ST. PAUL, Minn. — Randy and Tami Fett own four self-service laundries in the St. Paul, Minn., area. Like others, Randy was involved in a variety of businesses before embarking on his laundry career. It’s his family’s connection to the laundry business that’s a bit different.
One brother, Wayne, builds laundries and owns multiple stores. Another brother, James, owns a laundry. Randy’s sons assist him, and may eventually expand the number of stores the family operates.
All of this is taking place in Minnesota. Do we dare say a Gopher State laundry empire?
AN INSIDE LOOK
Just having multiple stores doesn’t make one a success. Quantity is never a substitute for quality. Fett works hard to give his customers a first-rate laundry experience.
If you asked a customer why he/she patronizes one of Fett’s stores, the answer would likely touch on cleanliness, machine availability, atmosphere and pleasant attendants, he says.
He doesn’t brand his stores in the technical sense. “I run the stores in a similar fashion, but they don’t share the same look or characteristics. They even have different names.” He says that if he built the stores from the ground up, he would brand them.
The equipment mix is similar at his stores. He offers a variety of capacities; only one of his stores offers top loaders, and all of them have an 80-pound washer. “The biggest machines are the best money-makers.”
He’s recently added 45-pound stack dryers to go along with the 30-pound stacks. Customers can also take advantage of mammoth 75-pound dryers. “I have plenty of dryer capacity. You can’t let dryer capacity hold you back. The vendors can [help you determine the proper dryer capacity].”
He runs all-coin stores, although one store recently added credit card and token acceptance. “This has gone well; the people love it.”
He doesn’t foresee going away from coins for a number of reasons. First, it would be too costly to convert his stores to a cashless equation, he says. “Plus, [a coin store] is convenient for customers; they understand the concept. You don’t want to complicate things and chase people away.”
While he admits to being a price leader, he doesn’t believe in publicizing price hikes. Instead, he prefers to add something new to one of his stores before he enacts a price hike.
“With the first four to six weeks of a price hike, you might lose a bit of business, but I believe most of the customers trickle back.”
Having a listing in the Yellow Pages, as well as having some type of Internet presence, best sums up his marketing practices. This minimalistic approach may have been formed by experience.
“For two or three years, a group of us (operators) used to spend good money marketing, yet it didn’t seem to make a difference.”
After six years in the business, Fett has few complaints. He has learned to deal with employee “headaches” and the frustration of living somewhat far from his stores.
“Being far away from the stores can be a problem, especially if a changer goes down. I have to jump in my car right away and take care of the problem.”
Surveillance cameras ease some of his concerns. He has cameras in all of his stores, and monitors store activity from home. The cameras have helped prevent theft as well as deter slip-and-fall claims, he notes.
Maybe the self-service laundry business has always been in his blood. After all, he owns four stores, and two brothers run six stores. Yet, there’s more.
Looking ahead, he’s pondered the idea of establishing a chain. “I may take a shot at this. I even have a name picked out.”
He’s also thinking of a larger role for his four sons. “[My sons] are working for me part time; doing cleaning, preventive maintenance, etc. I’m teaching them the basics. When I go on vacation, I put them in charge to see what they can handle. They have risen to the occasion. I would like them to take over my stores and get more.”
I guess it’s only natural for Fett to want to entrust his stores to his sons. “I’ve expanded into other businesses, but my core is still the Laundromats. They are special to me.”
Click here to read Part 1 of this story.