Unless you’re from Pennsylvania, you might not be aware that Titusville is just slightly east of Pittsburgh. However, if you’re a history buff, you might know that in 1859, oil was successfully drilled in this Crawford County city, resulting in the birth of the modern oil industry.
If you’re a Titusville history buff, you have to know about Tom Morrical, his wife, Marlene, and the Titusville Maytag Coin-Op Laundromat — the couple has run the 900-square-foot store for 43 years.
“At the time (1966), I had a job in the steel mill,” Morrical, 75, recalls. “It was a good job, but I had four children, and wanted to get them through college. I needed something extra.”
In 1966, the town had about 10,000 people and five laundries, he says. “I bought it on a hunch. I was looking ahead, and it has worked out well over the years.”
Morrical paid $40,000 for the 3-year-old business and building. He would check in on the store on his way home from work. “It really wasn’t that hectic.”
“When I bought it, the machines were priced at 20 cents to wash and 10 cents to dry, and they only operated using tickets instead of coins.”
Despite some challenges, this unattended, 24-hour store has been going strong for 43 years. The population has dwindled during the years (about 6,000 as of the 2000 census), and there are only two laundries left in town. The Morricals’ formula for success has some familiar components.
At first, Morrical was focused on learning the business, paying the store off, and being profitable. “I did more washes in the past, but remember that this town, like a lot of small towns in the North, has seen a population drop. The industry has gone, and the tax base has dropped, but I haven’t felt that loss as much as other businesses.”
Morrical liked the business because he didn’t have to deal with employees, and he was able to do his own maintenance work. “If things got lean, you just hung in there.”
Morrical has never been one to be overly concerned with the competition. “I just put new equipment in last October and raised my prices, even though my competitor is much cheaper. But I’m not worried. Sooner or later, the competitor will have to raise prices. I’m just interested in running my own business.”
Throughout the years, Morrical has re-equipped the laundry four times. This has played an integral role in his success, he says.
The high cost of utilities forced his hand when it came to the latest equipment change. “Water, gas and electric keep going up, and my machines were 13 years old. They needed more and more work, plus I wanted to raise prices, but not on the old machines.”
Morrical firmly believes that when you raise prices, you should give the customers something new. It doesn’t hurt that new equipment also helps offset higher utility costs.
“Most people didn’t really complain about the price changes over the years. A few people bitched, and some will look for a lower price, but I got a lot of compliments about the new equipment. A lot of people will pay a higher price if you have something nice to offer.”
In addition to adding new equipment now and then, Morrical is also a strong believer in the importance of having a clean and functioning store. He’s handled plenty of maintenance work during the years. “I’m fairly mechanical, and I did all the repair work at the store. When a maintenance problem comes up, even with new equipment, I do like I did in the past — I go after it!” He says most of the laundry maintenance work is fairly standard, even if the machinery has changed over the years.
“[The new machines] are not that complex. At first, I used to walk into the store, and before long, I could hear a problem. When the transmissions changed, I learned how to maintain them. I’ve always had a good parts source, and prided myself on having no out-of-order signs.”
On a normal day, Morrical spends about 90 minutes at the laundry. His store is unique for more than just being in business since the Lyndon Johnson administration. The laundry has an unusual (by today’s standards) equipment mix: 16 top loaders, two 30-pound front loaders and eight stack dryers.
“The general consensus of my customers is that they like top loaders.” Despite that claim, he has seen people flock to his three front loaders. In a perfect world, he wishes his store were a bit larger. “If it was, I would have put more front loaders in long ago. My front loaders get used all the time. Actually, they are a better deal for the customer.”
Morrical charges $1.75 for a top-load wash (50 cents more than the other store in town), $3 for the front loaders, and 25 cents/seven minutes for the dryers.
Recently, Equipment Marketers, Cherry Hill, N.J., sold the Morricals eight energy-efficient stack dryers and 16 top loaders.
“My gas bill has been 30% lower with the new equipment, and I am saving thousands of gallons of water per month. These savings go right to my bottom line. You also get tax breaks on new equipment.”
Morrical remembers when utility costs were a bit more stable in the past. “Now, even electricity is going to go up because things are going to become more ‘green.’ I’m preparing for all of this with my new equipment. This is the stuff you have to do today if you want to stay in business.”
Some might call the laundry a bit of a throwback when it comes to customer amenities. “There’s no phone, no pop machine and no TV. I only provide magazines and seating. The only people I want in here are people who are doing their own laundry.”
In addition to updating the equipment, survival in the self-service laundry industry requires a good dose of an age-old virtue. “You need to be patient. This business can be just like the stock market. I went through a couple of down periods, but you have to make sure all the equipment is working, and you have to talk with the customers when you’re at the wash. Watch that overhead. Know what your operational costs are. That’s also important.”
If someone asked his customers why they have visited the laundry during these 40-plus years, you would hear the people mention cleanliness, working machines and having a well-lit store with plenty of parking, he believes.
He is also pleased with the fact that vandalism problems have almost been nonexistent. While this may be due to setting up shop in a small city, it also didn’t hurt that people noticed the effort he put into the store.
Morrical doesn’t know how long he will continue in the laundry business. “I’m in good health, and I don’t spend that much time at the store. But I won’t run this store for another 40 years — at least I don’t think so!”
He admits that he will miss the customers when the time comes to leave the business. He likes to socialize with customers, and he knows many of the customers by name. “Being that this is a rural area, we get country people with large families to come into the store. They may do 15 loads at a time because they don’t have an adequate water supply at home. They have to come here. These are the type of people who stand out.”