As a newcomer to the Laundromat Business, owner Denise Morton started out doing just about everything right; she did her homework before taking the plunge, spent months patiently searching for the right location (and situation!), negotiated a strong long-term lease, and secured financing for capital improvements.
Along the way, she found a savvy, specialized real estate broker to steer her search. Shortly after closing on her new store, she forged a partnership with a trustworthy and knowledgeable commercial laundry distributor representative, Michael Ambrose from Western State Design. Ambrose provided crucial support for key decision-making.
Morton started her new venture with some other advantages that helped her get off to a good start. She had a strong business background with a talent for marketing and promotion. In addition, she had a trusted coterie of veteran laundry-industry acquaintances from whom she could readily seek advice.
Thus prepared, and with great optimism, she closed on her 3,200 square foot Culver City, CA laundry business, The Laundry Room, in January of 2020 and proceeded to execute her carefully-thought-out renovation and marketing plans. These plans included upgrading her laundromat in stages, so she could keep the store open for business thus retaining her customer base and maintaining cash flow.
With all these factors working in her favor, what could go wrong?
COVID-19 Business Disruption
COVID-19 hit the Los Angeles area with a vengeance at the end of February, forcing the Governor to declare a state-of-emergency on March 4. A mandatory stay-at-home order was issued on March 19th. Fortunately, laundromats were deemed essential businesses, so Morton was allowed to keep her doors open. But, Covid-19 definitely threw a wrench into her plans. She grew dismayed as business tailed off, and she paused construction for a while. As the virus-related business disruption continued for months on end, she was tempted, at times, to hand the keys over to her landlord and simply walk away.
Thankfully, Morton stuck it out, with her landlord’s understanding and support. Now, around the one-year anniversary of acquiring her new business, she’s finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. The renovation and retooling is complete (for now). Her laundromat looks fantastic and business is growing as new customers take notice. In addition to being impressed by the beautiful store and stellar customer service, local customers are pleased to support a minority- and woman-owned neighborhood business.
The Laundry Room is located in a highly visible corner in busy, densely populated Culver City, CA. adjacent to other popular retail destinations. The store boasts 24 dedicated parking spaces directly in front of the entrance, so it’s super convenient for customers driving to/from work and running errands.
The laundromat space feels welcoming and safe, both inside and out. The exterior facade looks new with appealing and distinctive signage, reflecting Morton’s talent for branding. The interior is open and spacious thanks to huge front picture windows. The walls are freshly painted in soothing colors and the floors are smooth and clean.
As a stroke of brilliance on Morton’s part, when customers enter the store (or even look through the big front window as they pass by), they face a row of brand new, gleaming high capacity Dexter commercial washers – which makes a fantastic first impression.
Morton also substantially renovated the bathroom, making it ADA-compliant as well as turning it into an overall pleasant space.
Dexter Commercial Laundry Equipment
Speaking of Dexter washers, early on, Morton decided upon Dexter Laundry equipment, given its legendary durability and glowing reviews she heard from everyone – from fellow laundromat owners to the technicians she happened to meet in her travels. She commonly heard Dexter machines referred to as “reliable workhorses.”
The new washers and dryers (Phase 1) were installed in October, 10 months or so after she bought the business, and included the following:
- (12) Dexter T-400 30 lb. Washers
- (9) Dexter T-600 40 lb. Washers
- (4) Dexter T-900 60 lb. Washers
- (10) 50×2 Stack Reversing Dryers
- (6) 30×2 Stack Dryers
High Praise for Western State Design
Morton worked closely with Michael Ambrose at WSD to decide upon this mix of washers and dryers, optimized for her particular space. Ambrose has a wealth of knowledge about laundromat layout, as well as all other aspects of operating a laundromat business, gained from many years of experience. Working with an expert like Ambrose can save new investors a lot of time, money and headaches going down the wrong path.
Incidentally, Morton has only high praise for Michael Ambrose. She said, “he truly guided me along my new laundromat business journey with his expertise and patience. He didn’t act at all like a typical salesperson; he was more like an advisor/mentor/partner. He introduced me to other successful entrepreneurs in the LA area commercial laundry business, which has been an invaluable resource.”
Determined to provide top-notch customer service and be a ‘one-stop-shop’, Morton offers a plethora of amenities in her new store:
- Card or Coin laundry machine operation
- Change Machine
- Brand new vending machines – offering a choice of popular laundry products
- Big screen TV’s featuring popular movie streaming channels and Atmosphere TV
- Free Wi-Fi
- USB charging stations
- Full service website (publicizing special promotions from time-to-time)
- And more (Morton is even contemplating installing a Peloton® Bike for clients to rent to work out on while waiting for their laundry to finish)
The Laundry Room is partially attended (full-time on weekends) and offers drop-off Wash & Fold service. Morton had initially planned to introduce this feature down the road, but when the pandemic hit, she realized that it was a crucial service for customers who shunned public contact.
Always the entrepreneur, in the second half of this year, Morton plans to add pickup and delivery service. She also intends to pursue commercial laundry business, including hair/nail salons; gyms and fitness facilities; local Airbnb’s; and boutique hotels. Morton is fortunate in that she ‘inherited’ an incredible longtime employee (aka ‘Clothing Care Associate’), Alejandra, who not only understands the business, but knows their customers and their needs. Alejandra will continue to be an important part of the business’ growth.
Additional New Business Challenges
Every new small business owner faces unforeseen challenges, but this is particularly true for laundromats. Myriad issues arise related to municipal regulations, customer service, employees, security, and most obviously, mechanical breakdowns. Morton experienced some of these problems, right off the bat:
- The laundromat’s hot water heater stopped working the day AFTER Morton took ownership. Rather than taking the less expensive ‘band-aid’ repair approach which might have extended the life of her old water heater for a few more months, Morton chose a long-term solution. Acknowledging the obvious – that a dependable supply of hot water was integral to her business – she bit the bullet and invested in a state-of-the-art system consisting of four tankless water heaters.
- While there were many challenges directly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, the coin shortage was among the most headache-inducing. Morton described it as a “nightmare.” As her business picked up over time, she found herself spending an inordinate amount of time managing quarters. She couldn’t go more than four to five days without having to replenish her change machine instead of her usual six to seven.
Things to Do Differently Next Time
- For the renovation, Morton assumed the role of general contractor, which, in retrospect she says was a mistake. She says the next time around, she would hire a contractor who specializes in laundromats. She has learned to leave some things to the experts.
- Don’t redo the floors before installing new machines.
- If at all possible, don’t do major renovation while remaining open to the public.
More About this Laundromat Owner
Like many new laundromat investors, Morton entered the industry from a different field. She has had a successful career in residential property management and continues to manage one apartment building while she runs the laundromat.
She had spent very little time in Culver City before purchasing The Laundry Room. She and her two boys live in Long Beach, 30 miles away.
Before she found the Culver City store, Morton came really close to closing on another laundromat. But, some aspects of that deal did not feel right to her, so she did one of the most difficult things an emotionally invested potential property buyer could do – she walked away. She’s so happy she did. Later, when she found the Culver City store, it seemed like it was meant to be. Upon meeting the previous owner, Chrys, they immediately connected. In spite of having several other offers on the table, Chrys chose her, and remained very supportive as Morton took over.
Morton is determined to continue learning as much as she can about her new business industry. In addition to surrounding herself with experts in the field, she has joined the local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce.
Follow Morton’s journey virtually via her delightful blog, LaundryBossMom.com.
Given her many talents and determination, her early successes in spite of a very challenging business environment, we suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot of great things about Denise Morton in the LA area commercial laundry industry. We wish this Chief Laundry Officer or “CLO” – her words – the best of luck. Stay tuned to read about Phase 2 of her re-tooling project, coming up soon.
The Laundry Room 4400 S. Slauson Ave. Culver City, CA 90230 424-258-3420 laundryroomculvercity.com
To learn how Western State Design’s Laundry Specialists can work with you to open or upgrade your vended or commercial laundry business, please contact us today.