest son is excelling in the fifth grade.Abbas continues to remain focused on creating a great customer experience. With the help of his two eldest sons, the laundry now offers drop-off service for college students attending the neighboring universities. He is also exploring commercial accounts.Finding the right location and the right equipment was certainly instrumental to the success Abbas enjoys. However, he’s quick to point out that no matter how many modern conveniences the store has to offer, his most important business rules are timeless gems: “Keep a clean Laundromat, and the customer is always right.”Dawn Nagle and Barbara Herel of Bermil Industries contributed to this story. 

About the author

Paul Partyka

American Coin-Op

Paul Partyka was editor of American Coin-Op from 1997 through May 2011.

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