In the last couple of years, we have seen an increase in the number of new stores opening and older stores being remodeled and re-equipped with the latest in commercial laundry equipment. The pace is not what it was in the very prosperous times of the early to mid-2000s but there is plenty of activity.
As mentioned in previous blog posts, articles and discussion, coin and card laundry businesses are a popular business that attracts a lot of interest from a wide variety of prospective operators/buyers. People are attracted to the possibility of being self-employed, having a less stressful work environment, flexible hours, the casual lifestyle and, hopefully, an attractive return on their investment.
Coin laundry buyers vary widely in terms of their background and ambition, as does the size of their operations they buy. For example, their operations can range in size from one or two stores to large chains. In many U.S. cities, immigrants are investing in the laundromat business in order to get a visa.
Nevertheless, coin-op laundries serve the same need they always have and it's not unusual to see some stores that look no different than they did 20 years ago. However, the business is changing. Some changes are obvious and have been happening slowly over the last several years. For example, coin operators are installing larger, energy efficient washers and dryers, payment systems outside of coin and are remodeling to make their stores more attractive.
I have noticed another interesting development. I believe it is due mostly to one of features that attracts everyone; a good return on investment.
It appears to me that, in addition to the entry-level entrepreneurs who have long been interested in the coin-op laundry business, more and more established successful business owners, with plenty of money and resources already, want to invest in this business. Experienced business people are discovering that the business, though not overly glamorous, can be very profitable.
Over the years, I've received calls from potential business buyers inquiring about the laundry industry. For the most part, these have been individuals who have a job and want to supplement their income. They see this business, with its "promise" of limited active management, as a means to achieve this goal. Or, it may be the retired person who has money to invest and wants to keep busy (but not too busy). Then, there is the potential business buyer who just wants out of the corporate world and wants to be self-employed!
In the last year, I've noticed a new group of people inquiring about the industry - interested in either building new laundromats or remodeling old ones: a large real estate holding company, management company owners, a retired highly successful insurance agent, a gentleman who has owned a number of pharmacies, and a variety of others with extensive business experience and deep pockets.
These people are building a better mousetrap. They understand that you have to invest money to make money and they are not afraid of investing a little more to do that.
How are they spending this money? We know that Clean, Bright and Safe are the cornerstones of a successful coin or card laundry small business but more owners are taking other amenities to a whole new level. The days of prefabbed folding tables, linoleum floors, standard ceiling tiles and a couple of vending machines are going by the wayside.
We are seeing beautiful polished concrete or porcelain tile floors, high open ceilings with large fans and more comfortable seating. There are device charging areas and workstations, free Wi-Fi, an elaborate choice of vending machines and/or kiosks, play areas for children, more interesting and up to date color schemes and other beautiful design features. These people are building stores that people truly donít mind hanging out in. It's almost like you are in a chic coffee house while you do your laundry. These new laundries are also taking customer service to a new level. Though there are still plenty of self-service laundries, it seems that more and more are turning into attended stores. Card stores generally need an attendant and since there are more card stores, the result is more attended stores.
In addition, owners are recognizing that competition is growing and a way to beat the competition is with better customer service. As with any business customer, service pays off. Iíve mentioned before that even though a typical coin-op laundromat customer may not be in the highest socioeconomic tier, they still want and appreciate a nice place to do their laundry AND they also appreciate good customer service!
Rounding out the better mousetrap is the laundry equipment. The most important element of making a store look and operate better is quality equipment. Not only do the commercial washers and dryers need to be attractive, easy-to-use and reliable for optimal day-to-day operations, they need to last, over the long term. The right laundry equipment, properly taken care of, will last 15-20 years.
Having spent many years in the coin and card laundry business I find these changes interesting and exciting to watch. It's always fun to see innovation and improvement! The message here that I hope current or future coin or card laundromat business owners will hear is that building a quality product and giving great customer service is paramount if you want to keep up and compete with these quality entrepreneurs and modern, state-of-the-art laundromats.