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Tips for Entering the Commercial Laundry Industry (Part 1)

Convincing businesses to leave their laundry service to the expert: you

NEW ORLEANS — You’re familiar with the daily rigors of running a self-service laundry operation and now see the potential for local opportunities in providing commercial laundry service. But what’s involved in getting started and then building such a business?

Clean Show 2019 attendees got answers to some of those questions during a TRSA-sponsored panel session called Tips for Entering the Commercial Laundry Industry. Panelists were Lou D’Autorio, director of operations, The Laundry Company, Tampa, Florida; Dan Campbell, president of Wash Around the Clock, Tallahassee, Florida; and Julia Pooler, president, and Keith Pooler, vice president, Sacramento (California) Laundry Company.

While the panelists all currently run commercial laundry operations, how they arrived at this point differs.

D’Autorio’s background is in dry cleaning, having spent 30 years in that industry segment before transitioning to commercial laundry a few years ago through a mutual friend. The Laundry Company came about through an acquisition.

Campbell runs five self-service laundries and first entered the commercial laundry business nine years ago. He still considers himself to be “green” where commercial laundry service is concerned.

“We’ve had to look for opportunities to find new revenue streams,” he says. “We have found that being independent in a small- to medium-sized market can create some opportunities. There are a lot of customers out there looking for options.”

He says he’s about to retool his commercial plant for a third time to keep up with demand.

The Poolers started with coin-op laundries in 1999 and had grown to running several stores within a few years.

“Then the recession hit in 2008 and we started looking at different ways to capitalize on what we had with those coin laundries,” Keith says, “and we started a small pickup and delivery service to supplement our fluff and fold business that was already existing.

“We found that was a very opportunistic way to utilize our equipment that we had in the coin laundries. There are so many businesses out there that require laundry services. We found there’s a really big need for that.”

They built a 7,000-square-foot commercial laundry dedicated to the pickup and delivery service. “What we found was shortly after that, we had enough business to expand even further,” Keith says.

The phone rang one day and the manager of a 500-room hotel was on the other end, he recalls: “‘Hey, can you do our linen for us?’ I said, ‘Hey, I’m not really sure what you mean by that. Really have no idea what it means to do linen for a hotel.’ He goes, ‘Well, I’ll give you 15 minutes to give me a yes or no answer.’ Click. I had 15 minutes to decide the fate of the rest of my life. A 500-room hotel. We decided, yes, we’ll do that.”

“We had to fill the building up with equipment,” Julia says. “We had to run it through the coin-ops. We had to build a building, get a loan. We had to raise two children. We had six coin-ops we had to deal with. Basically, I quit my job and I drove from coin-op to coin-op, collecting quarters to get to the bank to pay for the new building we were working on.”

“We ended up building a 60,000-square-foot laundry,” Keith says. “Today we have three (tunnel washers), we have 330 employees, and we’re still expanding. There’s a huge market out there if you can tap into the right niche.”

Right before the market crash in 2008, Campbell’s company had developed a 6,500-square-foot self-service laundry and an adjacent 5,000-square-foot space that it planned to rent out. But there wasn’t enough parking for both.

“Just by doing a lot of wash-dry-fold, we met massage therapists, clinics, doctors, just small boutiques. I would see women who run linen rental companies come in with massive amounts of table linen. The wheels started turning. Talked with my distributor and basically said, ‘Let’s put a little plant next door and see what we can do.’ I had no idea what I was doing. Literally, no idea.

“We put in four washers, a 125-inch ironer, no dryers; we used the dryers on the Laundromat side. We had eight 80-pound dryers in the store. And just started.

“Basically, I started by going out into the Laundromat, to the ladies who were doing this table linen, and said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ We’d bring it next door and run a couple of pieces through the press. We just started picking up accounts in that fashion.”

Campbell says he’s still trying to identify Wash Around the Clock’s niche.

“We do a lot of food and beverage, we do a lot of hospitality on the table linen side, then we do a significant inventory of linen,” he says. “That’s something you need to factor into how you get in. The investment in linen is not always cheap, especially if you’re building the right par levels.”

Two years ago, it was scrubs for a large medical marijuana facility that had just started processing.

“I needed to purchase all the inventory, and what was initially a $20,000 investment has quickly turned into six figures. Fortunately, the growth of that organization has allowed some sustainability.”

“We do both COG (customer-owned goods) and rental,” D’Autorio says of The Laundry Company. “Orlando is our market, so we go after the 50-room to 300-room hospitality (accounts). Orlando is a tourist destination, big conference centers, so we handle a lot of food and beverage for hotels that put on events. That part of it is actually COG, they own their property and we process it. And we cater to restaurants.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!