For Sidelines, Think Alterations (Part 1)

Howard Scott |

Cleaning and repairing clothes go hand in hand

PEMBROKE, Mass. — The Laundromat industry operates by rote. We fill the space with washers and dryers, a few chairs, and it’s business as usual. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Victoria, Canada, I visited a café alongside the washers and dryers. In Marfa, Texas, I bought an ice cream cone at the local Laundromat. And in New York City, I walked into a Laundromat that had an alterations department up front.

Alterations — now there’s an idea for a sideline. In fact, it’s a perfect meld. Cleaning clothes and fixing clothes go hand in hand. And if the Laundromat operator takes in drycleaning work, he covers all the bases of clothes maintenance.

The advantage to having an alterations department on premises is that it doesn’t take up much space. It’s possible that a 6-by-8-foot space would do, perhaps 50 square feet at most. For those who have a 1,500-square-foot facility, 50 square feet is parting with 3% of available space.

Moreover, some of the work could be done at home, and supplies stored there. At the same time, having an alterations space that is manned some of the time is necessary to develop a brisk trade. Merely putting up a sign that reads “Alterations Done Here” will garner minuscule volume.

You will have to purchase a sewing machine, a few tools, and supplies, but this should cost you less than $1,000. Hiring a seamstress should not be hard, as many people have the skill. Perhaps you can share the work 50/50% to keep your operating costs manageable.

The classic reason for rejecting the addition of an alterations department is the belief that most customers don’t pay money to have their clothes repaired. True, the average Laundromat’s clientele is in the lower to middle class, and doesn’t have much extra money. On the other hand, these customers are spending $8 to $10 at your store every week, when they could be doing the wash at home, even processing by hand.

But you probably won’t receive enough trade from your existing customers, so you will have to go outside. You are a storefront shop, and you can advertise the service out front. In addition, you can seek business from your neighborhood.

SEEK OUT DRYCLEANER TRADE

Go to a half-dozen dry cleaners in your area and offer to do alterations for them on a wholesale basis. Say, 60-40: You get 60%, they get 40%. The 40% margin is enough to warrant them to offer the service.

Put up a cardboard poster in their counter front, presenting the offering. It could sit on one end of the counter, so that most customers see it. Make the poster vivid. For example, add a jutting hand (cut from the paper) holding a real pair of scissors. Or have a sleeve hanging draped with a well-appointed suit jacket. You may even agree to come in for a half-hour each day to handle orders.

This will get your volume going. Obviously, it’s not highly profitable work because the margin has to be shared. But it is a way to break in, and once this commercial volume is established, gradually weed out the wholesale volume as it is replaced with retail volume.

Check back Thursday for our conclusion, including some more ideas for generating alterations business

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a former business owner, longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at dancinghill@gmail.com.

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