So what's it really like to own a laundry business? Whether you do all the work yourself or hire an attendant or a janitor, there are tasks you will need to take care of on a daily basis. You will need to open and close your store promptly each day, clean it, collect money, and fill vending and change machines. You will also need to keep track of which machines are being used and how often.
Those laundry owners who have employees will have other duties, too. They'll be hiring and supervising those employees and overseeing additional services such as wash-and-fold.
The Hours You Shall Keep
Laundries are generally open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days per week. Because weekends are usually the busiest days for laundries, you should definitely keep your doors open on Saturdays and Sundays. In some instances, you may want to adopt alternate hours, especially if the market you serve or the location of your store lends itself to having open doors at other times of the day.
Brian De Coster, who owns several unattended laundries in and around Iowa City, Iowa, keeps his stores open 24 hours per day. Three of his four laundromats are in a college town, and students are notorious for keeping odd hours. "You've got the machines; you've already paid the money for the machines and the rent and everything else," he reasons. Because his laundry is unattended, he doesn't have to pay employees to stay up all night with his store.
Tim O'Connell, who owns 24 Colonial Laundromat stores in the Syracuse, New York, area, keeps most of his stores open 24 hours as well. "The biggest problem we had was turning customers away," he says. "Customers would come in late and employees would want to be leaving, so it was easier just to stay open."
Other laundry owners we interviewed base their hours on surrounding businesses. Dave and Kris Anderson, who own an unattended laundry in New Glarus, Wisconsin, keep their store open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. They chose those hours because they're the same hours the nearby gas station is open. "We feel it's working out perfectly," Dave says. "If we had kept it open later, we might have had more vandalism."
Your first duty of the day is to open your store, and you must be on time because your customers may plan their day around getting their laundry done at a certain time. You can avoid having to be at your store early in the morning and late at night by installing an automatic lock system on a timer. A typical system like this will cost you between $1,000 and $1,500.
At night, of course, you must close down and lock up. If you want all the customers to be gone by 10 p.m., you should consider locking the door at 8:30 p.m., leaving enough time for the last loads of laundry to be finished. You can either let customers out yourself or install a lock system that allows them to leave but prevents others from coming inside.
The first order of business for you or an employee you hire is to clean your store thoroughly, at least once a day. This will take about two to three hours. You or your employee will need to do the following:
- Mop the floors
- Wipe down the machines
- Clean the soap dispensers in your front-load washers
- Wash off the folding tables
- Clean the bathroom
- Empty the trash
- Wash the windows
- Clean the vending machines, change machines and video game screens
The best time to clean is after customers have gone-that way you or your employees can clean more efficiently. You'll also avoid the risk of customers slipping on wet floors or tripping over cleaning equipment. If you have a large or busy store, however, you may find that it requires cleaning twice a day. You can wipe down the machines and folding tables easily while customers are in the store, but save the floor for after they've left or for a slow period of the day.
One chore you're not likely to delegate to an employee is collecting money from the machines. If you have a card system, your job is much easier. All you'll have to do is empty the card machine of the bills, count them and deposit them in the bank.
But if you have a coin laundry, you'll need to empty each machine, preferably daily. You'll want to pull (take out the coins) from one type of machine at a time so you can determine how often your customers are using each type of machine. Put a bag in one of your laundry baskets and roll it from machine to machine, starting with the top-loaders. Count these coins and record how much money you made on this type of machine, then follow the same procedure with the front-loaders and the dryers.
For recording purposes, you should draw up a chart with seven rows, one for each day of the week, and columns for each type and size of equipment: top-loaders, front-loaders, dryers and vending machines. Then record in your chart how much money you withdraw every day.
You should refill the change machine in your store on a daily basis, too. When it's empty, your customers can't do their laundry, and they'll go elsewhere. If it's empty more than a few times, they may never return. No one wants to lug several loads of laundry to a laundromat, only to find they can't get change. De Coster says if his change machine runs out, "that's like shooting myself in the foot. I check the change machine at least once a day."
Let Us Vend
The last bit of daily business in your store is restocking the vending machines. If you own your own soda and snack machines, you will need to make sure they're full every day. If you contract with a vending company, they'll worry about filling them.
The most important vending machine in your store will likely be the soap vending machine, and since these machines are relatively inexpensive and rarely break, you should buy your own. Make sure it is properly stocked every day. Many customers will bring their own soap, but those who don't will expect to find soap available. An empty soap machine is almost as bad as an empty change machine-it will cause you to lose business.
When you're done with the daily in-store duties, you'll need to take care of some additional office work. Many laundry owners do this at home, though some may find it easier to work in a rented office or at the laundromat if they have space. Owners with other businesses, such as De Coster who has both laundries and an equipment rental business, can take care of everything in one office.
At your office, you'll need to take care of your accounting and track equipment usage by customers in your store. It's important to record how often each type of machine is used so that you can determine if you've got the right mix of equipment. For example, if you find that your front-loaders are getting six turns per day (the number of times a machine is used each day) and your top-loaders only two, you may need to add front-loaders and remove some top-loaders. Your customers are likely waiting for the front-loaders and possibly going elsewhere, so you could be losing money.