EMMETT, Idaho — Last December, the husband and wife team of Dave and Suzanne Mackey opened Lily Pad, a 2,000-square-foot coin laundry, in Emmett, a small city of about 8,000. They just added another business to their building, and even have plans for the second floor. Being in a small city doesn’t mean you can’t think big.
FILLING A NEED
The couple purchased the building in Emmett, a ranching and farming community near Boise about two years ago, Suzanne says.
“Our small town desperately needed a laundry because the one that was here was rundown and not consumer-friendly,” she explains. While the city is fairly small, you can add another 15,000 to 25,000 to their drawing area, she adds. The Lily Pad is now the second laundry in the city. The only other cleaning options are some very small laundry facilities 15 to 20 miles from Emmett.
Suzanne has lived in both large and small cities and has noticed that people in small towns will actually look for your business if you have amenities that they want, whereas in a big city, people tend to have more to choose from and will seek out the closest store.
“Our customers come from as far as 25 miles. We have put in larger equipment to accommodate people’s needs. We do sleeping bags, comforters and pillows. We even do horse blankets and pet bedding.” In keeping with their emphasis on cleanliness, they even sanitize the machines after special orders, such as horse blankets, and charge customers for the process.
Mackey has discovered that people would rather visit the Lily Pad than do laundry at home. She also believes that the store’s larger equipment is such a draw that it keeps people from purchasing home laundry equipment. But plenty of other things attract people.
“Our customers could actually go into Boise, but we have a lot of customer service. ‘Service, service, service,’ that’s our motto.” The couple now employs a staff of 18 between the two businesses. In addition, you can find Suzanne, Dave or the store manager at the store daily, she says.
Customers feel comfortable and secure at Lily Pad, she boasts. The well-lit store features a lounge area with two large couches, a big chair, and big-screen TVs, plus 24-hour camera surveillance. There is also same-day drop-off service, which is important due to customer commuting concerns.
Customers can choose from two 60-pound machines, two 40-pound machines, two 30-pound machines, 12 20-pound machines and six top loaders. The pricing ranges from $1.50 for the top loaders to $6.50 for the 60-pounders. There are 22 single-load dryers (two 75-pound machines, two 50-pound machines and 18 35-pound machines). Dryer prices range from seven minutes/25 cents to five minutes/25 cents.
She has discovered that customers favor larger machines. In order to bump up front-loader usage, the top loaders were raised to $1.50 and may end up at $1.75. “We don’t charge different rates for hot versus cold water on the top loaders, but charge 50 cents more on the fronts for hot or warm.”
While she is pleased with the laundry, expansion was a necessity, she admits. The laundry alone couldn’t support their building. The couple took about 4,000 square feet next to the laundry and launched the Toadstool Billiard Cafe, a family-oriented billiards and gaming business that includes a café, in June. “The building is split in half, and we have two entrances in the front and a firewall down the middle for washer piping.
“We had thought about leasing [the space] out for retail space. But ... the downtown had dried up a bit. It was important to bring people back down here. Call it our civic duty.” The entertainment had been a small movie theater and a bowling alley, but the bowling alley was being torn down. “We wanted our new business opening to coincide with the bowling alley being torn down. Well, the downtown area is finally starting to change a bit since we made our entrance into the community.”
The Toadstool, which has its own employees, features eight coin-op pool tables (six 7-foot tables and two 8-foot tables priced at 75 cents per game), two dart machines, a foosball table, an Internet-driven jukebox, plus an array of video games. Adding another coin-op business has led to her being dubbed the “coin-op queen” by her husband, she laughs.
“There are amenities in the billiard room/café not present in the Laundromat and vice versa. There isn’t comfortable seating in the billiard/café area, but there are big-screen TVs, which may really come in handy during football season,” she explains.
The tables are up front and the gaming is in the back. The café separates the two. She estimates that about 90% of laundry customers visit the Toadstool during their stay. The café opens at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast, and lunch starts at 11 a.m. The café is open until 10 p.m., with the salad bar, a popular offering, staying up until 9 p.m.
“We have the best burgers in town,” she boasts. Meat is brought in daily and the patties are made at the café. “Our hamburger, fish and chicken baskets are popular.” Breakfast offerings include French toast, biscuits and gravy, and homemade sausage, all bolstered by the ever-popular “bottomless” cup of coffee.
By starting small in the café, she has tried to alleviate problems. Her main food-related concerns are controlling cost and waste. She is also hesitant to add to the menu at the current time.
To get the ball rolling, a mailer was sent to about 6,000 laundry customers, urging them to check out the Toadstool. The mailer included a $5 off coupon for a drop-off service order of 20 pounds or more.
A NEW WAY OF LIFE
Things have changed in Emmett, and things have also changed for Mackey, who has a financial and insurance background. “All of my business suits are now sitting in the closet; there’s no need for them.”
When the couple started out, she was aware of what some thought about laundries. “There are these thoughts that coin laundries may not be the greatest places to be in. More places like ours will go a long way in changing this perception.”