Ten laundries in 10 years. It has a simple ring to it, but for most of you, the feat would be anything but simple. For Keith Griffin, it’s been a natural fit. He’s opened 10 stores across Arkansas, and the newest store, which opened in late 2008, is the largest at 4,400 square feet.How do you enter an industry and amass 10 stores in such a relatively short period of time? It’s about opportunity and finding something you like to do.A NEW DIRECTIONGriffin was in the insurance business and looking for a change. He also ran a self-service car wash. While he didn’t know specifically what type of business he was looking to enter, he was seeking something that was recession-proof, prepaid and different from what he was doing.“I looked at different things, such as snack, beverage and other vending routes, before finding the Coin Laundry Association (CLA) website,” Griffin recalls. “I also had a car wash, but it didn’t suit me. There were a lot of washes in my area; it wasn’t kind to me.”Griffin recognized that the car wash and laundry businesses shared some of the same traits. Both were prepaid and required no inventory, he says. “But, with a four-bay wash, if one bay goes down, you lose 25% of your business. That doesn’t happen if one of your washers goes down. Plus, laundry is a necessity, where car washing is more of a luxury.”As Griffin explored the self-service laundry business, he met with representatives of Justin Laundry Systems in Little Rock, Ark., the Maytag Commercial Laundry distributor serving the area. This became a lasting arrangement. Griffin has worked closely with Phil Gray, president and owner of Justin Laundry Systems, as well as company founder Gary Gray and Mike Worthy, vice president, on all aspects of his stores.While learning more about the business, he started the practice of double-checking everything he heard and read. “I did plenty of research. Sometimes people can paint a much rosier picture of a business. In the car wash industry, my area was overbuilt. Any time I got demographic information, I checked it, and checked it again.”Griffin slowly started to formulate his plan for success. “Identifying the right location is the No. 1 success factor in this business,” he says. “The right building, access to utilities, and parking make all the difference.”He has a plan, yet when asked to describe a common bond among his stores, he says they are a “hodge-podge of everything.” While his stores share a common look, all of them are just a bit different, he says.“I have rehabs and stores built from the ground up. I bought three at once and consolidated them into one. One store does wash, dry and fold. You just have to serve your particular market. For example, in a smaller town, wash, dry and fold won’t work.”SETTING A SCHEDULESome of you may be wondering if one person can really put in quality time at 10 stores. Griffin says it’s possible.The driving time between all of his stores is about three and a half hours. Visiting all 10 stores is a two-day trek. A normal day starts at 7 a.m. He visits about half of the stores on Monday, and checks in on the rest the next day. He hits the highest-volume stores first, eager to pull the weekend take. The smallest store is about 1,100 square feet, and the largest is more than 4,000 square feet.Griffin handles a variety of tasks, such as ensuring the cleanliness of each store, dealing with employees and chatting with customers. He employs a full- and part-time service person. “I will spend an hour at each store. Your larger stores require more management, capital and time, but they also make the bigger returns. It’s a struggle to keep a store clean, so I’m always seeing things that I don’t like and talking to employees. I see what needs to be fixed. If I have competition at one of the stores, I always drive by to see what they are doing,” he laughs.Nine of his stores are open 24 hours. They are fully, partially and nonattended. Again, it all comes down to what fits the market.Griffin is still involved in other business endeavors, and the laundries take up about half of his time.Click here for Part 2 of this story!
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