Life Before Laundry

By Bob Nieman, CLA Member posted 19 days ago

  
Owners Open Up About Their Professional Backgrounds Prior to Running Their Stores

Just taking a wild guess here – but it’s probably likely that the vast majority of those of you reading this sentence right now never thought you would ever in a million years be in (or considering getting into) the vended laundry business.

Sure, growing up, many of you probably realized early on that you eventually wanted to start and operate your own business. But a laundromat business? Maybe not so much.

In general, the “laundry bug” tends to bite a little later in life, after people have had a chance to try their hand at perhaps higher-profile, “sexier” professions and businesses. As a result, when individuals finally gravitate to the amazing opportunities and lifestyle that the laundry industry can offer, they typically bring with them wider skill sets and more varied backgrounds than can be found in most other industries.

Laundry owners, in fact, may be the most diverse, entrepreneurial group of business operators in the U.S. This month, we rounded up a number of store owners to find out what they did before opening their laundries:

Ross Dodds
Wash on Western
Los Angeles

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: Nearly four years

We purchased our first laundry in December 2014, and five days after getting our keys the store caught fire, due to a blaze that had started in one of the neighboring businesses. So, the next two years found us rebuilding, as well as expanding to a second laundry, resulting in both locations opening on the exact same day, January 1, 2017. Therefore, in reality, I have only been operating laundromats for a little over a year and a half. And we just opened our third location a few months ago.

Before laundry, I had owned an authorized FedEx shipping store and an eBay consignment store, which came from my buying and selling of wholesale/liquidation. Over time, I got away from the retail storefront but continued my wholesale business for another couple of years, before relocating back to Los Angeles. I spun my wheels for the next few years, trying to figure out my next move and began researching laundries.

I tend to run with ideas once I like them, and laundry was no different. The more I researched and visited stores, the more I thought this was a business that was ready for a fresh vision – at least here in Los Angeles. Most of the laundries for sale at the time were older, outdated, unattended, and just looked forgotten.

I started to research the new technology in machines, payments, and store layout/design – and I felt I had a different vision for some of these rundown spaces I was seeing. That’s when I began pursuing actually buying one. My fiancé at the time (now my husband) worked full time, so we were secure with our basic living expenses. That enabled me able to risk my time and my credit to test out this laundry business idea.

Based on my previous experience in my eBay and wholesale business, which was solely online, I have seen the growing trend of more products and services being offered online and on-demand. And we have accomplished all of that with technology.

Why Laundry? Laundry may be a basic, day-to-day requirement, but it is also a task more and more people want to remove from their schedule – and they are able to do that with many of today’s options, including drop-off services, locker services in other buildings, and pickup and delivery through apps. I have implemented all of those services into our laundries, which I believe is a major component of what has made our business so successful.

Nick Ogunmola
Laundry Clinic
Haltom City, Texas

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: Two years

I’m a pediatric gastroenterologist with a busy practice in Fort Worth, Texas. I purchased commercial land several years ago for an investment retail strip center. After doing my due diligence, it became obvious that a great tenant for that strip center would be a laundromat. I did years of research, became a member of the Coin Laundry Association, and followed the discussions on the CLA’s online forum. I also was fortunate to find a great distributor, and the Laundry Clinic was born.

Why Laundry? The laundry business provides me with great flexibility of work hours and enables me to serve community.

Heidle Baskin
Baskin Laundry, LLC
Canton, Texas

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: 18 years

I became a firefighter in 1983 in Irving, Texas. Through the years, I’ve been promoted up the ranks from driver to lieutenant to captain – and I am currently a battalion chief supervising six fire stations. I also was a paramedic for 20 years. However, I plan to retire from the fire service at the end of this year.

Most firefighters hold part-time jobs, and I had been looking for something other than mowing lawns, painting, welding, and so on. By chance, I ran into an old friend who was selling his laundromat to spend more time with his young children; he was an air traffic controller supervisor, and was traveling Monday through Friday and managing the laundromat on the weekends. After spending a couple of Saturdays with him, I thought the laundry business would be a good investment for me. It has been.

We are located in Canton, Texas, about 70 miles east of Dallas. We bought the business in 2000, while it was located in a strip center. There were 28 toploaders, four double-loaders, one triple-loader, and 16 single-pocket dryers. I negotiated a three-year lease with a two-year option, which would increase $150 per month.

However, I soon realized that I wanted to be a long-time owner/operator, so I purchased a lot 200 yards away from the strip center, and we built our own building in 2003. My mortgage was $17 more than the original rent, so it was a great opportunity to create equity. When we moved into the new store, we replaced the dryers with 15 stacks, added six triple-loaders, and retired seven toploaders.

Why Laundry? It was a good fit to help supplement my salary as a firefighter.

Larry Adamski
Muskegon Laundromat
Spring Lake, Mich.

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: 49 years

I bought my first two laundromats in 1969, at the age of 19. Prior to that, I worked in my dad’s laundromats – repairing equipment and learning about plumbing and electrical. That hands-on experience prepared me for the day-to-day challenges of running my own stores.

We are a laundromat family. My dad began the trend in 1966 by buying out a laundromat in Chicago and moving the equipment up to Manistee, Michigan, where he established a new laundry. Soon, he bought a second store in Benzonia, Michigan, and sold it to my brother in 1969. By the 1980s, I owned three laundromats. And, by 2000, my younger sister had accumulated three laundry locations of her own.

Why Laundry? What’s not to like? I’m my own boss. I come and go as I please, and I’m paid pretty well for my efforts. I can think of no other business that is less stressful and more fun than a self-service (no drop-off service), dollar-coin-only, modern laundromat.

Rodger Cochran
Stellar Laundry
Franklin, Tenn.

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: Nine years

I spent much of my career in sales before buying my auto repair shop. Although every business has its own set of problems, the auto industry can be very challenging. Therefore, I was looking for a more passive, less-demanding business.

Today, I still own the shop, and it provides my living requirements. However, my three laundries and my real estate investments are my future income. One day, I will retire from the auto shop.

Before opening my first laundry in 2009, I gathered information through reading and attending seminars on the self-service laundry industry. I purchased my second location in 2011, and my third store opened in 2016.

I have applied much of what I have learned about business to my vended laundries. It requires a team to be successful. My first two of laundries are unattended. For these, I have a cleaning company, service people, marketing, and the normal trades. I receive all the website and customer service calls for these two locations.

However, my larger laundry is fully attended – and my employees take care of cleaning, light repair, customer issues and drop-off laundry.

In any given week, I work less than 10 hours on laundry-related tasks. One of the reasons I can work so little is the fact that I have helpers who go with me weekly to collect.

I often read that to be successful in this business you must work very hard, put in long hours, and repair all of your machines personally. But I doubt that Ray Kroc flipped many burgers at McDonald’s. He developed systems and had others do the daily work.

The laundries are big part of my retirement strategy. I imagine I’ll own laundries for many years to come.

Why Laundry? I wanted less people problems. The auto repair business requires technical skills and tools, and it’s very hard to find technicians today. I wanted a more passive business.

Carmelita Rocourt
Sudz N Dudz
Jay, Okla.

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: Six months

My husband, Ivan, and I were in the U.S. Army. Ivan did 21 years of active duty, and I had three years active and four years in the reserves. Also, I was very involved as a military spouse.

After we decided that we wanted to be in business for ourselves, we began looking at viable options. And we kept returning to the laundry business. As luck would have it, we found a wonderful existing laundry for sale in our small town. The store just needed some TLC. It was perfect for us.

Why Laundry? Living a life of service to others, we wanted to bring that to our local community. We want to serve the people here by giving them the best place to do laundry that we can. We love being a part of Jay and serving those who live here.

Victor Nichols
The Laundry Station, LLC
Bradley, Ill.

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: Four years

In addition to being a laundry owner, I’m also currently a nuclear security officer for Exelon. Before that, I was a private investigator for a company called Executive Security Specialists.

As a PI, I was required to do a lot of investigative work on businesses. As a result, when researching the vended laundry industry, I made sure to dig up as much information about the business as possible. I asked a lot of questions on the Coin Laundry Association’s online forum, and I spoke to a number of laundromat owners.

Why Laundry? I found a vacant laundromat that had been closed down due to fire. Through my extensive research, I knew that the laundry business was a great business to get into with a good return on investment, if run properly. I completely remodeled that store and opened the doors. It wasn’t easy, but I learned so much.

Tammy Sessions
Laundry Depot
Kent, Wash.

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: One year

I’ve been a dump truck driver for 33 years, and my sister, Jody, is a broker. In the past, we both raced motorcycles professionally. After my racing days were over, I also worked for my father in the health and fitness industry.

Jody and I took over the Laundry Depot when friends of ours – who owned the store for 10 years – retired and decided to move out of the area. They offered the business to us before placing it on the market. The laundromat is conveniently located just three minutes from me and five minutes from Jody – and it is right next to a Trader Joe’s grocery store. So our answer was a resounding “yes.”

All six employees that we “inherited” are still with us. Our store manager and our pickup/delivery driver have both been with the business for six years. And four awesome attendants have been with the Depot for more than two years. They work well as a team, and we couldn’t ask for better employees.

Why Laundry? We both felt it was a great business opportunity. Plus, I know how to work well with those from all walks of life, and I treat people how I want to be treated.

Duane King
LMARIES Laundromat
Bowling Green, Ohio

Involved in the Vended Laundry Industry: 16 years

I was self-employed as a computer consultant. In the late 1990s, I worked for several companies to help upgrade various computer systems and make them compliant for the Y2K bug issues. In addition to the Y2K work, I also did office automation for executive assistants. While I enjoyed the work and traveling around the world, the extended time spent away from my family made me look at another profession.

When doing research into the laundry business, there really wasn’t much I could relate from my previous computer consulting experience to the laundromats I had visited throughout the U.S. and even in different countries. However, once I started to dig deeper and began to design my store, I found ways to build a high-tech laundry.

Of course, the technology I put into my store 16 years ago was considered “high-tech” back then – but, today, it is commonplace. Some of the technology incorporated into the new store was a high-definition DVR system with net recording and a webcam. I also believe I was the first 100 percent card-operated store, as my card system is used on all of the washers and dryers, as well as our air hockey game, pool table, vending machines, restroom door, and television remote control.

Originally, when I first opened the store, the vending machines didn’t work with the card system. So, I had to create an interface board to initiate communication between the card readers and the vending machines – thus, making for a 100 percent card-system-controlled laundry.

Why Laundry? My requirements for my new profession 16 years ago were: (1) little-to-no inventory; (2) a cash business, with no accounts receivable; (3) little-to-no payroll; and (4) I can come and go as I please. Very few business models can meet these criteria.
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