CHICAGO — Many elements contribute to the success of a self-service laundry but it’s hard to ignore the impact that the equipment mix has on a business. While there may be no universal formula, putting together and maintaining the ideal equipment mix will go a long way in ensuring that your laundromat is reaping the maximum revenue per square foot.
American Coin-Op invited representatives from vended laundry equipment manufacturers to answer some questions about assessing washer and dryer choices and what stands to be gained by offering customers what they want in capacity and capability. Let’s conclude:
Q: Depending on the scope of a store’s service offerings, is there other equipment besides washers and dryers that might become part of the mix?
Kevin Hietpas, Director of Sales, Dexter Laundry: It’s not exactly equipment, but along with the right mix of washer and dryers, I encourage owners to give proper consideration to offering ample folding space and to make that space convenient to the dryers. Folding space doesn’t generate revenue, but folding is the last thing customers do in your store, and it’s one final opportunity to leave them with a positive experience in visiting your location.
Joel Jorgensen, Vice President of Sales for Girbau North America: I’ll stay on the self-service floor initially as a ‘back of house’ consideration but there’s a lot of interest in these ozonation systems. They’re on the rise. The public is educated. There are a lot of tangible environmental and efficiency that leads to more manageable store odor control where you have open troughs. Everybody loves an open trough from a serviceability standpoint but you have to manage the lint and the maintenance of that. … I’ll take it off the self-service floor. Ironing is a real trend that’s been around for years but laundromats and their idle capacity during the week, they’re oftentimes pursued by different markets, whether it’s day clinics or restaurants, wanting an alternative for the rental service industry. … Commercial work and the laundromat’s involvement in particular has driven designated machines in a work area for staff only. With ironing systems, it’s also driving some of the self-service business to laundromats and their drop-off alternatives for table coverings, comforters and so forth.
Matt Conn, Director of Product Development and Marketing, Commercial Laundry at Whirlpool Corporation: Make sure the store is equipped with enough laundry carts and folding tables to meet the demand of traffic in the store. Pay attention to whether customers put in their laundry and leave, or if they stay in the store. Providing book nooks for kids can make parents happy, and adding amenities like vending machines, a coffee machine and arcade games can provide opportunities for added income.
Jason Fleck, Lead Sales Development Manager, Alliance Laundry Systems: I’ve seen ironers/folders used in some laundromats for WDF/commercial pickup business. Again, it depends how much of this, percentage-wise, you intend on doing versus the normal self-service side of the business. Another option is a less traditional washer and dryer combo with stacked units — meaning the dryer is on top and the washer on the bottom. Given their footprint and the flow, you could designate an area with these units for attendants to use for WDF without interfering with your self-service business and machines.
Q: Carts and changers are commonplace in self-service laundries, and it’s not uncommon for there to be items like vending machines or video games. How do any of these figure into a store’s equipment mix, if at all?
Jorgensen: As a ‘2,000-square-foot industry’ evolves into 5,000 to 7,000 square feet, the placement of those common changers and VTMs, there has to be more of them, they have to be customer-convenient, and part of that work and customer-flow consideration. As for carts, yes, they’re common but carts have to have varying sizes today; you’ve got to size those just like you do the equipment. And you have to store them when they’re not being used, and make them conveniently available for parking lot use and the customers inside the store.
Vending and counter retail sales are growing in our business. The growing frequency of attendants kind of feeds that counter retail as an option to vending machines. As space and equipment get larger, so too must the aisles.
Conn: Customers come to a store to use the equipment, but it’s the quality of the store that keeps them coming back week after week. Both snack vending machines and video or arcade games can provide a small revenue boost. For college students or school-aged children doing homework, Wi-Fi access is a necessity. If owners have a larger space, they can consider setting up a separate quiet seating area away from TVs and video games.
Finally, stores can act as a community hub by providing information and resources relevant to customers, whether it’s by posting a bulletin board or inviting in community groups to conduct health screenings or hold story hours for families with children.
Fleck: Though I am unaware of an exact formula, for a pretty typical Texas-sized laundromat of 4,000-5,000 square feet, we like to start with 24 baskets as a general rule of thumb. Many see vending business as “gravy” to the overall revenue picture of a laundromat, whether it be soda machines, video games, or gaming machines of some sort. You have a semi-captive audience, often with quarters in their pockets — give them something to do with that.
Hietpas: Like folding space, carts and changers don’t generate revenue, but lack of them certainly changes the customer experience. If an owner is going to scale back on such offerings, they should do so being cognizant of how that will impact the experience a customer has in visiting their location. There is growing competition in most industries, vended laundries included, and customers, whether they say so or not, are always open to a better experience. Owners should always be aware of the experience they’re offering and make sure that it’s consistent with what they feel customers are looking for.
Q: Apart from what you’ve already touched on, can you offer any final tips about determining the proper equipment mix?
Conn: There are a lot of things owners can’t easily change such as location, square footage or the demographics of the store’s neighborhood. But being aware of what’s happening around the store can lead to opportunities. Consider visibility, for example. Maybe the area around the store has built up and the building is less discoverable than it once was. A new sign can help make the store stand out amidst the noise.
Keep track of service and maintenance to be aware of how many hours are spent on repairs or how long machines are out-of-order.
Identify strengths and your gaps, list out changes that can be made and then prioritize them based on what’s most cost-effective and realistic.
Fleck: Sometimes, I am lucky enough to be the final deciding judge to break a tie on the subject of a mix between a distributor and a store owner, though I would emphasize that you trust your expert distributors to get you the guidance you need. Ask questions, and visit laundromats that lift their markets and do the industry justice.
Hietpas: One of the really great things about our industry is that it is constantly evolving, and even long-time, successful operators will tell you that they have never built the “perfect store.” With each new equipment or construction innovation, there is something new they want to try. Whether it’s a new larger-size washer or dryer, a new payment platform, a new flooring option, some new green-energy innovation or something else, they’re always on the lookout for something that will give their store a competitive edge.
Jorgensen: I’ve talked to a lot of customers over the years and there’s always hesitation by existing or would-be investors (asking), ‘Will people really use that size of machine?’ The answer is yes. Whether we’re talking about a 60, 80, 90 or 130, the answer is yes. Don’t ever make the mistake of buying just one. … All it does is really incite issues if you have one of anything. Some store owners even take reservations for their really popular large-capacity machines.
We live in a ‘now’ society, so take the initiative to give the market more than they’re used to and expect. … Our industry is largely undiscovered by the general public, meaning the average Joe Public doesn’t see or understand how they might fit as a laundromat customer. It’s really our job as an industry to present the multitude of laundry services we offer today. … Try something new. Be innovative. Don’t be afraid to offer premium prices for premium services and capacities.
Missed an earlier part? You can read it here: Part 1 — Part 2 — Part 3