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Wash-Dry-Fold 101: Moving Beyond Self-Service (Part 1)

Considerations before taking on the additional business

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.

The senior member of the panel was Cary Lipman, president of CL Consulting Co. He entered the laundry business in 1984 and has designed, built, refurbished, owned and operated seven stores over the years. Today, he’s a personal business consultant specializing in working with new investors in all phases of opening and operating vended laundries and assisting established store owners in building WDF profit centers in their stores.

Paul Pettefer owns four Laundry World stores in the St. Charles, La., area. According to Wallace, he has taken on WDF as an area of expertise and raised the bar for quality of service.

Stacey Runfola owns three Laundromats in the Lake Worth and Delray Beach area of Florida. She bought her first two in April 2018 and her third in early 2019.

Wallace’s first query was about determining the need for WDF. Some store owners start offering WDF from entry into the industry while others open for self-service and then assess the market.

“I really believe the WDF business is going to be driven by your opportunistic needs, and maybe some people with disposable income in your circle,” Pettefer says. “When I say opportunistic needs, that means if you have hotels that have traveling workers who stay there regularly. … In my area, we have some industrial plants where there’ll be people who come in for 2-3 months and then leave. … Then there are folks with disposable income that are in your circle. Those people are gonna do their normal clothes, comforters and all that.

“I think that means most Laundromats have some (WDF) opportunity, and some have a big opportunity.”

Lipman’s first store in New Jersey faced a train station. Within two months of opening, he had a bustling WDF business powered by commuters going to/from New York City. He struggled to balance his insurance job with laundry ownership.

“A friend told me, ‘You can’t put your butt on two horses and expect to win the race. Choose one and run like hell.’” He left the insurance industry and within seven months had acquired two more laundries.

Runfola’s first two stores already had WDF service when she purchased them, and she knew from the outset that she wanted to offer pickup and delivery.

“My newest store that I bought most recently is in a neighborhood where you go two blocks to the west and I’m scared to walk there alone, but you go two blocks to the east, you’re on the ocean and you’re like 2 miles from Oprah’s house,” she says. “I have people driving up in a Maserati, bringing me their laundry to wash because they don’t want to wash it. But I also serve the homeless with a free wash day once a month. Very interesting area.”

“I’d like to think that nearly every market has that potential,” Wallace says. “It’s whether you want to make your relatively simple Laundromat more complex by offering the residential, the walk-in WDF trade. Pickup and delivery is a whole other level of complexity but also an opportunity to increase your earning power.”

Wallace asked Pettefer how he would counsel someone on making the shift from self-service to WDF and how their day will change.

“The real answer is going to be to know yourself and then decide if you’re willing to do the work to accomplish it,” Pettefer says. “If you’re ‘Captain Detail’ and you love all those little nits, then you’ve got to make sure you’re doing enough marketing. … If you’re a gregarious, make-a-friend guy like me, then you’ve gotta make sure that you get the details right.

“If you build a big business and your first wave in has a bunch of problems, then the second wave gets smaller. Knowing yourself, knowing your capacities, how many hours a day you can commit to it, and then just commit to getting a little bit better.”

You have to know your shortfalls as an entrepreneur before you commit because you want to “push laundry out the door trouble-free,” he adds.

Wallace asked Runfola what things delighted her about being engaged with WDF and what things surprised her.

Runfola says her biggest surprise was “how many steps there are in WDF if you don’t run it the right way.”

All three of her stores were run differently when she purchased them and she’s spent a great deal of time trying to reorganize them. The store she acquired last was using paper tickets to record and track WDF orders.

The seller said the manager would take care of everything WDF, that she’d have nothing to worry about. Once the store was hers, Runfola discovered the manager was taking in WDF orders but pocketing the money.

“I’d look at the camera and say, ‘Wow, we got a lot of WDF in today.’ But then I’d look at the money and say, ‘Why isn’t there a lot of WDF here?’”

It was a painful lesson that ended with the manager’s dismissal.

“One thing when getting started, either taking over or doing it yourself, is figuring out your controls,” Runfola says. “How are you going to run the business, and how are you going to check up on the business?”

Paper tickets are a thing of the past for her, replaced by a computerized point-of-sale system.

“Even at times when I’m not absolutely perfect, and I get really busy and maybe not following up, I at least spot-check and then the employees know that I am looking and I know what’s happening.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

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.