CHICAGO — Ralph Wagner, who owns Wash ’n Dry Laundry Services in Morris, Ill., has been working in the coin laundry business for 14 years. His store an hour southwest of Chicago occupies 2,000 square feet and features Maytag equipment totaling 33 washers and 26 dryers.
Up until last June, his business was strictly a self-service laundry. But since then, his sales have risen 25%. Why? Wagner attributes it to an extra service he started last summer, one that many laundries may already offer: wash/dry/fold.
Getting into wash/dry/fold was something he and his wife had always wanted to try. Wash ’n Dry competes with a couple other Laundromats in the market of about 25,000 residents, but the economy and the lack of actual wash/dry/fold service in the vicinity pushed Wagner to pursue it.
“We feel right now, with the economy coming back, that [it was] a good time to start it,” he says. “In our area, we only had one other Laundromat that offered the service.”
Wagner reached out to Kevin Meyer, president of distributor Dolphin Laundry Service, Bensenville, Ill., to help him get started. “It’s a tough thing to get going, but it’s gone pretty well,” Wagner says. “A 25% increase in our revenue is pretty good.”
Chris Brick, regional sales manager for equipment manufacturer American Dryer Corp., explains that up to 80% of attended coin laundries in the United States offer some form of wash/dry/fold service. “Wash/dry/fold brings a different customer base to a lot of laundries.”
“Household washers [or] small equipment within apartment buildings can have trouble handling comforters,” says Meyer, “so it solves a need for prospective customers.”
Considering the convenience such an added service offers to customers, it’s no wonder that many coin laundries have decided to cash in.
Dick Ruel, national sales manager at equipment manufacturer Maytag Commercial Laundry, attests to the profit potential. “If it were not for wash/dry/fold services, some laundries would not turn a profit.”
How much does such a service contribute to a store’s total gross revenue? Gary Gauthier, national sales manager for equipment manufacturer Milnor Laundry Systems, says it varies from store to store, while Meyer cites a range of less than 5% to up to 30%.
Considering how many laundries offer this service, what considerations must one take to truly profit from wash/dry/fold? Brick says the key to mastering the service starts with organization.
Taking the extra step to keep customers happy is one way to ensure that your wash/dry/fold service stays afloat, but what can owners do to extend their reach to prospective customers?
Gauthier suggests that owners establish a strong online presence and consider investing in search engine optimization (SEO) services, such as Google AdWords, to attract business. “An established, effective online presence is a customer comfort and an inducement to try a new service. Roadside signs and direct mail are additional efforts, but they are typically limited to drive-by traffic and specific geographic territories.”
Store owners reaching out to community causes is another way to bring in new customers, according to Brick. For example, your store could host a fundraiser for a local church youth group or athletic team, and have them, alongside an attendant and adult volunteers, wash, dry and fold customers’ garments to raise money.
Even if they split the revenue fifty-fifty … it’s a great way for that organization to raise money, and it’s a great way for your Laundromat to get people that may have never even thought about using the laundry for that service.”
Meyer, on the other hand, pushes the benefit of seasonal coupons, such as deals on comforter cleaning in the fall and spring. “It’s a good way to educate individuals who take advantage of the coupon and convert them to drop-off customers.”
The success of wash/dry/fold not only comes down to marketing, but how well versed attendants are in assisting customers, he says.
“If the attendants are supportive and educated enough to explain the drop-off service, it typically translates to a successful drop-off program,” Meyer says. “We have seen stores go as far as incentivizing attendants by commissioning them 5 to 10 cents per pound on orders they process.”
Marketing is all about staying in tune with the lifestyle of the community, Brick says. “You really have to look at each community. What is the avenue that my customer base looks at, reads [and] listens to, and that’s where you want to go to promote what you’re offering.”
You may want to consider adding delivery to your wash/dry/fold service—which Brick calls a “great service” in urban markets—but tacking this on to your operation presents an added liability. “That’s when you would get into the extra insurance involved because you’re putting somebody on the road.”
Meyer echoes the sentiment, saying, “Delivery adds cost and opens the need for additional insurance coverage, as transportation becomes part of the equation. This needs to be balanced with the size of the delivery area [or] how much the potential market is increased through pick-up/delivery.”
But adding delivery could certainly be beneficial to the business. “We typically see the offering of delivery as viable and profitable,” Meyer says. “Some stores will charge a delivery charge as well to recoup related expenses.”
Though the idea of adding delivery to a store’s wash/dry/fold service can attract customers looking for even more convenience, Brick estimates that less than 2% of laundries offer such an option.
THE FUTURE OF WASH/DRY/FOLD
Many stores may wonder if starting, or even further developing, wash/dry/fold service is worth the risk. Brick admits that he’s seen some of the best and cleanest stores “do everything right” but the service didn’t pan out. “It is kind of a fickle thing.”
Despite this, he believes the payoff is worth the gamble. Not only can owners make extra profit, their overall business can see a visible improvement.
If you can afford to have that attendant there every hour that you’re open, the vandalism is reduced tremendously,” Brick says. “The store will be kept much cleaner, because you’ve got someone there wiping machines down [and] picking up softener sheets from the floor.”
Wagner sees this improvement in his store, as having an attendant present “builds a confidence” in customers. “If [a customer] has a problem, instead of leaving a note or calling, you can fix it right there for them or give them their money back. There’s never any miscommunication or issues, it’s all taken care of right away.”
With his wash/dry/fold service still in development, Wagner wants to hire a full-time attendant, plus he has other goals in mind. “I’m just in the process of learning [but] we are looking for a second location with our distributor,” he says. “Our strategy would be within 30 miles … from our location.”
Larger stores are becoming the industry norm, according to Brick, which could lead to stores taking on commercial accounts and an expanded customer base. “I think you’ll see more stores begin to do more with the non-traditional laundry customer, meaning the people that have a washer and dryer at home.
Because it’s a bigger [and] nicer store, they have no problems dropping their clothes off. I definitely think that wash/dry/fold will become a stronger revenue source for laundries as they continue to build bigger, nicer, cleaner laundries.”
All in all, for a wash/dry/fold service to really take off, it’s about creating a positive, lasting impression.
The success of wash/dry/fold will have more to do with who you hire, and what you put in place than just about anything else that you do,” says Brick. “The experience that you provide to that customer will lead to them coming back, and lead to them telling someone else.”