We are proud to bring you this comprehensive book, ‘Investor’s Guide to Coin Laundries‘, compiled by Jay MacDonald, Vice President, Distributor Sales for Alliance Laundry Systems.
Alliance Laundry Systems is the largest manufacturer of commercial laundry equipment in the world and has over 50 years of experience in helping investors just like you, get started in the coin laundry market. This book is a compilation of experiences, ideas and input from hundreds of successful coin laundry owners and distributors from all over the world.
Taking data and industry knowledge, it is a road map to help you succeed. At the end of it, you will have a general understanding of the industry and what it will take to operate a successful business.
Chapter 9 : DESIGNING YOUR COIN LAUNDRY
Once you’ve chosen your distributor partner, selected your location, and bought the property or signed a lease, the fun part really begins — Designing Your Coin Laundry. The design, layout, and ancillary items you choose will all be part of the ingredients that aid in making your coin laundry successful. As exciting as this part can be, it can also be stressful.
Building a coin laundry is like building a house. There is a lot of work that goes into it and you want to make sure everything is done right so when opening day rolls around you aren’t met with any unexpected surprises.
Your design team will consist of you, your distributor, a local contractor and potentially an architect. Together you will work on designing a coin laundry that will meet the needs of your business plan, ensure that building codes are met, have equipment that is installed properly and have all of the little details to make your store a showplace that customers will want to visit again and again. They will also make sure you have all the appropriate permits and zoning information you’ll need.
These experts will work to bring the vision in your head to reality. When you bring them together, make sure you are specific on what you want for the store. Do you plan on having drop off laundry? Is there a carwash attached? Are you going to provide wireless internet access? Will you have an ancillary business inside the laundromat? What about colors? Seating? Lighting? Security features?
All of this will play a role in the design of your coin laundry. As we said, it’s like building a house, just as much work goes into the design of both. When you are looking at the design, keep in mind that you want to build your store with your future customers in mind. You want them to feel like it’s “their” laundromat. Providing them with an environment that they find comfortable will not only attract them, but keep them coming back.
Why do I use a Laundromat?
- 58 percent – no laundry at home
- 27 percent – I can get my laundry done quicker
- 9 percent – Machines are always broken at my apartment
- 6 percent – Too busy at my apartment laundry
- 5 percent – The coin laundry is cleaner
Source: CLA Profile 2004 – Multiple responses allowed
How you use available space is important and there are endless possibilities on how you can maximize it. My recommendation is to start at the same place that customers would start — outside of the store — and follow the same path they will follow throughout their laundry process. When looking at the CAD drawings and blue prints, some of the things to really study include:
Start at the street that your building is located on. Do you have an external sign? For those customers who like to come later in the night, look to make sure you have ample exterior lighting planned.
Where possible, have a sign on the front of your building that clearly identifies your business as a laundry.
Most newer stores have a lot of windows in the front. This not only lets people see that you are a laundry but also provides a level of peace of mind and security for your customers inside. This wall of windows is also a good place for special signs advertising special promotions or other things about your business, perhaps things that your competition does not offer. Examples can be as simple as “Air Conditioned” to “Largest Capacity Washers In Town”. Or perhaps you have your own version of a frequent flyer program where the 12th wash is free or special discounts on typically slower days like Tuesday. The possibilities are endless! Plan for parking as well. It’s recommended to have one space per 59 every 50 square feet you build. There may be zoning requirements in your area requiring a minimum number of spaces too. As your customers are carrying a lot of laundry, make sure the distance from parking to the door is as short as possible. It’s amazing how many people will visit a convenience store instead of a supermarket when they only need to buy a few food items. The convenience store is usually more expensive. The difference is that you can usually park your car closer to the store and get in and out quicker. That is the convenience of convenience stores! A vended laundry customer is no different and they may be carrying several hundred pounds of laundry to your store.
And just like designing a house, it’s all about curb appeal.
Take some time and money to invest in landscaping or other items to make the outside as attractive as the inside, creating a warm and welcome first impression.
Now consider the doors.
We recommend extra wide doors or double doors for people carrying large laundry baskets or bags. There are quite a few stores that have installed doors that open automatically. They are a little more expensive but make a great first and last impression and may be one of those little things a customer remembers that makes your store their new “home”. It is not uncommon for a store to have doors that lock and unlock automatically at specific times of the day, especially if the store is not attended.
The Aisles and traffic flow
From the front door, the customer will go to the washers, load the clothes into the machine(s) and then they may go to a change or card machine to get the coins or smart card credits to start the washers.
Customers do not enjoy being crowded in a laundry.
There should be plenty of room to load and unload your machines or to move around the store with laundry carts. For main aisle space we recommend 8 to 10 unobstructed feet and for side aisles, 5 feet.
Location of the equipment.
Many owners like to showcase the largest washers in the front of the store. This is done for several reasons. One is so that potential customers driving by your new location will see that you have plenty of available capacity — something they may not have at the store they are currently using. Another reason is for customer convenience. Customers bringing in very large amounts of laundry need only walk the shortest distance when arriving at your store. Stack tumblers are designed to be built into a wall with only the front panels exposed. Place them against the walls. And make sure there is enough space for service behind washers and tumblers. Your authorized distributor, through their partnership with us, can develop two dimensional, and three dimensional drawings as well as blueprint-style architectural plans at little to no expense. We also can create a virtual tour of a prospective store which is a great way to “see your store” before the first shovel hits the ground.
HVAC/Utility And Other Requirements.
We briefly covered the utility requirements in other chapters, specifically plumbing requirements, electricity needs, etc. But there is space that is often not in view where you need to plan for in your design. Space uses may include a separate utility room for a boiler, a locked storage area, air conditioning and heating, an office for you to pay bills, count money, etc.
Room for folding tables.
Once a customer has washed their laundry, most use carts to move things to the dryer and from there to the folding tables. The folding tables are usually located directly across from the drying tumblers. For every three stack tumblers you should include 1 table with enough storage for the cart to store underneath. This will be one of the most congested areas of traffic in your laundry and large aisles are very important.
Beneath your feet
What’s beneath your customer’s feet is important. You also want your floor to be durable enough to last a long time. Because we are dealing with water, carpeting should automatically be ruled out. It’s hard to move carts on carpet and would need to be replaced often. Some great flooring options include vinyl, finished concrete and ceramic tile. Vinyl is easy to clean and the least expensive, whereas concrete will be the most durable but least attractive. For a good mix of the two, ceramic tile can be ideal and with all the various color options available you can really warm up the interior of your coin laundry with it.
While at home, many like soft lighting, but in a coin laundry, brighter looks cleaner. You can provide that cozier lighting with soft light versus harsh lights, but you want to make sure to avoid shadows as they can look like stains. And again, we can’t stress this enough, LOTS of lighting outside to provide a safe and secure environment for your customers.
There is an endless color pallet when it comes to paint. Just like home, your customers want it to be cozy and welcoming. Consider using bold colors for accent walls. And don’t forget to repaint every few years to keep it looking fresh and new. It’s also an inexpensive way to give your store a makeover from time-to-time as well. There are not many people I have met in my life who truly enjoying doing laundry week after week. For most it is a task that they want to complete as fast as possible. You can make this task more enjoyable by providing plenty of available capacity in a store that is clean and fresh. Some stores will even use air fresheners in their ducting to mask any odors. People may not always remember the name of the store or the brand of equipment that they used but they will tell their friends about “that store that is always clean and smells so good” and they will remember how to get there.
When looking at the store layout, there are so many things to consider, including the amenities you want to provide. Everything from a children’s play area to drop off service, a sitting area and vending machines will take up space. You want to make sure you’ve included these into your design. In addition to providing washers and dryers for laundry, there are some owners who wish to add additional ways to generate income or even enhance the laundromat experience through various optional amenities. Below is a list of ideas that you might want to consider when designing your coin laundry:
Coffee shop or mini-café
This is a great way to generate additional revenue. There are two options if you are including a coffee shop or mini-café. The first is by renting out the space to a tenant to run the business. They would pay you rent, manage the café and have the expense of food costs. If you choose to take this on yourself, realize the added time to your plate to operate it might not be worth the expense. With someone else leasing the space, you can not only collect rent but perhaps a small percentage of their sales as well. Or you can simply add vending machines for beverages and/or snacks. Typically a route operator will provide these at no expense to you and pay you a commission each month.
For many coin laundry owners that offer wi-fi service, they tend to absorb this cost. With the creation of smart phones, laptop computers, i-Pads and other mobile technology, customers enjoy being able to surf the Internet wherever they are and the laundromat is no exception. For those without a lap top or mobile device, there are coin laundries that provide a bank of desktop computers, charging a flat rate per half hour of usage. This helps offset the cost of the equipment and provides the opportunity for customers to be in your store longer.
Within some demographic areas, providing tanning beds is a way to generate additional revenue, especially if you have an attended laundry. Your employees can clean the beds in between use. You can also sell tanning lotions and after sunning products as well. Keep in mind there is also the added cost of bulbs and utilities.
An automated carwash is one of the most complimentary businesses to owning and operating a coin laundry. Both deliver “clean” results and use water and chemicals. It aids in generating awareness of your laundromat with the amount of drive-thru traffic it provides and offers you a good deal of additional income.
Drop Off Laundry
In a later chapter we’ll go more in depth into what it takes to provide drop-off laundry services, but for those laundries looking for ways to create additional income, offering drop off laundry allows those busy customers the opportunity to stay on the move while you launder their clothing. It can be a great profit center and expand the reach of your customer base into other demographics.
Security. Last but certainly not least is to protect your investment when you are not there. The cost of security systems has dropped dramatically over the years and in my opinion, this is not a luxury but rather a necessity. A visible security system will deter vandalism and theft. Your customers will feel safer and so will you. I recommend a system that you can monitor over the internet. This also lets you see how busy your store is at certain times of the day. And this can save you money too!
We have heard several stories of a customer filing a lawsuit against a store owner claiming that because of neglect, the person slipped in the store and hurt themselves. While some claims may be legitimate, many are not and footage from security cameras saved the owner from expensive insurance claims. Speaking of insurance, many companies offer large discounts to businesses with security systems installed. Check with your insurance agent to find out specifically what they offer and which systems give you the best discounts.
Personally, designing a new vended laundry is a great deal of fun, second only to depositing profits at the bank. You want a store that has its own personality, uses floor space efficiently, and becomes a destination location for current and future customers. After all, they are the ones who will pay your bills indirectly — design your store with their needs and wants in mind.
Some other things to consider when designing and building your store include any future expansion you might wish to do, security and outdoor signage. The list is long, just like with building a house. There’s the roof to the floor and everything in between, including the sinks. Take your time, rely on your distributor, consult with other experts, design for your customers, and plan, plan, plan! If you do, beginning on opening day, your coin laundry will not only operate efficiently but will look good and attract more customers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JAY McDONALD has been active in the laundry industry for over 30 years. He is the Vice President, Distributor Sales for Alliance Laundry Systems, the largest manufacturer of commercial laundry equipment in the world. He also served on the board of directors for the Coin Laundry Association and received the Distinguished Service Award “in appreciation of his leadership in furthering the welfare and best interests of the coin laundry industry” in 2009.
As your equipment distributor — the most important partner and most valuable resource you will ever have — we encourage you to get in touch so that we can help guide you through the exciting and financially rewarding industry of coin laundry ownership.
CHAPTER 1. SHORT ANSWERS TO THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS
CHAPTER 2. WHY COIN LAUNDRY
CHAPTER 3. THE HISTORY OF THE COIN LAUNDRY BUSINESS – LEARNING FROM THE PAST TO GROW INTO THE FUTURE
CHAPTER 4. THE ROLE OF THE DISTRIBUTOR
CHAPTER 5. THE POWER OF LEVERAGE
CHAPTER 6. DEMOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS : LOCATION
CHAPTER 7. LEASE NEGOTIATIONS
CHAPTER 8. UNDERSTANDING CUSTOMER’S NEEDS
CHAPTER 10. CASH VERSUS SMART CARDS: THE PROS AND THE CONS