MARFA, Texas — A well-known business strategy is to run two businesses under one roof, share the overhead, and mingle the clientele. Perhaps the best example of this in our industry is Tumbleweed Laundry.
Daniel Browning is the “Laundromateur” who pulled off the magical feat of combining an ice cream parlor, coffee shop and Laundromat. The genius is that Browning has a monopoly in all three markets.
These days, Tumbleweed is doing quite well. It’s the only place in town to sit down, chat with friends, eat an ice cream sundae, and do your laundry all at the same time. The big advantage is that one staffer mans the entire operation. When Browning does his commercial volume, he and another helper are also on premises.
“That’s a big plus,” Browning says. “I know some Laundromats don’t have a person there. But we do, so we can take care of problems right away. But we are also there to take care of the ice cream and coffee trade. It’s really a good, efficient use of labor.”
Tumbleweed runs with 10 Dexter T-300 30-pounders, four 45-pounders (front loaders?) and six double-stack dryers. Prices are $3.50 for a 30-minute wash and 25 cents for a six-minute dry. “Our prices are pretty good,” Browning says. “They could be higher, but I want to balance intake with customer needs. In other words, I want to be reasonable.”
The commercial volume pays the equipment bill. That includes about 600 pounds of sheets a week from the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in town. (One establishment, Hotel Paisano, is famous for having housed stars Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson while they filmed the movie, Giant, here.) Tumbleweed also maintains a commercial linen service, renting out about 1,000 napkins a week and hundreds of tablecloths to area restaurants. Browning calls his commercial business a “boutique” operation. Generally, the service is same day, and the customers drop off the work.
Browning pegs his Laundromat’s utilities cost at a shade above 25%. “That’s not too bad, since our gas company is owned by two cities, and rates are very expensive,” he says. “The 25% also includes commercial work, which requires heavy utilization since so much ironing is necessary.”
As an efficiency gauge, the 25% utilities cost standard is for a strictly retail operation. Of course, renting the upstairs apartment also helps offset the building costs. So all in all, Browning is pretty satisfied with the way things are going. Such a combo would have more problems in a larger town, he believes, but it works just fine in Marfa.
What’s next? Browning has his sights on opening a second Laundromat/coffee shop combo in Alpine or Fort Davis, both within 30 miles of here. Alpine has two Laundromats, but Browning feels his offering would be far superior and win a dominant share of the market. He knows this because several customers travel the 30 miles to his facility to do their laundry. Or maybe they just love ice cream.
Ingenuity is what makes America great. And Browning surely shows what can be done in a tiny Texas town. Serving many needs under one roof can be the perfect strategy.