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Timeline for Building a New Self-Service Laundry (Part 1)

The importance of identifying, communicating start-to-finish signposts

CHICAGO — Every development project intended to produce a newly constructed self-service laundry is similar in what needs to be accomplished to get from point A to point B and so on.

But the manner in which the project progresses from these points and beyond can vary widely depending on many factors. There are forces that project principals are able to control and forces that they cannot, any of which can influence a project’s timing and cost.

Laundry equipment distributors are often involved throughout the process, with representatives providing assistance with demographics analysis and site selection all the way to equipment installation and store opening preparation. At times, they’ll find themselves coordinating the project by virtue of their experience specific to laundromat development.

“Well, I think we would like to think it’s shared, but ultimately, I think it’s our responsibility to keep things on track,” says Cliff Ross, vice president of sales for distributor Metropolitan Laundry Machinery Sales, covering the New Jersey market. “We’re the quarterback for the contractors and the customer and the utilities, and we’re trying to make sure that everything is moving along, and if there is something that we’re not making progress with, you know, it’s up to us to get the other team members involved to get a resolution.”

It’s commonplace for them, along with the contractors, subcontractors and others creating a store, to follow a timeline, a schedule of project management tasks and their planned completion.

Due diligence is involved before a timeline takes shape but once the store site becomes the investor’s through either purchase or lease, the formative sequence of events can truly be set into motion.

Along a project timeline lies milestones or signposts—tasks that must be achieved for an investor’s laundromat dream to become a reality. These include, but aren’t limited to, site selection, lease negotiations and signing, store design, financing, equipment selection, permitting, construction, inspections and installation.

Jeff Seele is president of distributor Sav-A-Day Laundry Machinery in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, Missouri. His father, Floyd, founded the company in 1958.

“Well, my father used to say, ‘Without a plan, you have a plan to fail.’ So, you know, when you have a plan, you’ll know when you’re on target,” Seele says. “You’ll know what your costs are going to be. You’re going to know when payments are due. You’re going to know when to hire people, when to start your marketing. There’s just a whole series of things.”

Todd Santoro, president of distributor CleanWash Laundry Systems, Omaha, Nebraska, believes the project timeline offers great value in keeping things organized and every contributor working toward a common goal of seeing the new owner open his or her store in a timely fashion.

“A timeline doesn’t mean that you’re going to be 100% successful but lack of a timeline means you will 100% fail,” he asserts.


A store’s physical size, its project scope, and its geographic location are among the variables that can influence the length of a laundry development timeline.

“Building a new store today is kind of like getting a root canal without any anesthesia,” quips Ross. “It’s a long, painful process, and at the end, you don’t remember the pain anymore, you only have the enjoyment, and that’s kind of what this is.

“The timeframe that I’ll tell somebody today is probably nine to 18 months, you know, from conception to opening, to be able to get a store built and ready to attract customers.”

“I would argue in your mid-size and larger cities, you know, half a million (population) and above, you’re probably looking at six to eight months minimum,” says Santoro. “You go to the West Coast, it’s gonna be crazier. You go to the East Coast, it’s gonna be crazier. The Midwest is decent.”

His company’s average timeline was once about five months: a month to work through drawings and permits, four months through build-out and the customer’s door was open. Today, the timeline is closer to seven or eight months, he says.

Russ Arbuckle, president of distributor Wholesale Commercial Laundry Equipment S.E., Southside, Alabama, says his best-case scenario for an existing building is to complete construction and equipment installation within 12 to 14 weeks.

“It’s difficult to hit that, mainly because there’s just so many things that can delay the project, whether that’s permitting and plans going back and forth for revisions, whether that’s for delays in getting utilities run or connected,” he says.

“Timelines almost always change. It’s rare when they don’t. But having that timeline allows for a couple of things. Being able to schedule and coordinate the general contractor and subs, so we’ve got no days or weeks where we’re in the process but we’ve got nobody on site doing anything.”

In Thursday’s conclusion: Working together and keeping things moving

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