Despite major advances in high-speed washer extraction technology, a laundromat completely free of dryers is still nowhere on the horizon.
At the end of the day – and no matter their G-force – washers can remove only so much water from laundered garments. And, with the exception of stringing up a few clotheslines in your parking lot, your store’s dryers remain the best way to eliminate that residual moisture.
“The dryer plays an integral part in the customer experience,” said Ted Ristaino of Yankee Equipment Systems, headquartered in Barrington, N.H. “The dryer is the last interaction most customers have with a laundromat’s equipment. In that regard, it’s important to have the customer leave with a positive experience – so it’s critical the dryer dries the customer’s clothes completely, at a cost and time acceptable to the customer. Leaving with damp clothes or dry clothes that took a long time to dry at a cost higher than the customer expected creates a poor customer experience.”
“Dryers are critical to the success of a laundry,” concurred Bryan Maxwell of Western State Design in Hayward, Calif. “Dryer performance matters to customers. They are acutely aware of dry times, how hot the dryers get and so on. To see how aware they are, track the revenue for each dryer for a few weeks – you’ll find that customers have their favorites and that certain dryers always have more quarters in their coin boxes. I’ve seen customers fight over the ‘good’ dryers in rundown stores.”
Living in a High-Speed World
No doubt, drying times have been reduced substantially as washer extraction has increased.
“Ironically, customers give all of the credit to the dryers,” noted Brett Nolan, director of vended laundry systems for TLC Tri-State Laundry in Valdosta, Ga. “In high-speed stores, there isn’t a need for as many dryers as in a traditional, lower-extract store. This, of course, is entirely dependent on proper customer education.”
In fact, a 200 G-force washer can save a store owner between 25 percent and 30 percent of the natural gas used to dry a load of clothes, according to Karl Hinrichs of HK Laundry Equipment in Armonk, N.Y. And those high-speed washers also will reduce drying time by the same 25 percent to 30 percent.
“Obviously, the faster you can move customers through your laundromat, the more turns you can achieve,” Hinrichs said. “Time is precious to everyone, so a laundromat that can save 10 minutes of drying can be a significant timesaver.”
With that said, for Ristaino, the role of the dryer really has not been impacted by high-speed washers, because the tumbler still must perform its task efficiently.
“The drying cycle may be reduced due to higher extraction, but the role of the dryer remains the same,” explained Ristaino, who suggested drying capacity by poundage be 15 percent higher than a store’s wash capacity.
“We need to remember that, in a vended laundry, the customer determines when a load is dry,” he continued. “Since loads typically are sorted by color, instead of fabric type, most loads contain mixed goods – from jeans to towels. Therefore, we see customers removing lightweight items after several minutes, followed by heavier items. How the customer sorts the load and subsequently how they load the dryer can have a larger impact on the drying experience.”
Saving Time and Money
The basic science of drying – which involves heating incoming air, blowing it though damp goods and exhausting the air – remains a rather inefficient process.
“Dryer manufacturers are always looking to create a more efficient dryer,” said Hinrichs, who recommends store owners build in 20 percent more drying capacity than washing capacity. “The tradeoff is drying time. The more efficient the dryer, typically the longer the drying time. This industry is based on speed of operation and quick throughput. It’s all about how fast we can turn over those washers and dryers. The end result is that all dryers are designed with an optimum balance of energy use versus drying time.”
In addition, dryer efficiency can be more difficult to measure than other utility efficiencies, according to Nolan. Although each dryer has a BTU rating, he said, that number is deceptive – since the dryer is firing intermittently, not providing a constant flame.
He added that one of the biggest boosts to efficiency has been the refining of moisture-sensing technology
“Even five years ago, the moisture-sensing capabilities of vended dryers struggled to properly dry mixed loads,” Nolan said. “The equipment I’m providing my customers today has the ability to detect when even a mixed load has been dried to an appropriate moisture content and can reduce the amount of gas being used. This keeps the load hot enough to avoid wrinkling or customer concerns that the dryer didn’t work properly, while reducing the cost to the store owner in utilities.”
For Maxwell, the biggest change in efficiency has occurred with reversing dryers.
“Reversing dryers have been available to OPL customers for decades, but they had not been available to laundromat owners until the past few years,” pointed out Maxwell, who advises owners to shoot for a washer/dryer capacity ratio range of 1:1.1 to 1:1.25. “When drying large items like sheets, blankets and comforters, reversing dryers prevent linen from rolling up into a ball. When linen rolls into a ball with conventional dryers, the center remains wet, while the outside is dry; every 10 to 15 minutes, the customer must pull the linen out, fluff it up and then restart the dryer. With reversing dryers, this never happens. The results are much faster dry times, along with improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.”
What’s the Game Plan?
Years ago, it was common for a laundromat to have almost all topload washers, a couple of multi-load machines and a row of single-pocket dryers, Nolan pointed out. The theory was that customers would combine several loads from the toploaders into a single dryer, so owners didn’t need a 1:1 ratio of dryers to washers.
“With the transition from majority topload stores to majority multi-load laundries, the need for a stronger ratio presented itself,” Nolan stated. “When I first started in sales, the prevailing theory was a ratio of 1:1.1 or 1:1.2 washers to dryers. This allowed for more than 30-minute dry times compared to less than 30-minute wash cycles, and it avoided dryer bottlenecks on busy days. At the same time, we started seeing a variety of dryer capacity sizes, as well as stack dryers and larger single-pocket units.”
Several dryer pricing strategies have been employed over the years. Free dry has been a market disrupter and has probably created the biggest change in dryer strategy, according to Ristaino. And, today, full-cycle vend pricing is catching on in more and more markets.
“Stores run on loyalty cards and credit cards have adopted the strategy of moving off the quarter in terms of pricing,” Ristaino noted. “As a result, instead of 25 cents for six minutes, a store’s dryers may be priced at 29 cents for six minutes.”
Traditional timed dry is still the most popular pricing structure for most small to mid-sized laundromats, as well as in larger stores in suburban and rural areas.
“This is a hard pricing structure to break, and most adopt this structure by default,” Hinrichs said.
“Free dry is very popular in large, urban locations,” Ristaino added. “And full-cycle drying, while growing in popularity, is in third place. Of course, competition will dictate adopting these or other strategies. If a competitor opens in your area and offers free dry, the attraction of ‘free’ is too hard for many customers to pass up, even though in most instances the wash prices are higher.”
“There are pockets in my territory where everyone is on free dry,” Nolan admitted. “Speaking candidly, this is due to operator laziness. The competition offered free dry, so instead of figuring out how to continue to monetize fully half of their equipment and retain customers through a superior experience, everyone just decided to match the free dry promo.”
From the Owners…
This month, we reached out to a number of successful laundromat owners to see exactly what they’re offering their customers in terms of equipment and payment options, as well as to learn how dryers fit into their overall business strategies:
Bubble It, Inc.
Equipment Mix: My dryer capacity is 108 percent of my washer capacity. Our distributor advised 110 percent, so we’re very close. All of our dryers are 30-pound stack units. However, I’m seriously considering one or two larger capacities.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 25 percent
Pricing Structure: We utilize a traditional timed pricing structure, with customers receiving seven minutes of drying for their first quarter, and six minutes for each additional quarter. When I bought the laundromat it was “timed dry.” We decided not to change it, but we have reduced the number of minutes over the years, from 10 minutes down to seven and six minutes.
We buy natural gas on contract, for a minimum of three years at a time. Once the contract price is set, we adjust the vend time in accordance, and we don’t have worry about gas prices for the next three years.
Dryer Strategies: We are considering increasing the starting vend from one quarter to two or three. Customers drop in one quarter at a time, thinking they’re “gaming” the system, when all they’re really doing is buying themselves extra cool-down time.
Peak Gregory, LLC
Equipment Mix: Our ratio is 1:1.15 – with 52 washers and 58 dryer pockets. I wanted it to be as close to 1:1 as possible, but the layout allowed for a few extra dryers. I currently have 13 30-pound stack dryers, 13 45-pound stack units, and six 75-pound dryers.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 27 percent to 28 percent
Pricing Structure: My 30- and 45-pound dryers are on a traditional timed dry structure, while my 75-pounders are on full-cycle vend at $4 for 45 minutes. The timed dry for the 30s and 45s enables customers to pay for only what they need. However, with the 75s, I’ve found that many customers think “the bigger the dryer, the better it dries.” Due to this misconception, if I had the 75’s set to timed dry – like my 30s and 45s – I would have customers who should be using 30-pounders using the 75-pounders, thus making those 75s unavailable to customers who truly require the larger dryers. I wanted to make certain that customers using my 60- and 80-pound washers had appropriately sized dryers available to them.
Equipment Mix: I have 22 washers – seven 20-pounders, nine 30-pounders, four 60-pounders and two 80-pounders. And I have 24 50-pound dryer pockets. We wanted to err on the side of more dryer capacity to avoid backups leading to negative dryer experiences.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 25 percent
Pricing Structure: Our dryers are 25 cents for five minutes. We chose this particular pricing structure because every store in this marketplace offers traditional pricing. With new and higher-capacity equipment, the strategy was to come in at higher price point. Since customers in this market were familiar with the traditional method of dryer payment, our plan was to offer a better drying experience for the same vend price with slightly less time per cycle than the competition. Our feeling was that full-cycle vend pricing would have been perceived as significantly higher pricing than the competition.
Dryer Strategies: All of our dryers are set to perform at maximum temperature, per category selection. Our customers tell us that our dryers are “hotter” than our competition, even though our dryers are the same brand as the competition. Our customers are very pleased with the 50-pound capacity, and normal items typically dry in about 20 to 25 minutes.
We’re building a new laundry with a similar equipment mix. The square footage will be smaller, and the dryers will be on propane – so we’ve opted to go with 200 G-force washers for higher extraction. We’re concerned about dryer revenue reduction at this location, but we hope to make up some of it through saving on utility costs. Also, we’re considering testing out a full-cycle vend price structure at this location.
Equipment Mix: My equipment mix is 47 percent washers and 53 percent dryers. My laundromat has 30-, 45- and 75-pound units. I needed to ensure that I wasn’t backing up my customers at the dryers. We want to quickly move customers through the store to make room for other customers. The speed of getting people in and out is critical. Time is an important commodity.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 31 percent to 33 percent
Pricing Structure: Our dryers are on a full-cycle vend structure, which almost eliminates wait time for dryer, because customers aren’t plugging additional quarters in the dryers. It speeds up traffic flow through and the time the dryers are occupied.
Super Clean Laundromat
Equipment Mix: I have 30 washers and 32 dryers. My dryers are 30- and 45-pound capacities.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 25 percent
Pricing Structure: We use the traditional timed dry payment structure, because it seems to be the easiest to use, as well as being simply to track profits and costs.
Dryer Strategies: We offered free dry as a promotion when we first opened. It was a good promotion, but it’s not cost-effective for more than a promotion.
Shamrock Coin Laundry
Equipment Mix: Our dryer-to-washer ratio is 1:1.3. This was set up to provide the total wash capacity to dryer capacity. I have 35- and 50-pound dryers.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 30 percent to 35 percent
Pricing Structure: We offer a timed dry, because if offers our customers control over the cost and the amount of time they want to dry their garments.
Dryer Strategies: We’ve added larger-capacity dryers to match our larger-capacity washers. These additions have provided more options for customers and have increased the number of dryers available for smaller loads – helping to cycle more customers through the store.
In addition, our 450 G-force washers have helped reduce time in the dryers and provide for quicker turnover of customers through the store. Beyond the high-extract washers, DC motor drives and dry sensor technology have helped reduce our utility costs.
Equipment Mix: I’m currently undergoing some washer replacements. When finished, I will have 33 washers and 33 dryers. The total rated washer capacity will be 1,120 pounds, and the total rated dryer capacity will be 1,115 pounds. I prefer a 1:1 rated capacity ratio of washers to dryers. This ratio seems to minimize equipment purchase costs, while maximizing equipment utilization.
I offer my customers eight 30- and 25 35-pound dryers. My 30-pound dryers fit nicely into certain wall areas, where the 35-pounders do not.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 33 percent
Pricing Structure: My 35-pound dryers vend at 14 minutes for a dollar coin, and my 30-pound dryers vend at 15 minutes for a dollar coin. Most loads dry for $2. I switched from quarters because dollar coins are more user-friendly for my customers and greatly decrease the misguided perception that something is wrong with a dryer because, “I put in three quarters, and my clothes are still not dry.” My dollar-coin-only vend system has been in place for 10 years, and it prevents many of the problems that are associated with today’s quarter and card payment systems.
Dryer Strategies: My dryers are all single-pocket (not stacked) dryers. This is by design, with the intent of maximizing customer satisfaction and retention. Today, most distributors recommend stack dryers in new or rehabbed laundromats. I believe this puts those owners at a disadvantage when competing with a well-run, single-pocket-dryer laundromat. The greatest advantage of today’s single-pocket dryers over those of 30 years ago are the highly programmable computer controls, far more reliable motors and greater efficiency.
My dryer strategy has evolved over the last 50 years to end up back where I started. In the 1970s, we used mostly 50-pound, single-pocket dryers. By the 1990s, we downsized to 30-pound, single-pocket dryers to enhance efficiency during those highly inflationary times. Today’s trend is back toward 50-pound, single-pocket dryers as natural gas prices have come back down again. The size of dryers in laundromats seems to be closely related to the price of natural gas.
Hanco Enterprises Inc.
Equipment Mix: I don’t have a set rule on washer/dryer ratio. However, if the layout allows, I try to have at least 30 percent more dryer capacity by pound. Most of my laundries feature 30- and 45-pound stack dryers.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: Approximately 1 percent
Pricing Structure: Free dry. My market is mostly a free dry market, so in order to compete effectively it was a necessity. With that said, the use of a card system is essential to making this work. This allows me to limit the amount of dry time to prevent overuse, and it also enables individuals to use my dryers for a fee, even if they didn’t wash at my store. Before using a card system, my free dry stores always had problems with customers overusing the dryers. It was not unheard of to have someone use a single 30-pound washer and then spread their items over four or five dryers. We even had customers who would “preheat” the dryers before their wash cycle was even done. Cards eliminated this.
Dryer Strategies: Over the years, I’ve gone from paid dry to unlimited free dry to limited free dry with a card system.
Also, I have two stores that have been retooled with high-speed, 200 G-force washers – and this has resulted in 20 percent less dry time. As most of us know, this business is all about getting people in and out fast, especially on the weekends, so this helps me get more turns on those days.
Equipment Mix: I have 16 single-pocket dryers and five stack units – for a total of 26 30-pound dryer pockets. My washer mix includes 20 toploaders, 12 22-pounders, four 40-pounders and four 60-pounders.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: In the winter, it is about 35 percent. However, we have very hot summers, so a lot of my customers will dry their clothes outside – and the income will drop to approximately 18 percent.
Pricing Structure: I have four full-cycle vended dryers, which are set up with a credit card payment option of 30 minutes for $2.50. All of the other dryers are 25 cents for five minutes. I would like to go up a little in price, maybe a minimum of 10 minutes for 75 cents or eight minutes for 50 cents – then five minutes for 25 cents for every cycle to follow.
Dryer Strategies: My goal is to add more stack dryers and at least two more 40- and 60-pound washers. I will eliminate the single-pocket dryers and a few of the toploaders to achieve this. Another goal is to add at least two 50-pound dryers over time – and I will get rid of a couple of 30-pound, single-pocket dryers to do so.
As I install larger washers, the demand for dryers increases. However, the cost difference is significant between 30- and 45-pound stack units. It’s hard to justify that extra $3,000 per machine. Of course, I’m also looking at newer machines for efficiency – and it’s important to note that, when I installed five new stack dryers, they became my most popular machines in the store. Customers were drawn to them and said they thought they “dried better.”
Litchfield Park, Ariz.
Equipment Mix: Currently, we offer 30-, 45- and 75-pound dryers. Our ratio of washers to dryers is 1:1, but in terms of capacity, it is 1:1.2, in favor of the dryers. We wanted more drying capacity due to the longer drying times that are required and to prevent bottlenecks from occurring at the dryers.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 46 percent
Pricing Structure: Traditional timed dry. We chose this method because it’s easy for our customers to understand, as that is what is most common in the market.
Dryer Strategies: We deep clean our dryers periodically, and we have high-extract washers. Our goal is for customers to have a more efficient washing and drying experience so that the busy weekends go more smoothly.
Wash It Kwik
Pricing Structure: We have 30-pound stack dryers for $1.99 for 35 minutes, and we recently added four 45-pound reversing stacks for $2.99 for 35 minutes. I’ve had full-cycle dryer pricing for more than 10 years. In the past, we’d receive complaints from customers who’d say their clothes didn’t get dry in 10 minutes – when we priced our dryers with a cents/interval method. Now, we rarely get any complaints, unless a dryer is actually broken.
Dryer Strategies: We have high-speed, 200 G-force washers. Providing high-extract washers gets clothes cleaner and dryer faster. I’ve heard some owners say they will lose dryer income if they install high-extract machines. My answer: not if you have full-cycle dryer pricing.
Nobody buys a half a cup of coffee. They may not drink the whole cup, but they buy the whole cup. The same goes for the dryer. Sell them a whole dry. If they don’t want to dry it the entire 35 minutes, fine. I believe this is one of the watershed decisions we made that has enabled us to be profitable. In my opinion, if you aren’t doing full-cycle pricing, you’re doing it wrong.
1 Clean Laundry
St Cloud, Fla.
Equipment Mix: We have 32 washers and 27 dryers – or 1,060 pounds of washing capacity and 1,035 pounds of drying capacity. When we built the store, this was as close to 50/50 we could get within the allotted space. We currently feature nine 30-pound stack dryers, three 45-pound stacks and three 75-pounders. I’d love to install more 75-pound dryers if we had the space.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 30 percent
Pricing Structure: We offer full-cycle drying. On our 30-pound stacks, the lower pocket is discounted by 25 cents to encourage usage.
Full-cycle drying makes sense for many reasons. Customer complaints are eliminated. Energy efficiency increases, as the dryers are not constantly heating up and cooling down for the one-quarter-at-a-time customers. And, for customers who pay with their credit cards, they need to swipe their cards just once.
Dryer Strategies: Ten years ago, we charged a quarter for six minutes of drying. Eight years ago, we went to full-cycle vend pricing on our 30-pound dryers, at $1.50 for 35 minutes. My natural gas consumption has gone down – and I no longer get the common complaint that someone put in two quarters and his or her clothes still aren’t dry. This equals happier customers, especially after we showed them that they actually save time and money with this method.
We guarantee our dry – if customers wash at our store and don’t overload the dryers. And, in the four and a half years we’ve been open at this location, I can count on one hand the number of free dries we’ve given out.
BBM Coin Laundry
Equipment Mix: We offer only 30-pound stack dryers. At BBM Coin Laundry, we wanted to establish a higher amount of drying capacity than washing capacity by poundage, to meet the demands to customers who bring in clothes for drying only. Some of our competitors refuse customers the opportunity to dry if they didn’t wash the clothes in their store. However, we welcome all customers, even if it’s only to purchase a drink or a snack.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: 33 percent
Pricing Structure: At both of our locations, our drying pricing is 25 cents for eight minutes, using a traditional timed drying method. I feel this pricing structure provide the least amount of confusion to the customer, while offering the best efficiency.
Dryer Strategies: Since we opened in 2007, our drying strategy hasn’t wavered. We’ve discovered that natural gas prices haven’t increased as drastically as electric, water and sewage. We refuse to change the factory settings on temperatures, so the only option we have is to decrease the amount of time per quarter – and we are not eager to do that yet.
At our second location, the previous owner had the dryers set up on a full-cycle vend pricing structure for a while, but it’s now on a timed pricing method. And I have customers tell me all the time that one of the reasons they came to our store is because of not having to put a dollar into a dryer just to get it started, knowing it won’t take that amount of time to dry their clothes.
Equipment Mix: I have a 2,600-square-foot store that has 32 washers and 40 dryers. On one side, I’ve got 30-pound dryer, and on the opposite wall I’ve got 50-pound dryers.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: Nearly 45 percent
Pricing Structure: After attending several Coin Laundry Association events and discussing this topic with various laundromat owners, there was one strategy that stood out – and I’m so glad I followed it. It was suggested that I charge 50 cents to start. I did so, and I was shocked to discover my coin boxes completely full upon collection, and they remained full after each and every collection. I was stunned at the difference this made in my collections.
After a year or two, I decided to run all of my smaller dryers at 50-cent increments. My small dryers are 50 cents for eight minutes, and all of my large dryers are $1 for every 10 minutes.
I’ve always been perplexed by the free dry concept and have wondered how it could ever be profitable. I have often thought it would be ideal if I could offer free dry, eliminate the painful collection process and just increase my washer revenue. However, it would never work in my situation, because I could never sufficiently increase the vend price on my washers… even come close.
Dryer Strategies: Personally, I’ve always preferred to target large profit margins and low turn volume, rather than the other way around. This way, my store is never crowded.
Give customers what they want – like a clean, well-lit store with a friendly attendant – and you can charge whatever you need to charge to make a decent profit. I’ve proven this strategy at my location, as there are several laundries in my immediate market area that are priced 40 percent cheaper than I am.
I’m puzzled by store owners who don’t employ this basic strategy. It’s much cheaper to run a clean, well-lit store than it is to market giveaway gimmicks like “Dollar Tuesdays,” free dry, free soap and loyalty cards. Those are well-intentioned marketing ideas, but they can be expensive tactics – which are good for grand opening promotions, but should never be employed on a permanent basis.
Again, I can’t emphasize enough that the most important of all marketing strategies is to give customers what they want. A clean, well-lit, attended laundromat will almost always guarantee a successful, profitable business.
Rush City, Minn.
Equipment Mix: We have 35- and 45-pound stack dryers, as well as 76-pound, single-pocket dryers. All in all, we offer approximately 110 pounds of drying capacity for every 100 pounds of washing capacity, with a dryer pocket for every washer. We recently added the 45-pound dryers to our mix, as they match up well with our 40-pound washers, which are our most popular and highest-income-producing washers.
Percentage of Overall Income Dryers Represent: Our dryers produce about 40 percent of our washer income. So, for every $100 in wash income, the dryers bring in $40.
Pricing Structure: We’re on a full-cycle vend pricing structure. For 30 minutes of drying time, we charge $4.50 for our 76-pound dryers, $3 for the 45-pound dryers, and $1.75 for 35-pounders.
When we switched to full-cycle pricing, our dryer complaints dropped down to nothing, and our income went up. After all, apartments have been priced this way for years. In my opinion, not charging full-cycle pricing is like asking your customers to buy a burger and fries and then having them pay $5 for the burger, but a quarter for each fry they want to eat.