This Viewpoint article was originally published in May 2015 edition of Planet Laundry magazine and is reprinted here with their consent. Bryan Maxwell of Western State Design currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Coin Laundry Association.
Running a small business is far from an exact science. And operating a self-service laundry – with all of the market-by-market idiosyncrasies this entails – at times can be even less of a sure thing. With this month’s cover story focusing on industry myths and misinformation, it seemed only fitting to highlight a few of the preventable surprises new laundry owners often face – and to try to set the record straight. Here are some of the more common shockers I’ve noticed over the years.
The Lease: Owners are often surprised by what is and is not in their leases. Personally, I’m shocked at how many store owners have three years or less remaining on their leases. As a result, they are even more shocked when the landlord informs them the lease will not be renewed or when the new terms are unfavorable. The result can be a loss of all or part of their investment. So, always be aware of the time remaining in the lease.
Utilities: Some municipalities charge sewer usage fees on an annual or semi-annual basis, as part of the property tax bill. If the owner is not aware how the fees are paid, a bill for thousands of dollars can be a very unpleasant surprise. The other big surprise with utilities is the cost of municipal impact fees; prospective clients can be floored by the impact fees charged by local municipalities to connect into the water/sewer system.
Infrastructure: In California, for example, earthquakes can cause significant damage to the sewer system of a laundry. The sewer line can become damaged under the store or where the sewer connects into the main city drain. Typically, if the damage is under the street, it’s the municipality’s responsibility to make the repair, but if the problems are under the laundry, the repair costs can be significant.
Pricing: Store owners lose a ton of sleep over raising their vend prices. They survey the competition, review their utility bills monthly and worry endlessly about losing customers. They put it off for months, but once they pull the trigger, they are almost always pleased with the decision. I can’t remember the last time I spoke with a store owner who was unhappy with such a decision. They may lose a handful of customers, but the overall profitability of the store increases.
A Growing Marketplace: Owners of well-run laundries are sometimes surprised when they attract new business from a large, diverse customer base, not just from the laundromat down the street. As store owners make improvements to their stores and business grows, it doesn’t have to be at the expense of other coin laundries. (What a concept!) New customers can come from apartments, single-family homes and from farther away than you may realize.
Owning a Laundry Can Be Fun: New owners are sometimes surprised by how much they enjoy the industry. Many of them decide to invest in the business because of the ROI and flexible hours. However, several of my customers are surprised to find out that they really enjoy the business. They enjoy meeting the customers and serving the community. Many were in upper management with Fortune 500 companies or high-tech startups, and lived intense, stressful lives. By contrast, the laundry industry is a simple business with significantly less stress.
All in all, it pays off to do your homework, try your best to see through any of the common misinformation, and keep business surprises to a minimum.