BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — As a store owner, the choice to expand your vended laundry portfolio is a significant moment in your business trajectory. There are several reasons you may wish to add one or more stores. You may be interested in strengthening your positioning and brand with customers, or growing your investment portfolio. For some owners, expansion is also a chance to improve on your current business concept, or a time to expand service offerings. As you consider this choice, keeping a few key items in mind may help improve your chances of a successful expansion.
Remember that challenges will be a part of any expansion. Joe Jepsen, founder of Diamond J Management in Ogden, Utah, owns O-Town Coin Laundry’s six vended laundry locations. He recalls some concrete challenges in the early days of his expansion process.
“I’ve learned the hard way to ask a lot of questions up front, and to work with my longtime and trusted distributor, Brad Moyes from Mendenhall, to help mitigate risk,” says Jepsen. “For example, be sure to ask where the nearest gas lines are for any location, new or old. One store we were considering had the gas line across the street. The project would need city approval and the investment required was prohibitive.
“Also, if it looks old, it probably is. New plumbing, electrical, and other infrastructure will cost more up front, but may cause less problems down the line. It’s always better to do it during the initial retooling stage, rather than later.”
The distributor relationship is critical to success in any scenario. Moyes notes that being there at every step is important: “A good distributor helps their partners look at locations critically, and can assist with things like determining whether retooling will be profitable, the design of layouts, and generally spotting challenges immediately.”
EQUIPMENT MIX, MAINTENANCE AND AMENITIES
Getting your equipment mix right in your new location(s), and sticking to a maintenance schedule can help support expansion success.
“For my own stores, giving our customers choice in their equipment selections has been very effective,” says Jepsen. “We try to have six or seven different types of washers, and three to four different types of dryers as well.” Because every customer has different comfort levels with machine types and technologies, and they’ll all have different sizes of loads, this variety keeps people coming back.
“Each store has really benefited from the lessons learned of the one before it,” he says. “For example, knowing that equipment mix is very important to our customers, we began including single-load washers, which customers know, but also the Maytag Multi-Load machines for greater capacity.”
As an investor, Wieland notes that in a brick and mortar business like vended laundry, investors are typically looking for signals that consistent and reliable cash flows can be achieved.
“I would spend time understanding the capital needs of the business and make sure those are appropriately modeled into future plans, so upgrades and replacements are never a surprise,” he says.
It’s important to remember that while two stores might not justify a full-time maintenance staff, as a multi-store owner you’ll want to get creative by budgeting time accordingly. Keep a stock of basic parts and tools at all locations, and make an effort to train store managers and attendants to handle basic machine maintenance. Call in a professional for things like complex part replacements that require special tools, or anything that involves electrical and gas components.
Whether you buy or build, expansion is a great time to improve and expand upon everything you’ve learned in your first store. Think about expanding services to include wash/dry/fold, drop-off and pickup services, or even dry cleaning. Expanding the amenities you will offer to help draw and retain customers, such as a children’s library, tanning beds, coffee shop or business center, is another option.
It can also be easier for you to manage multiple locations if you take advantage of the newest technologies available. Installing Wi-Fi in your stores will help make use of the many tools the newest machines are offering. Many machines will let you read service codes remotely so you can diagnose issues or call for service without being in the store. Innovative features can also allow you to update pricing and remotely program cycles, time-of-day pricing, and day-of-week specials.
DON’T FORGET THE CUSTOMER
At the end of the day, serving customer needs is paramount.
“Looking back, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a multi-store owner is to be unafraid to ask questions in pursuit of a great customer experience,” says Jepsen. “My relationship with trusted contractors, Brad and his team at Mendenhall, and Maytag® Commercial Laundry have proven to be the most valuable relationships in my journey. The resources, information and experience available helped throughout each retooling process, and their advice was vital to overall decision-making and the projects’ success.”
The choice to consider expansion is one to be celebrated. It means that your contributions to the industry and your customers are well-considered and, when the time is right to execute, poised for impact. The decision is one that takes a certain amount of fortitude and planning, but the benefits may be significant for your portfolio and professional career.
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.