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Simply Successful: Arkansas Operator Opens 10 Stores in 10 Years (Part 2 of 2)

Paul Partyka |

Keith Griffin has 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.KEEPING IT SIMPLEGriffin has never set a “magic” number for himself when it comes to the number of stores he owns. “I would build another one right now if the opportunity came up,” he says. “I’m just a dumb, country boy. I like to keep things really simple. Get a good location, build a good store, keep it clean, maintain it, have good employees, and good changers. I have never tried to re-invent the wheel.”He applies this approach to a variety of things, such as wash, dry and fold. “Wash, dry and fold can be great, but here’s the problem. If [wash, dry and fold] can add 10% to the bottom line, but the employee who runs it neglects the chores, that means 90% of the business is neglected to add 10%. It doesn’t make sense.”If you have multiple stores, dealing with extra services is harder because you have to rely on employees and have cash on hand, he says. And dealing with employees is somewhat of a sore spot for Griffin. “Employees are a constant problem, and they are my least-favorite thing about the business. You’ve got to have them. We don’t pay them a big wage, and you get less-educated workers. I don’t even authorize my employees to give out refunds. You don’t know who might be getting those refunds.”As Griffin expanded, he wanted the stores fairly close. “I didn’t want stores that would be 60 or 100 miles out of the way from the others. I also want a store that’s about 2,000 square feet because it takes the same time to manage a 2,000-square-foot store as it does a 1,000-square-foot store, but you can do double the business. Twice as big, twice the return, same time.”Eight of his stores are named Super Suds Laundry. “I didn’t even brand the last one, in case someone wants to purchase it. The other store [with a different name] was bought out of bankruptcy.”Griffin prefers Maytag equipment, and all of his stores have at least some Maytag machines.Griffin isn’t shy about pricing policies. “I want to be the highest-priced store in the market. But I can’t charge more than the competition if I’m doing the same thing as the competition. You just have to price your washers so you can turn a profit. If you can’t turn a profit, you’re out.”CHAIN CONCEPT?Griffin is probably one of the most qualified people to speak about the possibility of a national laundry chain emerging. After all, his stores do share things in common. “I keep them simple. I use the same color scheme, same signage, same everything. You would know that you are in one of my stores if you visit them.”His stores differ to the extent that the equipment matches the market. For example, one of his stores is located in a low-income area, a market favoring top loaders.“You just have to know your customers. All of my stores have top loaders. One store only has four; another store has 30. Certain people just like [top loaders]. My 12-pound top loaders are priced the same as my 18-pound front loaders. You can use the top loaders, but you will pay for them.” Eighty-pound washers and 75-pound dryers are also a common sight at his laundries.For a chain concept to succeed, you need people buying franchises. “[The franchisees] then have to pass the money up to you.” This isn’t likely, because you just can’t sell a unique concept, he believes. “We don’t have any proprietary information. We wash clothes and resell utilities. Those who do it the best make the most money.”There are some advantages, he adds, to operating a larger number of stores. “I can buy parts cheaper, but I can’t buy water cheaper. I buy a truckload of parts, sometimes $25,000 at a time. When you’re dealing with this large amount, a distributor will cut you a deal.” In addition, having a large number of stores justifies the expense of having two service people at his call.Griffin recently decided to update the look of his stores. One change is to paint the walls school-bus yellow. “It brightens up the store, and the brighter the store, the cleaner it looks. People can tell when you spruce up a store. And when you keep a store clean, patrons will help you keep it clean.”AN EYE ON THE FUTURE“It’s a great industry,” Griffin says. “I never thought it would be as good as it is. For the amount of investment, if you get the right spot and run it right, no other business will give you this rate of return.”The economy has affected business, he explains. “When things slowed down, the gross hasn’t grown as much. Credit may be tight and it hurts you when you want to expand, but this also means it’s harder for the competition to open up.”Griffin sees the industry heading toward more energy-efficient equipment. He is now adding more efficient lighting to his stores.“This may even become a green industry, although at this time the payback for things like solar water heaters is a bit long. But things change. I remember my first computer being about $2,500; now you can get one for $600. The cost may come down on some of this new technology.”Back when self-service laundries were just something Griffin was looking into, he never envisioned this type of business run. “I always thought I would still be in the insurance business. Things just kind of progressed, and opportunities presented themselves. When you get the right opportunity, expand. Pass otherwise. Don’t just expand to expand.” Simply put.Click here for Part 1 of 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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