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The Smallest Laundromat? (Part 1)

Did you ever have one of those ideas that wouldn’t go away? Fred Greenway did.Greenway started Wash City, a car wash business in Exmore, Va., about nine years ago. The wash featured three self-service bays and one automatic bay. However, there was room still available on Greenway’s property. He envisioned adding a self-service laundry at some future date. Even though he didn’t know much about the laundry industry, he believed that the two businesses would complement one another. The idea started to simmer.FIRST PLANAbout five years ago, Greenway decided to put his plan into action. He called Easco Laundry Systems, a distributor, to get the ball rolling. The demographic data supported the idea of adding a laundry. Even better, there was no competition in this rural, small town. What else could one ask for? Greenway had a 2,800-square-foot laundry in mind.Several things put the plan on hold. First, there were some concerns about how the laundry would handle water run-off. Then, Greenway started to think about the scope of the operation.“I became reluctant to put in the store,” Greenway recalls. “I was never convinced about putting in 26 washers. I thought it would be too much. It was a complicated design; the cost was high. It was close to a million dollars, and I just couldn’t see the return.”At the same time, his car wash business was doing steady business. However, he wasn’t pleased with the automatic bay. It was often closed due to required maintenance or just plain broken down. Greenway considers himself to be a good “mechanical person,” but the automatic bay was a constant electrical challenge, he says.“The automatic wash is at the mercy of a computer; it’s always soaking wet, and something is breaking. It’s a maintenance nightmare!”SECOND EFFORTLet’s move to 2009. The car wash business, despite the recession, is holding its own, he says. However, the problems with the automatic wash hadn’t gone away.“I woke up one morning. I still had all the [laundry] figures in mind. I was also thinking about the problems with the automatic bay. If I took it out, I didn’t want to have an empty hole.”Then it hit him: Why not replace the automatic bay with a Laundromat? “Everything seemed to be a natural.”He hooked up again with Easco Laundry Systems, and posed the question: “Can I turn my automated bay into a Laundromat?”Greenway was aware of the challenge. Maybe the automatic wash bay wasn’t as big as Greenway or the distributor desired. Maybe it couldn’t provide the needed space to capture all the business the demographics touted. On the other hand, the new plan was less expensive than building a new store, as he had earlier envisioned. Plus, Greenway was making better use of his existing resources. The planning began, with one thought looming on everyone’s mind: Could a 16-foot-by-32-foot wash bay be turned into a profitable Laundromat? The priority was to utilize every inch possible to make the most money, while at the same time providing comfort and maneuverability for the customer.Greenway went to work on removing the car wash equipment, closing in the ends of the wash bay, and building a vaulted sand-filtration system. Finally, after about two months, the work was completed. The prospective customers who slowly drove by to see the renovation were now invited in to see the new store. In November 2009, Wash City became Wash City Car Wash and Laundromat.The story concludes on Friday.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].