OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. — The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the already popular wash-dry-fold (WDF) service into new territory, leading laundry owners to consider offering it for the first time. But there are things to carefully consider—like staffing, pricing, order tracking and more—before diving in.
The Coin Laundry Association recently hosted a “Wash-Dry-Fold 101” webinar and invited a trio of experienced operators to discuss what President and CEO Brian Wallace called the “basic building blocks” of the service.
In Part 1, they shared their stories about beginning to offer WDF service, what’s involved in expanding from self-service alone to WDF, and some of their surprises along the way. Let’s continue.
Wallace asked if there were such a thing as a basic WDF kit, what would it include?
“A point of sale system is ideal, but a three-part ticket (system) at the least,” says Stacey Runfola, who entered the industry in 2018 and now owns three Laundromats in Florida. “You need packing supplies: bags, hangers, hanging bags. Some sort of system of labeling, whether it’s through point of sale or on tape. To be able to check things so that it’s not just a person’s name on a bag; there should be something that says ‘bag 1 of 3, bag 2 of 3...’ That cuts down on missing items.
“Detergent, softener, good-quality stuff that will work. Depending on market, you might want to have a fragrance-free option.”
And don’t forget storage space. Runfola suggested shelving but noted that her store uses laundry carts that fit under folding tables to store completed orders.
Training was next topic up, and Wallace turned to veteran Cary Lipman, who entered the business in 1984. Lipman designed, built, refurbished, owned and operated seven stores over the years. Today, he’s a consultant working with new investors in opening vended laundries and established store owners in adding WDF to their operations.
“We never know who can do laundry well in the beginning,” Lipman says. “Many of the people I hire come from customers, people that are in my store doing laundry anyway. I see how friendly they are, how nice they are. It doesn’t mean they’re going to do laundry at my store the way they do it at home.
“Everybody in my store does it exactly the same way. That’s important because if the night attendant starts an order … the attendant who comes in the next morning picks up where they left off. You never know who finished it.”
Lipman trained attendant candidates by having them wash, dry and package their own laundry. When a store was just getting WDF off the ground, this helped project that it was a going concern worthy of attention.
“You don’t want to go to a donut shop and have no donuts on the rack,” he explains. “That really helps to build your business.”
Louisiana multi-store owner Paul Pettefer says it’s important to hire people that fit the culture you’re going to establish.
“My main question is, ‘Do they want to be here?’ I only want to hire people who want to be at my place,” Pettefer says. “I’d rather be short (staffed) and have to deal with those problems than to have someone who is just biding their time.”
Rather than doing traditional interviews, Pettefer conducts paid tryouts that he calls “auditions.”
Runfola does something similar that she calls “practicals” but says she’ll be renaming it after hearing Pettefer’s story.
“How do they interact with customers? Can they fold clothes? We’re going to train them the way we wanted it folded but where is their starting point?,” she says. “Do they have energy? Do they mope around? Are they on their phone the whole day? Do they show up on time? These are things you can tell right away.”
Training attendants how to properly use detergent, bleach and other laundry items is important, as is understanding the need to ask customers about things like allergies and personal care preferences.
Lipman favors pre-spotting all collars and cuffs, and the fronts of children’s shirts, as well as separating children’s clothing from adult throughout WDF service to make it easier for the customer to put items away once they’re home.
“These are the little things I call the ‘wow’ factor,” he says. “When people get home, they go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know they did that.’”
Pettefer says WDF is its own business deserving of personal investment.
“We’ve got to treat this like we’re professionals in a real business, not a sideline in an old Laundromat,” he says. “Most of us who are in the game, we abandoned that language a long time ago. … Just good is not good enough. Know your standard.”
As the hour-long gathering was winding down, Wallace asked about common mistakes or pitfalls one might make just getting started.
Pettefer says he regrets not having paid closer attention to machine repair or stain care in the beginning,
For Runfola, it was not spinning the dryer drum before and after a load to make sure no items were left behind. She recalls receiving calls from customers who’d found clothes in their order that weren’t theirs "and it was always underwear."
In closing, the conversation pivoted to marketing and the tools each operator used to get the word out. A unique approach was Runfola’s choice of apparel, a T-shirt she wears while out and about that reads, “Life is too short to fold your fitted sheets.”
“It’s probably my biggest conversation starter,” she says. “It feels so nerdy but the number of people who are like, ‘Oh, I like your shirt. That’s so funny.’ Then I tell them it’s my business and we start talking about it.”
For anyone who sees laundry as a chore best left to someone else, a WDF service can be a godsend. When presented with such an opportunity, it’s up to laundry owners to arm themselves with the knowledge needed to push beyond self-service.
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.
The Coin Laundry Association frequently offers webinars that cover topics such as marketing, store operations and management, and new investor education. Visit www.coinlaundry.org/events/webinars to learn more.