How to Start a Coin-Operated Laundry

The Laundromat Life

If you're planning on operating just one or two stores, you'll be in good company. Three-quarters of laundry owners own only one store, and very few have more than two. While there are no national laundry chains, a few local chains are starting to grow in various parts of the country. These chains are still quite localized, though, and only a few consist of more than a few dozen.

For a little more than half of laundry owners, operating the store(s) is their full-time job. Others take the moonlighting approach-they manage other businesses or work a day job. But more laundry owners are starting to own larger stores and more than one store. These people are able to survive on the income larger stores or multiple stores generate.

The amount of money you can make from a laundry varies tremendously. According to the Coin Laundry Association's Brian Wallace, the annual gross income from one store can range from $30,000 to $1 million. The expenses incurred while running a store range between 65 and 115 percent of the gross income. That means that for a store grossing $30,000 per year, at best it nets $10,500 and at worst it loses $4,500. For a store grossing $1 million per year, the profit could be as high as $350,000, or there could be a loss of up to $150,000, depending on expenses.

Wallace says these profit margins have less to do with the size of the store than with its owner. An owner who runs his or her store well-who keeps it clean, repairs its equipment quickly, uses energy-efficient systems and offers good customer service-will see profit margins of about 35 percent.

The steady income that a laundry generates is a plus for many people. If you're looking for a business that will keep the cash flowing no matter what the rest of the economy is doing, you've found it in laundries. Clean clothes are a necessity, not a luxury, so people are going to use laundromats no matter how the stock market is performing. The business is also fairly steady month in, month out. So unless you draw on vacationers' dollars in a place with seasonal tourism, you'll find that you can count on a fairly steady income throughout the year.

No Experience Necessary
None of the entrepreneurs interviewed for the Coin-Operated Laundry start-up guide had experience in the laundry business when they first started out. One had a resume that included milking cows, another was a contractor, yet another ran a rental equipment business. Most just decided that starting a laundry was a good business opportunity. However, they all recommend that new entrepreneurs research the business by talking to laundry owners, joining associations and reading the trade literature.

Tom Leavitt put some time into planning the three laundries he opened in Seattle. "We traveled around the country, looked at a lot of other operations, and designed our prototype," he says. "We took care to figure out what would work the best." He and his partner also attended a Coin Laundry Association convention in Chicago and took a tour of laundries in the area.

Collette Clarkson knew nothing about the business before she started a laundromat in Evans, Colorado, with Kim Clarkson, her business partner. But the two got to work when Collette's uncle, who was building a strip mall, asked if she'd be interested in operating a laundromat. "We did a lot of research," Collette says. They spoke to a number of laundry owners about the business and read as many issues of trade magazines as they could find.

While no particular experience is necessary, a business background is always important. In addition, a background in machine repair or a knack for fixing machines helps. Owners who have experience with laundry equipment are able to cut down on the cost of repairs. But others have found that they can learn about the machines and make some repairs themselves, or hire a repairperson and avoid the headache altogether. The self-service laundry business is an open club. With enough enthusiasm, interest and business-savvy, you can join the club and succeed in the industry.

The Laundromat Personality
You may think that the laundry business is about clothes, but what it's really about is people. It's a service business, and like any service business, you need to treat your customers well if you want them to return to your store.

If you're friendly, your customers will want to use your store. By taking the time to talk to them, you will also be able to learn about their laundry needs and their preferences for services. Ultimately, this kind of information will help you improve the quality of your business so that you can attract even more customers.

Even if you decide to hire employees and leave the customer relations to them, you still need good people skills to hire and supervise employees. The more closely you work with them and the better they know and like you, the better job they'll do.

If you have an unattended laundry that you visit twice a day to clean and collect quarters, you still need to greet your customers with a smile on your face and an attitude that's ready to help. So if small talk with strangers leaves you cold, and you can't stand the thought of answering customers' questions (often the same ones over and over), the laundry business may not be the one for you.

However, if you think you'll like meeting new people, helping them work the machines, and listening to them talk while they wait for the dryers to finish, you'll find this business rewarding. "Interacting with customers-that's the best part," says Collette Clarkson. "I can't even imagine how many regulars we have who we know by name."

How to Start a Coin-Operated Laundry

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