Decorated War Hero Reinvents Himself as a Successful Multi-Laundry Owner
It takes more than one unscrupulous shopping mall owner to rattle Bill Pederson.
With more than 100 combat missions flown as a U.S. Air Force flight medic, there’s not much that civilian life – or the self-service laundry business – can throw at Pederson that would derail him from his purpose.
So, when Pederson’s landlord decided against having a laundry in his shopping center, the Air Force master sergeant simply doubled down – building an even larger store in the same general area.
“I was forced to close up my first laundry in Tamarac, Fla., because the owner of the plaza, who bought the center out of foreclosure, no longer wanted a laundromat in there,” Pederson said. “His vision didn’t include that type of business, and he didn’t want to honor my lease. Eventually, I was forced to close that store.
“However, I had built such a good customer base I knew that, if I opened another laundry, it would do well. So, I stayed in the same geographical area and just found an even larger location.”
That larger location became Laundry Warehouse, a 5,400-square-foot full-service laundry in nearby Lauderhill, Fla., which Pederson built from the ground up.
The newly opened Laundry Warehouse is one of two laundromats Pederson currently operates. He also owns Liberty Laundry, a 1,800-square-foot store in Lauderdale Lakes. What’s more, he’s currently in negotiations for a third store, an existing location in Pompano Beach.
Long before he began building his vended laundry chain, Pederson’s path in life seemed clear.
“My family has a long tradition of being in the military,” explained Pederson, who enlisted in 1988 at the age of 20. “I knew from an early age that I would join the military. I chose the Air Force because I was working for the fire department at the time, and someone else in my department was serving in the Air Force Reserve and told me about his job as a flight medic. I was already an EMT at the fire department, so I thought that would be an easy transition.
“Being a flight medic puts you into different scenarios than a civilian EMT would face, but I looked forward to the challenge, and I enjoyed my time in the service.”
During his military career, Pederson served nine tours to duty in places such as Pakistan, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq – with Desert Storm as his very first deployment.
“My main job was to care for and fly wounded soldiers to a higher care facility,” he said. “Keeping them alive during the flight was our first priority. I had the honor of caring for the real heroes of this nation.
“I never wanted to go to war,” he continued. “Who does? Our nation was and still is at war. I just wanted to be there to do my share and be part of something greater than myself. We were always on the move. Although we would be based in one location, we often flew missions in and out of many locations; one mission could take us to multiple countries.”
In 2005, life changed for Bill Pederson.
His base in Balad, Iraq, came under a heavy mortar attack, with one of the blasts landing directly behind Pederson, as he and his team were preparing for a mission.
“The blast wave hit me so hard that it knocked me to the ground and caused a loss of vision, which I only came to notice a couple of days later,” he noted. “At the time of the blast, I didn’t feel as if I was even injured.”
Although the blast damaged Pederson’s peripheral vision on the right side, he still considers himself lucky.
“I lost part of my eyesight, but I consider myself pretty fortunate, compared to those I carried out of there,” he said. “I’m walking and talking. I can still see. And I still have all of my extremities. I would have to say that blast was a wakeup call for me. As close as I came to my demise, it was probably at that point I realized I’m not as invincible as I had thought.”
Pederson actually deployed twice after that attack in Iraq, despite his loss of vision. However, once the Air Force discovered his condition, Pederson’s flying days were over.
“From that point on, they clip you of your wings and you can function only on the ground,” he said. “Basically, they take away your ability to participate. That’s where I’m at now. I’m waiting for the medical evaluation board to medically retire me.”
Pederson returned home to his native Ft. Lauderdale in January 2009. And, like thousands of soldiers returning home, he readily admits to continuing to struggle with the adjustment to civilian life, especially after so many deployments.
“Coming back from a deployment and trying to readjust to a calm environment after one of chaos can be difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. Deploying felt more comfortable to me. I felt like I belonged. The camaraderie you build in a war-time situation is unlike anything else. Your life depends on those around you.”
However, Pederson has stepped up to this challenge and established a new life for himself, his wife, Elena, and their daughter, Evelina.
“When I was told that the injury ended my military career, I did some soul searching,” he explained. “I didn’t want to go back to working in emergency medical services and had previously owned a full-service vending company while stationed in the state of Washington during the 1990s. Owning and operating a business is something I really enjoyed, so after looking into several businesses over a two-year period, I decided the coin laundry industry was for me.”
Pederson said he liked the fact that the laundry business was fairly recession-resistant.
“At the end of the day, people have to wash their clothes,” he noted. “That’s why you see laundromats that have been around for 40 years, whereas businesses like restaurants are often the first to go out. A laundry business is a requirement – it’s not a ‘nice to do’ thing.”
With Liberty Laundry open, but his first store in Tamarac forced to close down as of February 2015, Pederson began the buildout of Laundry Warehouse in January 2016. The eight-month process cost just over $1.2 million and was not without its headaches.
“It ended up like most buildouts,” said Pederson, who partnered with Argentine businessman Sergio Pretini on the Laundry Warehouse project. “It cost more than we anticipated and took longer than we anticipated. Always budget for at least 20 percent to 30 percent more than what you think it will cost – and expect it. Unforeseen issues will pop up. There are always changes and revisions, and every little change will cost you a chunk of money. You have to push forward and not let those issues stop you.”
In the end, it was all worth it, when Pederson opened the doors to his gleaming new mega-store, which boasts more than 120 machines. And the former flight medic has been quick to fall back on his Air Force training now that he’s a laundry owner.
“In the military, everything has its place and purpose,” he said. “I take that and apply it to the laundry business. I like organization. I like the place to be clean and presentable.
“As far as supervising others, obviously you get a lot of experience doing that in the military, but it’s a different type of supervision. You can’t treat employees as if they’re in the military. You have to show them the respect they deserve as an employee. It’s more of a team effort.”
Pederson’s current team features two full-time laundry attendants and two part-time staffers. However, he sees that number of employees growing in the future.
“I believe that in the next five years, my partners and I will have played a crucial role in expanding the coin laundry industry,” he predicted. “I noticed just how bad the industry’s reputation was before I purchased my first laundromat in 2013. As of now, I can’t really say how many laundromats we will eventually own, but it is my goal to increase the number of laundromats I own one at a time, so I can change the look of the industry one laundry at a time.”