NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Enticed by a growing economy, tourism and unlimited business possibilities, Pete Hartwick left Canada and headed for Florida, looking to make a splash in the real-estate business.
Even those with well-thought-out plans often discover an alternate path to success. With just an $8,000 down payment, Hartwick acquired a decrepit Laundromat in 1987.“It was like I struck gold without knowing it at the time,” Hartwick, 45, recalls. His road to success was lined with washers and dryers.A HELPING HANDAs you ponder multiple-store ownership, it’s hard not to think about financing. Hartwick has been doing business with Eastern Funding, a niche finance company, for 15 years, he says.“Without Eastern Funding, we would clearly not have been as big or successful,” he admits.One of Hartwick’s problems was dealing with banks. He recalls bankers “running for the door” when he sought equipment loans.The industry has changed when it comes to financing, he believes. There was the lending boom, and then things tightened up a bit.“If you’re new to the industry, there are some roadblocks when it [comes to getting financing]. However, it’s easier to [acquire financing today] than years ago. Lenders are making it a bit easier. Lenders in our industry know what to look for. Lenders know what works. It’s about due diligence.”It also helps if you deal with industry lenders, he says. “With the right information from a buyer, lenders can tell if the store [can be successful]. Industry lenders, hands down, know the industry. When you walk into a bank, you have to educate them about the laundry business. Then [the bankers] pass the buck and the loan gets denied.”It’s crucial for prospective laundry owners to package their information correctly, he advises. “A majority of the people don’t know what to give the lender. Get the ‘road map’ from the lender. Local distributors will also help you.”A NEW PERSPECTIVEAfter 23 years in the industry, some things certainly have changed, yet certain things remain the same, Hartwick notes. He still runs “basic” stores, some with ancillary services such as snacks and gaming. Area demographics decide how successful those extra profit centers are, he adds.The industry also has a better image, at least in Florida, he believes, yet stores are still stereotyped as places where machines don’t work. “People still come up to me and ask if a certain machine is working.” He recalls a time when the industry image was influenced by things like 70% of the Florida stores not having air conditioning.He is also seeing industry trends evolving. Larger washers have been popular, yet he believes washer sizes can’t get much larger. Some stores are also maxed out when it comes to expanding drop-off service.Hartwick sees more larger stores emerging as small stores slowly disappear. When it comes to managing a store, he believes having one 3,000-square-foot-store can be more advantageous than operating two 2,000-square-foot stores.Even though owning a good number of laundries means dealing with maintenance and vandalism concerns, Hartwick is grateful that his industry involvement has allowed him to spend a great deal of time with his family.He enjoys inspiring his sons to start their own life. When his sons are not in school, they help him by counting coins in the stores. They are also always eager to suggest ideas to make his stores more child-friendly, he says. “Tutoring and play-care centers are coming to a Laundromat near you!”Please click here for Part 1 of this story.