In Working Order…

By Art Jaeger, CLA Member posted 06-01-2016 10:19

During their initial investigation of the laundry business, many potential investors worry about the common myth of whether they are “mechanically inclined” enough to join this industry.

The truth of the matter is that they should be much more concerned with whether or not they are business savvy and marketing knowledgeable – not if they are handy enough. The truth in this statement has become apparent over the last decade, which has seen more professional, management-level and decidedly “white collar” individuals – both male and female – join our ranks on a full-time basis and become successful operators.

Of course, with that said, we have a tremendous investment in our equipment, and the revenues of our stores depend on having these machines in operating condition. Therefore, when I started, I decided that, even if I wasn’t going to actually fix a particular problem, I would at least be able to diagnose it and inform my service technician what to look for – thus, saving time and money.

To accomplish this, I attended all of my manufacturers’ service schools, learning the error codes and diagnostics programs, as well as how to swap suspect parts between machines and run demo programs. I also attempted to repair all of the equipment I could, spending many an hour on the phone with tech support while crouched in a bulkhead.

As a laundry owner, you essentially have four levels of store maintenance from which to choose: (1) you can decide to do the work yourself, (2) you can call in a technician (at an hourly rate) when needed, (3) you arrange for regularly scheduled service calls, or (4) you can add a tech to your own staff. These choices enable you to decide just how much work you’ll do, how long you’ll accept an out-of-service unit, and the number of stores you can operate.

What’s more, the key considerations determining your required level of expertise and the number of parts you maintain in inventory include your proximity to competent service technicians and parts suppliers, as well as how long you’re willing to let specific machines remain out of service.

Obviously, if your store is located in a major market, you will have greater access to technicians and parts than owners in rural settings. Also, not all of your equipment is of equal value when considering how long you can accept it being out of service. For example, if you have only two eight-load washers, losing one is significant. Or, if one of your changers goes down, it’s of greater concern than should one of your 20 double-load washers gets tagged out.

Parts you most likely will want to have in inventory are drain and water valves, door locks/switches, door gaskets, hoses, fuses, ignition controls, and both washer and dryer belts. If you own a card-operated store, you’ll also need to carry spare card readers and cables, as well as possibly touch-screen monitors, card dispensers and barcode readers.

There’s also value in maintaining a service log for each individual piece of equipment – including changers, water heaters, vending equipment and value transfer units. Reviewing these logs can highlight common or trending equipment issues; help you decide what parts to keep in inventory; and even whether a specific series of machines may possess a manufacturing defect requiring a conversation with your distributor or manufacturer.

Because the number of stores I own has grown, I no longer personally perform the amount of maintenance I used to (and no, growing older has nothing to do with this decision). I now have an arrangement with a highly competent service technician to visit each store weekly. However, I’m diligent about notifying him the equipment type, unit number and problem for each machine that’s down, prior to his store visits. If I walk into a laundry before the weekend and see a piece of equipment down, particularly a large washer, I’ll still attempt a repair before the weekend onslaught.

Repair and maintenance is clearly a key aspect to the profitable running of your store. Keeping your equipment working enhances revenue potential, as well as your brand. Nothing turns off a customer quicker than seeing out-of-order tags all over a laundromat.

Fortunately, a consistent, well-planned repair and maintenance policy will prevent this – and will result in a lower overall cost for this crucial budget line item.

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