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The Smallest Laundromat? (Part 2)

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.WASHING CARS, WASHING CLOTHESGreenway got the word out. He used plenty of signage, ads in local newspapers, flyers and even bulletin boards in local establishments, such as the post office. If you drive by the wash, you won’t have any problem noticing a laundry sign, he says. More importantly, as time has gone by, the word-of-mouth advertising has been great, he adds.The store features three 55-pound washers, four 30-pound washers and five stack 45-pound dryers. He charges $4.50 for a 30-pound wash. The minimum charge for a 55-pound wash is $6. “The revenue has been very consistent. I’m also very pleased with the equipment mix.” The washers and dryers are bringing in about the same revenue, he says.The glass entrance, tiled floor and painted walls in this well-lit room make it hard for anyone to remember the rolled-down wash doors with regularly posted “out of order” signs.“I have chairs in the laundry, a TV, and two sorting tables. Plus, there is a drugstore next door; people can do a little shopping while they are waiting for their clothes.”An attendant handles both laundry and car wash duties. The laundry is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m daily.Greenway has been pleased with the number of customers who take advantage of both businesses. For every 100 people who visit his business, 50 use both the laundry and car wash, he estimates. “The laundry has really helped my car wash business!”He credits the convenience factor for making things work. “When people use the laundry, they use their waiting time to visit the self-service bays.” It also helps that the nearest laundry is about 20+ miles away, he adds.Up to this point, there have been few problems. Like other self-service laundry owners, Greenway occasionally becomes frustrated when children run around the store.OPERATING TWO BUSINESSESSome of you may be thinking that such a small laundry would cause a variety of problems. So far, so good, he says.One of the advantages of the unique layout is that he has another room behind the adjacent wall to the washers. In terms of dealing with equipment maintenance, he can get to everything fairly easily, he says.Some of you may also be wondering about expansion. Could Greenway enlarge the laundry? “I’m tapped in terms of expansion, unless I want to add something like a vending machine. Opening up a wall is just not feasible.“If I do anything, it might be closing another wash bay and putting in something small, like a check-cashing store. But I’m not interested in doing anything like this at the current time.”Greenway has noticed one thing different about the two sets of customers: the laundry customers have expressed their thanks because they no longer have to make a long drive to wash their clothes.To further illustrate this point, when he monitors the laundry from his home computer (using his surveillance system), he has seen people sweeping up after themselves.“People really do care about the laundry. Most of them will take the time to maintain the store. Some of them even like the fact that they aren’t harming their own sewage system when they come to my store.”Greenway has also become familiar with an old adage: “Car washing is a luxury, washing clothes is a necessity.”Fortunately for him, this hasn’t been entirely true. His car wash business has held steady during the ongoing recession. Part of the reason for this, he believes, is that his clientele, in many cases, consider their car to be their No. 1 possession. “They just like to wash their cars and shine them up.”Greenway now has a fondness for both businesses. “I like the car wash business because self-service equipment is very reliable and maintenance-free to a certain extent. The laundry equipment is also built well; it’s built to last long-term. The laundry, so far, has been headache-free. I don’t worry at night about things breaking down. I even enjoy monitoring the laundry with my computer.“This business is fun. I love doing it. During the week, I spend an hour or two at the business each day. I like to chat with the customers and thank them. I’m meeting people all the time.”If the opportunity came up, Greenway knows how he would build a larger store.“Remember, I had layouts for a larger store in mind in the past. But I like simple. That’s the way I am. If expanding meant 50 extra bucks a week and dealing with something complicated, I’m not interested.”Brenda Flanigan, associate brand manager, Alliance Laundry Systems, assisted with the story.To read part I, click here.

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