In the coin and card operated laundry industry, the newest, latest and greatest thing in equipment availability is always just around the corner. In our opinion, we now may be turning at least one new corner.
Combination washers with a built-in dryer element have been around since the middle of the last century. Experts expected them to reach huge sales numbers because they saved personal time for those doing laundry. However, it took a long time to finish a load, so the systems weren’t as well received, and did not sell as well as predicted.
Bermil Industries, better known here as Wascomat, has been selling products made by Swedish manufacturer Electrolux, and now the company is heavily marketing that brand in North America. And Wascomat has introduced Pronto, a combination washer and dryer product line, to the coin and commercial laundry market.
The centerpiece of their plan is a washer-dryer combination unit that will do the whole laundering job in a single visit to a laundry. In other words, the customers don’t have to come back and transfer their wash loads to a dryer.
According to Neal Milch, Bermil’s CEO, the washer/dryer combo idea began in Japan where people needed to launder futon bedding. The Japanese have a strong hygiene and cleanliness tradition, creating a big, active market for cleaning solutions. Electrolux was asked by the Japanese market for a large capacity machine in which futons could be both washed and dried in one cycle.
The manufacturer realized this represented a large potential market for the combo machine, and after two years of intense development and testing, it was launched throughout Japan. That was in 2007. From there, sales spread to Europe and now there are many hundreds of combo washers/dryers in use.
At the Clean Show in New Orleans, the manufacturer showed a machine to very enthusiastic attendees, and it was decided that the concept should be introduced in the U.S. and Canada.
To find out how laundry customers would react to the concept of an all-in-one machine, the manufacturer installed machines in a busy laundry. What they found is that many customers immediately welcomed the opportunity to load their laundry into a machine and then leave the premises, feeling “liberated” from having to stay in the laundry--especially on a busy weekend--so they could grab a bite to eat or take care of their errands.
And the operator of a laundry facility knows that when customers feel secure enough to leave the building, jump in the car and take care of other business while the single wash/dry process takes place, the result can be a freed-up parking space, enabling another customer to park and use the facility. In effect, the combo washer/dryer adds virtual spaces to a laundry’s parking lot.
Another key feature of the equipment is the ability of the Electrolux SMS text messaging system, part of the combo machines, to alert customers 10 minutes before the complete wash and dry cycle is over. The alert tells them to return, unload and fold their laundry.
This really amazes people and it brings lots of positive comments about the convenience of using a combination machine. A survey of customers conducted weeks after installing the combo system revealed a high number of new customers. They had learned about the laundry from friends or family members and decided to visit the laundry and give it a try.
With any new product, some level of customer education is required. The machines should not be installed in an unattended laundry, at least not until there is an understanding among the customers about how combination machines function. Attendants should be trained to help the customers the first time they use the Wash-&-Dry, so they feel comfortable and have a good initial experience.
This new machine from Electrolux is a soft-mount design, which means the entire drum assembly is suspended from heavy-duty springs and shock absorbers. The wash cycle uses extraction at 350-G-force, which removes most of the water and accelerates drying. And since it is a soft-mount machine, it does not require a concrete pad or heavy steel base. The dryer uses ordinary natural or LP gas, like any other dryer, and also like any standard dryer, it requires venting to the outside and adequate makeup air for good combustion.
Quality laundries always will need front-loading washers in various sizes, since some customers prefer using separate washers and dryers. Customer loyalty to the combo Wash-&-Dry will motivate operators to incorporate the concept in their development projects. The final mix of equipment will, of course, depend on demographics and installation considerations and other factors.
We believe there is a future in this industry for similar product lines. We know the executives of Bermil are already thinking about new models. If these 2010 and 2011 models are proven effective in U.S. sales, you know that other manufacturers worldwide will not be too far behind.
It is healthy for our favorite industry to have manufacturers investing in new product innovation and introducing new concepts so our business can continue to grow.
About Mike Hurrell: Learn more about Golden State Laundry Systems and the Coin Laundry business. You can reach Mike Hurrell regarding buying or selling a coin laundry at 619-997-8364 cell or at 310-223-2240 - office phone.