Since we drafted this post earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., changing normal, daily life, including Family Laundry’s operations. As an essential service, the laundromat was permitted to remain open but with a substantial change in operating procedures. Here’s what the owners had to say about that:
“About a month ago we closed 2609 Foothill to the public as a health and safety precaution and converted it to a laundry drop-off center. We now provide Wash & Dry for $.75/lb. and Wash & Fold for $1.25/lb. So far, our revenue is down about 40%. With a little time, we’re hopeful we can turn this into an even bigger business…and provide jobs for many people in the process.”
“The Community room sits empty, as we had to shut it in early March. We were able to apply unused grant money toward providing a free laundry service for seniors 60 and older. So far, we’ve provided this service to more than 100 seniors in the neighborhood.” — David Macquart-Moulin and Laura Guevara.
Family Laundry, a bustling laundromat on Foothill Boulevard in the San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland, made headlines recently for hosting a weekly literacy program for its patrons’ young children. The Wash & Read program is sponsored by the Oakland Public Library. Library staff members travel on site to read to the children, as well as sing and play with them in a comfortable children’s alcove while their parents do the laundry. The program is valuable not only for encouraging the children’s interest in reading, it’s helpful for developing an important sense of community. Parents, many of whom are immigrants, appreciate the gatherings because it provides an opportunity to meet other parents in the neighborhood, including some from their native regions.
Family Laundry’s owners David Macquart-Moulin and Laura Guevara have had a desire to engage with this vibrant community since they bought the laundromat in 2018. Among other things, they installed some family-friendly facilities, including a diaper changing station. They formed a partnership with Libraries without Borders, which led to grants from local foundations and the creation of the community room. In addition to storytimes with librarians, they also offer English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) classes twice a week and soon, an adult digital literacy program.
The self-serve laundry business attracts varied and interesting entrepreneurs who implement their own vision in terms of their stores’ presence in their respective communities. After all, a vended laundry is a communal space designed to serve local residents. Laura and David’s took a big picture approach to serving their local community. Read on to learn more — in their own words.
Q: What is your background and what led you to enter into the vended laundry business?
My wife Laura and I entered the laundry business in 2018 when we purchased our first coin laundry (called California Wash at the time). I had spent a good chunk of my career in payments tech (Fintech) and non-profit management and was looking for a real/tangible business to invest in. In tech it can take years to get any traction for a new product or service, and there was something attractive about a proven business model with few, simple variables (pick up quarters, fix machines, hire and train good people). Plus, I’ve had a fascination with laundromats since I was a kid: there’s something magical about a place where customers do most of the work themselves!
Laura had worked more than 13 years in education and was looking for the next thing. To be perfectly honest, she was pretty skeptical at the beginning (you want to do WHAT?!), but the risks seemed low so we forged ahead.
Q: Were there significant challenges involved in updating the laundromat when you bought it in 2018 — and since?
The laundry had great bones but had been neglected by the previous owner. The building itself is quite unique: it’s a former car repair shop. It still has a large garage door — which we open daily to let in fresh air — and large windows and skylights.
At the time we bought the laundromat, most machines were more than 20 years old. They consumed a lot (a lot!) of water and were in need of constant repair. We were able to secure a loan from Dexter Financial Services and retooled the entire place with Dexter Laundry machines.
Over the course of 12 months or so, we repainted the interior and exterior, ripped out all the old Wascomat washers and replaced them with Dexter Express washers. We also replaced most of our old 30-pound dryer stacks with 50-pound stack dryers, to accommodate the larger volume washers. Since our space is on the smaller side (2,000 Square feet), we emphasized larger machines, adding a wall of three 90-pound and four 60-pound Express washers.
Going for larger machines was the best decision we ever made. They are almost constantly turning. Our store may not be the best fit for an individual with only one or two loads of laundry but we provide great value for families.
Wash and Fold Business
A little over a year ago we entered the wash and fold business, doing laundry on behalf of Launderbot, a laundry pickup and delivery service in nearby Alameda. A few months later, in March 2019, we launched our own laundry service, which caught on surprisingly quickly thanks to positive word-of-mouth and a couple articles in the local press. With fast growth came growing pains: we made every possible mistake in the book (misplaced bags, ruined shirts, late deliveries) and learned a lot of valuable lessons in the process. We acquired Launderbot’s operations in December 2019, and today our online business is roughly double the size of our retail business, with no sign of slowing down.
Q: What’s the secret to your success?
We were fortunate to pick up a business that already had substantial foot traffic. Most of our customers live in the surrounding multi-units and come on foot. There are a lot of families in the neighborhood and our strategy from the beginning was to focus on their needs, which is partly why we chose the name Family Laundry and retooled the location with large capacity machines. We’ve managed to increase revenue by roughly 20% since acquiring the business while keeping utilities well below what we were spending prior to the retooling.
Commitment to the Neighborhood
What sets Family Laundry apart from other coin laundries in the area is our commitment to our neighborhood in East Oakland. When Laura and I started this project, we saw an opportunity to run a profitable business the way we thought all companies should be run: with an eye to uplifting our employees and the communities we operate in, and to reducing our impact on the environment. We were introduced early on to the amazing folks at Libraries without Borders, whose experience and contacts were invaluable in helping us get started with community activities.
Today, most of our community development work takes place in a small dedicated room at the front of the laundromat. More than just a space where kids can play, read, or just relax while their parents clean their clothes, it is a popup classroom where adult learners can take free ESL courses twice a week or — coming soon — digital literacy classes.
Staff from the Oakland Public Library (OPL) come once a week to replenish our space with new books and to hold storytime sessions for local kids. We always get a kick out of watching kids get excited when Manny and Anthony from OPL arrive on their mobile library: a custom tandem bike!
Funding for our community activities comes from local foundations thanks to the outreach made by our partner Libraries Without Borders. As we expand, our hope is to replicate this model in other communities across the US.
Q: Why did you choose to retool with Dexter commercial washers and dryers?
We chose Dexter because of the quality of their machines and their legendary durability. Also, there’s almost nothing more beautiful than a row of gleaming chrome-plated Dexter Laundry machines. They just scream professionalism and cleanliness. We went for the Express models to provide our customers more value for their dollar. Even though it can be hard to communicate the benefits of Express machines to customers on paper, anyone who tries them will realize they were saved a good 15 minutes per visit compared to the other coin laundries in the area. They are great for business since they allow us to accommodate more customers per day thanks to a faster throughput. It’s a win-win all around.
Here’s a list of our new Dexter vended equipment:
- (10) Dexter T-350 20 lb express washers
- (6) Dexter T-450 30 lb express washers
- (5) Dexter T-650 40 lb express washers
- (4) Dexter T-950 60 lb express washers
- (3) Dexter T-1450 90 lb express washers
- (10) Dexter T-750 SWD 50 lb Dexter stack washer/dryer
Q: How was your experience working with Western State Design
We consider Western State Design a partner in our business and our account manager, James Cline, a trusted advisor. As newcomers in the industry, we literally had no idea what we were doing at first, and we were able to lean on James’ extensive experience to get our layout and machine mix just right.
Family Laundry – Additional Details
- Address: 2609 Foothill Blvd., Oakland, CA 94601
- Contact: (510) 842-3560
- 2000 square feet
- 10 parking spaces
- Community room
- Free Wi-Fi
- 3 full-time attendants
- On premise store: customers can buy detergents, refreshments, snacks, and coffee.
- Open 7am-10pm, 7 days a week
Western State Design is thrilled to be at least peripherally involved in this effort. We couldn’t agree more with David of Neighborhood Laundry: ‘it’s a win-win scenario’: laundromats provide neighborhood children access to books and help instill a love of reading, while allowing their parents time to do the laundry and socialize with neighbors. What a great way to build strong communities!
To learn more about how Western State Design can help start or grow your laundry business, please contact one of our laundry specialists.