ATLANTA — Thinking about investing in your first laundromat can be exciting but it’s important to have a sense of what you’re getting yourself into before committing to buy or build.
During a Coin Laundry Association education session titled “Everything You Need to Know About Your First Laundromat,” a trio of store owners with varied backgrounds shared their experiences to prep anyone just getting into the business for what they might expect themselves.
Texas multi-store owner Rob Maes moderated the panel that included store owners Omer Khan from Atlanta, Stephen Gramaglia from New York and Amy Doody from Maryland. Part 1 examined financial expectations and business planning. Let’s continue:
FINDING THE RIGHT LOCATION
So what about finding a store location? How can one do that?
Doody can’t count the number of laundromats she visited while researching the industry, but she washed many loads of laundry along the way.
“You know, at first, we were ‘super sleuth,’” she says. “It was part of the game. We’re like, ‘Let’s go do towels,’ but then after that, you just walk in and look around. They know you’re not from their neighborhood. I mean, they know, but the secret stuff was kind of fun, too. But we just went to a million different laundries and did it feel safe and then we would pull demographic reports and study the numbers.”
Having somebody you trust, whether it’s a broker or distributor, is important, according to Doody, because once you look at the demographics, you won’t know if they’re good numbers or bad numbers. You need someone seasoned to explain what the numbers mean for a given site.
“Make sure you understand what kind of equipment they have,” Khan says of the distributor relationship. “Make sure how they’re approaching your situation, how much they’re going to help you succeed. … Having that bond and being able to call them at 7 a.m. or 10 p.m., you need to have that relationship with that distributor.”
Finding a store site that’s close enough to your home can be important, too, Gramaglia says.
“You will be on your way home and they’ll call you and we’ve got to go back,” he says. “There’s times you go three or four times a day, especially in the beginning, especially when you’re building it. When you’re hiring staff, when you’re learning, you’re going to be there a lot of times back and forth. The further away you are, the more pain it’s going to be.”
“I own four laundries. None of them is more than 15 miles apart, and I put 20,000 miles a year on my car, so keep that in mind,” adds Maes. “So, especially if you’re starting out with your very first store, just keep proximity in mind. My No. 1 criteria, bar none, for picking a location is proximity to home.”
TO LEASE OR TO BUY?
If you have the opportunity to buy and to be your own landlord, there’s nothing better than that, Gramaglia believes, but that type of arrangement may not be possible for everyone.
“I think a lot of that has to do with where you live, where you trade, what real estate prices are,” he says. “There’s parts of the country where it just doesn’t make financial sense to acquire a piece of property and put a laundry in. The numbers don’t make sense. That just depends on what’s available, what’s in your market.”
“I would not have built a laundromat from ground zero. We did buy the property,” Doody says. “The reason I wouldn’t build a laundromat … as a first-time laundry owner is because you don’t have a customer. So you’re going to make the investment and then you’re going to open the door and nobody’s ever been there before to do laundry? But if you buy an existing company and you can buy that property at the same time, too—and that’s what I did—then you have a customer base and you have a chance to learn and introduce yourself to a community.”
“You know, the three stores that we own, we just retooled one of them just over the last couple of years,” Khan says. “It all goes on what kind of experience you have, from your background … if you feel comfortable by giving it to a (general contractor) and letting them build it out for you and you just want a turn-key store, nothing wrong with that. But if you feel like, you know, ‘I want to do this, to control, to rule. I want to make sure that every aspect of this is my way,’ then by all means, go that way.”
“A great location is a great location,” Maes adds. “It might be leased, it might be built, it might be bare dirt, and I’d hate to give up on a location because it didn’t fit one particular criteria that I was looking for.”
In Thursday’s conclusion: Methods of operation and creating a good work-life balance
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].