CHICAGO — Some operators might take it for granted. After all, how difficult can it be to put together the proper equipment mix for a coin laundry?
While operators and distributors agree that there is no “standard” equipment mix, there are several factors that play a key role in determining whether the operator can make the most out of his/her washers and dryers. Studying the demographics is key, and seeing what the competition is doing doesn’t hurt. Even the placement of the equipment can affect the bottom line, some believe.
Several distributors share their views about equipment mix and offer some advice about dealing with the latest equipment trends.
ADJUSTING TO TRENDS
“The equipment mix depends on the demographics, the competition, and has a lot to do with the financial capability of the owner,” says Lamar Thomas, T&L Equipment Sales Co., Charlotte, N.C.
It’s also important, he adds, to see what type of equipment people are using at nearby laundries. “You want to determine the needs of the customers, and try to get your equipment to be as good or better than the competition, all while taking into consideration the financial capability of the person purchasing the store.
“Some people buy a laundry as an investment, others are buying a job. If you’re buying a job and need cash flow, you’ll do things differently than if you’re invested in something for the long haul. Some people want to buy a store, make money and sell.”
All of this can affect the laundry’s equipment mix. People in the business for the short haul, Thomas says, may cut back on the amount of equipment needed, even if the research shows that more equipment is necessary.
Like others, he believes that there is no industry norm when it comes to equipment mix. “Some regional norms may exist, but each area still varies [when it comes to equipment mix] because of demographics. That’s one of the reasons franchises haven’t worked well in the industry. Even in the Carolinas, we are diversified in terms of population.”
Recognizing current equipment trends is just another factor in arriving at the proper equipment mix. “[In our area], we were four years in front of the curve in terms of using larger equipment. Now other operators have caught up. People want larger washer pockets. We have a lot of Hispanic people in our area with larger families; they favor larger washers. The cost per square foot also drives the move to larger equipment.
“By larger equipment, I’m talking about 80-pound washers. In other cities, you are even seeing 125-pound washers. With my new stores, there is at least one 80-pound washer in each store, maybe more. We are also putting in a lot of larger 75-pound dryers. Drying has always been the stumbling block in laundries from the time I started in the business.”
Thomas reminds operators to make sure that they have enough drying capacity to handle the larger washers. He employs a simple formula to handle the work flow. “I work on poundage, not pockets. If you wash 10 pounds, you want 12.5 pounds of drying capacity.”
While it may not be a new trend, there is always the debate about the role of top loaders in today’s stores. “We don’t see many top loaders here, but we anticipate some will come back because they are now meeting energy standards. Prior to this, tops were losing out to smaller front loaders because of energy concerns. Then an amazing thing happened on the way to the Laundromat — manufacturers figured out how [to make top loaders more energy efficient]. They are still not as efficient as other washers, but they are getting there.
“It is certainly more pro top loader today then it was before the Clean Show. After seeing top loaders at the Clean Show, it makes more sense to use them. They use less water and get clothes cleaner than they did two years ago.”
Equipment placement is a big deal, he explains. “We work hard on the placement and traffic flow in the store. Generally speaking, we start with the larger machines up front, but that’s not always where they end up. It’s a store-by-store decision. There are no standards when it comes to placement; there are plenty of different philosophies out there.”
Another thing to consider when it comes to equipment placement is the customer. “Coin laundries are public places. There is a mingling of different nationalities. We also have to make customers happy in terms of the layout and amenities.”
Equipment mix concerns aren’t only for operators opening new stores. “I would say that everyone needs to evaluate their equipment once a year. Did anything change from last year? Has the revenue differed from one year to another?”
Generally, operators will call their distributors for help, he says. “When I’m called, I’m going to get familiar with your laundry, the area you serve, and what your income has been. I’ll look at the size of your machines and talk with your attendants about customer behavior. I’ll find out what’s going on in your laundry and the laundry down the street. Your business may suffer because you have new customers with new needs.”
It’s important, he adds, to realize that just because you believe you have the right equipment at the store, it doesn’t mean the customers believe this. “It’s hard to tell someone how to wash their clothes. Have you ever tried to do this? Try it, and you’ll find out really quick that you don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Thomas offers one last bit of advice: “Get someone experienced in the industry to help you with your equipment mix. If you depend on another operator, at least make sure that your areas are similar.”
CHECK YOUR EQUIPMENT BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE
Analyzing demographics is just the starting point for determining the proper equipment mix, says Jeff McGarity, PWS — The Laundry Co., San Diego, Calif. “Square footage plays a role in the equipment mix as well as the competition. It’s natural to check out what the other guys are doing.”
McGarity also sees trends influencing a laundry’s mix. “You just can’t get away from the top loader, although we were putting in less and less top loaders. In a 2,500-square-foot store, we were trying to get away with putting 10 top loaders in, but the operator would go and put in another 10!”
He believes customer demand combined with the operator’s “old school” thought process about customers favoring top loaders continues to keep these machines in play.
The smaller top loader continues on, but McGarity says the demand for larger washers and dryers is really noticeable. “Two 75- or 80-pound washers in a store is not that uncommon here. Some of the operators don’t want to put in larger washers, but once they are in, they usually want more. Larger dryers are also catching on in certain areas. There’s more bang for your buck with them; it’s not the usual 25 cents for seven or eight minutes. You can charge more.”
Machine placement can be tricky at times. “Usually you want the big machines up front so they can be seen from the street, but if you have parking in the back and people have to haul the laundry all the way to the front, you have a problem. We have become more savvy [in terms of equipment placement] because of situations like this. The placement depends on each store’s square footage, parking, accessibility, etc.”
Taking a close look at your equipment every now and then is a good idea, but he realizes that this doesn’t happen as much as it should due to the amount of money that may be required to replace equipment. “Unfortunately, this process doesn’t happen until the cost of repairing the equipment outweighs the cost of buying new equipment.”
A drop in revenue should alert you that it’s time to examine your equipment mix, he says. Also consider how reliable the equipment has been and how old it is.
To read Part II of this article, click here.