Clean cars and clean clothes
Although a clean car can do quite a lot for one’s self esteem, clean clothes are quite another thing. As Brian Wallace, president and CEO of the Coin Laundry Association, framed it, “Doing laundry is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s a chore that must be done each week.”
Bill Bittner, national sales manager of the Speed Queen brand of laundry equipment, echoed those sentiments. “It’s much easier to cut out a night at a restaurant or a $5 cup coffee each morning than the money spent at the laundry,” he explained.
This is the allure of a carwash/coin laundry business; a steady influx of customers and the opportunity to interest them in other services during every visit. It is especially convenient for carwash operators considering the majority of patrons aren’t likely to walk to the Laundromat — they’re driving their trucks, vans or cars loaded up with dirty clothes.
We go together like…
It’s not just the assumed presence of vehicles which essentially lends the coin laundry to the self-serve carwash; the two businesses have several other commonalities, as well. As Wallace pointed out, both revolve around coin-operated machinery and utilities as the “inventory” and are largely dependent on the consumer to provide the labor.
“There is also strong compatibility from an investment and management standpoint,” Wallace continued. “Both are capital intensive, both are equipment dependent, and both are operated on a part-time or flex-time basis.”
Wallace said his experience has shown that many coin laundry/carwash combinations are situations where the operator owns the real estate and can benefit from two “draws” to his or her facility. “Often time labor, both customer service and machine repair, can be shared between the two businesses,” he suggested.
But the greatest advantage is consistency and stability, according to Wallace. “People need clean clothes every single week, rain or shine, recession or boom. Laundries always complement co-tenants that serve the same customer demographic by generating traffic week in and week out.”
Not only that, but the laundry customer is a captive one, according to Bittner. “Doing the laundry involves waiting for cycles to be completed. Thus giving them the opportunity to multi-task with a carwash on site can be of benefit to owners,” he explained. The laundry also represents an opportunity to make up for poor volumes on rainy or foul weather days.
Lastly, Bittner pointed out that having an attended laundry also allows the carwash operator to have an attended carwash. Customers receive instant refunds and assistance at both businesses and the operator is able to ensure his employee’s time is being used efficiently.
For operators with extra land and capital on their hands, today’s technology presents a good time to invest in a coin laundry business. Bittner said operators can expect anywhere from 25-35 percent return on investment for a coin laundry, and according to Wallace, utility efficiency has reached its pinnacle. The new washers, dryers, and water heating systems on the market now combat the long-term trends toward higher water, sewer, natural gas and electrical costs.
Bittner said today’s systems also offer intense data management. Operators with high-level control systems like Speed Queen’s new Quantum Gold can “access real-time information and even set vend prices from anywhere in the world with their laptop computer and an Internet connection,” he said, giving operators the flexibility to remotely manage their stores and use the coin laundry as a secondary source of income.
Of course, the coin laundry industry isn’t entirely infallible. Wallace admitted the recession has affected laundry businesses, although perhaps not as heavily as other industries. Renters represent the most important customer demographic, according to Wallace, and this segment has actually floundered in the wake of the crushed housing market.
“Initially, the conventional wisdom was that the housing bubble bursting generated more renters and therefore more self-service laundry customers,” Wallace explained, “but as we've gotten later and deeper into the recession — especially manifest in spiraling unemployment — we’ve seen historically high apartment vacancies as a result.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom, Wallace predicted the tough economy has been a catalyst for innovation in the industry. He said more self-service laundry owners are turning to ancillary services such as wash-dry-fold service and commercial accounts in order to boost revenues.
Although Wallace admitted the average laundry owner does little marketing, he said he strongly discourages this type of nonchalance. The cross-marketing opportunities for a carwash/coin laundry should be obvious, and Wallace said some of the marketing trends in the coin laundry industry could lend themselves easily to a multi-profit center that combines carwashing and coin laundry.
For instance, Wallace identified targeted direct mail, websites and even TV advertising as mediums which can easily target low to middle income families who would be the primary customers for both businesses.
There’s one angle of marketing a coin laundry which should come as no surprise to the carwash owner: Green. According to Bittner, customers being offered water- and energy-efficient laundry equipment should feel good about their purchase.
“Given that most all of us are concerned about the environment, this is an especially positive marketing angle,” Bittner said. “There’s no doubt that doing laundry at a coin laundry is far faster and more environmentally friendly than performing the task at home.”