Gene Mueller has been offering drop-off service for about 21 years at his Lakeland Square Laundromat in Belleville, Ill., and he believes that customers should be able to see drop-off orders hanging from a rack. It lets them know you offer the service, and may generate future orders. This is just one of Mueller’s theories about running a successful drop-off service.
OPENING IN THE WILD
When the 2,400-square-foot store was built, “there wasn’t much there,” Mueller recalls. “There were open fields; there were cattle, coyotes and foxes in the area.” Despite the roaming animals, other things were also developing nearby — namely, a major highway (80,000+ cars a day), a huge apartment complex and a strip shopping center. Mueller saw the potential and plowed ahead.
His laundry features 24 top loaders, 11 double loaders and four triple loaders. He has 32 single-load dryers, three stacked dryers and one 50-pound dryer. The top loaders are $1.50, the double loaders are $3, and the triple loaders are $4. Customers get eight minutes of drying for a quarter.
MAKING IT SPECIAL
Even though four nearby laundries offer drop-off service, Mueller likes to believe that his drop-off service helps set him apart from the competition. He has about 130 feet of rack space, which plays an integral part in the store’s success, he believes. There’s a 20-foot rack right behind the 15-foot customer service counter.
“[The rack with hanging clothes] generates business. When people come into the store, they see the rack and ask what it’s all about. We explain that we wash, fold and press clothes. Some of the people asking questions end up dropping clothes off. The hanging clothing actually sells the service to others.”
There’s more than the visual element. “We don’t just fluff and fold. That’s fine, and some people just want that, but we do more; we want this to be special.”
Mueller wants people to know that their clothes will be pressed. He charges $1 a pound for a mixed clothing order. Shirts are $1 ($1.45 with starch) and pants are $1.75 ($3 with starch).
This pricing system can be challenging. For example, some people will bring in 20 shirts, which don’t weigh much, and mix them with other items, he says. The attendant makes the call on what to charge based on a simple formula: If the order is more than two-thirds shirts/pants, customers are charged by the piece; the remainder of the order is weighed and priced accordingly.
Two “Zippy” units (steam boards) are utilized to take care of the pressing. Brackets hold the clothes in place on the board as the clothes are steamed. “They run 15 hours a day and are great if you know how to use them,” he says. “They will press just as well as a hard press if used properly.”
Stain removal is a priority. “We’ll take out the stains, even if multiple washes are needed. We teach the attendants about stain removal and keep some basic cleaning agents handy. We spot every shirt collar and check the pockets.”
The only outside work taken in comes from a nearby community/nursing home. Mueller picks up the work after it’s delivered to a central station, and returns the clean clothing back to the same station. “I don’t even see the customers. We do $20,000 a year in cash from this one.”
There are five aisles in the store, and the fifth contains the machines — two top loaders and two dryers — used for drop-off work. Customers can see the attendants hard at work, even though they don’t spend time in that aisle. However, if things really get busy, those machines are made available to the regular customers.
Mueller doesn’t charge extra for same-day service. “We are cranking out orders all day. We have our priorities with the orders. Customers are asked when they need their clothes back. If they need their clothes back quickly, we can usually accommodate them,” he says.
The attendants, knowing the workload, make the final call. It’s not unusual, he adds, for the attendants to receive a tip in rush cases. “Some can even make $30 or $40 a week in tips.”
There are five attendants, and their experience helps things to run smoothly. “Four of the attendants have been here 12 years. Our turnover is very low.”
He rewards attendants with a birthday dinner and a Christmas bonus. “Plus, every now and then, when someone is working really hard, I’ll slip them $50. They are scratching my back, and I’ll scratch theirs.”
TIPS FOR NEWCOMERS
“If you want to [offer drop-off service], first, get a counter. People notice this. Put a 20-foot rack behind the counter and have 20 feet of hanging clothes. It’s a key to success. Pressing is also key.”
Simply, make the service different than basic wash and fold, he says. “Anyone can do wash and fold. I want the clothes pressed with optimum quality. We fold the clothes in a consistent manner. This way, customers feel like they are getting more.”
Mueller sees good things ahead for the industry. “As long as people pick the correct location, they have a good chance to succeed. Being wise and prudent also helps.”