Store Ownership: Branching Out (Conclusion)

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The West End Laundry is the first coin-op laundry business Kent Walters opened. (Photos: Kent Walters)

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Walters opened his second store, Choctaw Coin Laundry, within months of the first.

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Today, Walters says he’s preparing to open a fourth store in his area of Alabama.

Bruce Beggs |

Walters markets each of his three stores individually in their Alabama communities

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Is your laundry business ready to open its next location? And if you’re already a multi-store owner, would opening another location be a viable business strategy?

Making the decision to invest in and open a vended laundry can be life-changing. But what about doing it again … and again … and again? Adding more stores can mean more revenue but it can also mean that the management issues you’ve been dealing with on a single front will be multiplied.

American Coin-Op interviewed five multi-store owners from around the country to learn about their operations and seek their advice about branching out. Featured here in our conclusion is Kent Walters, owner of three coin-operated laundries in Alabama.

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

Walters got his start in the laundry industry on the manufacturing side and only recently became a store owner. Walters worked 21 years for Whirlpool, including the last several as sales manager for its commercial laundry business. Today, he works for distributor LaundryRx on a contract basis besides owning his three stores in Alabama.

He built and finished his first store, West End Laundry in Tuscaloosa in October 2013. The 1,400-square-foot store sits at the end of a shopping center and is themed blue and gold after nearby Stillman College. It offers 17 washers and 18 dryers.

About seven months later came the Choctaw Coin Laundry in Centreville. The 2,000-square-foot store offers 19 washers and 19 dryers.

“It was going so well and not requiring a lot of my time,” he says of West End and the decision to add another. “I had some money to invest. I did not want to finance it, so I found a rehab and got the building for a good deal. I spent most of my money on new equipment.”

His most recent addition, completed in May 2015, is The Washer in Birmingham. At 1,700 square feet, there are 20 washers and 20 dryers.

Equipment across his three stores includes Milnor, ADC, IPSO and Whirlpool brands. He markets the three stores individually within their communities.

None of his stores are traditionally attended. At his Tuscaloosa and Birmingham stores, he pays adjoining shopkeepers monthly as 1099 contractors to clean and watch over his stores when he’s not around.

“I don’t ask them to do a whole lot other than clean, but I do ask them to let me know when something happens, so I can address it,” Walters says.

He strives to find good communicators for these positions, and admits a few assistants came and went before he found the folks that fit his business needs.

“I have surveillance there, but I don’t want to sit and look at my cameras all day. If something happens, I want them to tell me.”

The distance between his two most distant stores, Birmingham to Tuscaloosa, is 65 miles. He estimates that he spends between 15 and 20 hours a week in his stores, including drive time.

“Broaden your mind on where you want to be,” Walters says. “A lot of people say they want to be 20 minutes away from my house or 20 minutes from my first store. Well, there may be great opportunities 45 minutes away.”

And don’t be fearful of building another laundry close to your others if the circumstances are right.

“I’m fixin’ to pull the trigger on (store No. 4) and it’s 5-6 miles away,” Walters says. “It’s another market that got hit by the tornado in 2011. The city hasn’t done a whole lot as far as putting businesses back in there, so they’re offering grants and things like that. There’s a big need for a laundry.”

If you missed any of the earlier parts of this story, you can read them via these links:

Part 1 — Part 2Part 3

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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