SILVER SPRING, Md. — It’s a Thursday night at Rainbow Coin Laundry.
Amid the washers turning and dryers tumbling, a new sound can be heard—the sound of learning, as business school students from neighboring Washington Adventist University (WAU) have recently begun helping local schoolchildren with their homework here every Thursday night.
Though it may not seem like it, the one-hour, once-a-week tutoring program is all part of the business school’s efforts in rehabilitating the Laundromat, which operator Nok Kim has owned for almost 10 years.
Kim has faced various operational challenges since dropping his Laundromat from its parent franchise in recent years.
But through the projects that the business school has helped him with in the past year, Kim has been able to slowly build up business and utilize his store for more than just a laundry.
Kimberly Pichot, WAU business school associate professor and chair, has been working within the department to help connect its students with local small businesses, like Rainbow Coin Laundry, through the university’s implementation of the Enactus program.
Enactus, an international nonprofit organization, empowers students to “collaborate” and “gain experience through community projects,” according to Pichot.
“It really is trying to find an entrepreneurial start-up concept that the students can start, run, make sustainable and hand off to an established business or non-profit,” Pichot says.
As part of its Enactus program on campus, WAU business students host a small-business symposium featuring free workshops for local small-business operators.
Staged every fall, the symposium attracts roughly 13 to 18 local small businesses, according Pichot.
From these symposiums, the students then select a small business that they can partner with to work on various projects.
“A lot of our selection comes from those attendees because they’ve already gotten to know us, [and] we get to know them,” says Pichot. “Then, we look at what do they need, and do our students have the skills to be able to [help]?”
A NEW BUSINESS PARTNER
The business school also has ties with local small-business associations that seek counsel from the group to help rehabilitate member businesses.
“We’re in contact with two different regional small-business associations and a lot of times, they’ll come to us and say, ‘We have this person who’s a member and their business really needs some help right now. Do you have the time or the expertise to help them out?’” explains Pichot.
This process was how the group got in touch with Kim and Rainbow Coin Laundry in February 2014.
“Our first contact with him was through the Long Branch Business League, and they approached me and said, ‘We have this business [and] it used to be a franchise. He’s dropped the franchise, and he’s gone his own way now, and we have some concerns for his long-term viability. Would you guys come in and talk to him?’” explains Pichot.
From this initial contact, Pichot explains that she and other members of WAU’s Enactus group sat down with Kim and evaluated the state of his laundry.
“As part of that interview process, we looked at his finances and we discussed commitment level, because it’s a big commitment on [the business owner’s] part, as well, to open themselves up to other people’s ideas,” says Pichot.
A NEW IDENTITY
Several factors were affecting Kim’s coin laundry business.
A new competitor had opened a Laundromat less than a block away, and because Kim had dropped from the store’s original franchise, his laundry had no sense of identity, according to Pichot.
“A group of marketing students really took an interest in his business, and so they said, ‘OK, since you don’t have a brand anymore, you don’t have any advertising anymore … Let’s give you a facelift,’” says Pichot.
As part of its early projects, the group developed a new logo for Rainbow Coin Laundry and painted the walls with bright colors.
“They thought about something different for my laundry [to] make it better … so they painted my Laundromat four different colors, like a colorful design,” says Kim.
“I think the thing that made the biggest financial impact for him, in helping him get started turning around, was the fact that his business looked fresh and new, and clean again,” says Pichot. “Then, we went around the neighborhood and gave out fliers, inviting people back.”
Check back Tuesday for the conclusion!