WDF 101: Back to Basics

By Jeff Gardner, CLA Member posted 03-27-2018 16:02

Here’s What to Consider Before Launching Your Wash-Dry-Fold Service

[This is the first in a series of columns on running a successful wash-dry-fold business.]

I’ve been receiving a lot of phone calls lately from new laundry operators just getting into the industry – many with questions about offering a wash-dry-fold service. As a result, I thought now would be a perfect time to revisit this segment of the business and dust off some of the main principles of getting started and running a profitable wash-dry-fold operation.

There are two ways to approach a wash-dry-fold service. The first way is as a fully attended laundry, and the second is as an unattended, partially attended or wanting-to-be-more-attended laundry.

With a fully attended store, the path toward getting into the wash-dry-fold business is simple and straightforward. Just put up a sign and open your doors to this type of business – making sure, of course, that your staff is trained in processing laundry and that you have ample space dedicated to these accounts; updating your website to reflect this additional service; and perhaps even running some Google ads. Basically, market your new offering online and in your store.

No doubt, for the unattended store owner, it’s going to be tougher to start a wash-dry-fold business with a traditional “residential laundry” model. Therefore, if you’re unattended, the first step should be finding a few light-duty commercial accounts. Unlike with traditional residential wash-dry-fold laundry, you can count commercial accounts to be there every week – you can plan your labor around them and grow your full-service business that way.

With adding a full-service product, you’re either going to need to go out and sell it to commercial customers, or wait for it to grow based on your quality and marketplace factors.

It’s important to understand that residential wash-dry-fold isn’t a service that people need; it’s one that they want. So, you’re going to build that business based on being available with a quality service when a customer has a desire for it. By contrast, a commercial laundry account is something people need, so it’s something you can actively sell to them.

In other words, wash-dry-fold is a product for those who either greatly value their time or simply don’t have enough of it to do their own laundry. Looking at it from this point of view may help you to best market your new service.

The next step to starting a thriving wash-dry-fold business is developing some clear-cut standards of what to do and how to do it.

For instance, you need to come up with a pricing schedule. Nationally, the average price per pound for wash-dry-fold laundry is more than $1, with some operators in certain markets getting as much as $2 per pound.

Clearly, your costs will factor into what you charge. I recommend keeping your wash-dry-fold costs in the 30 percent to 35 percent range. And, yes, that figure does include labor, which is something many laundry owners fail to consider – especially when they’re fully attended and using employees who are already on the payroll.

Unattended operators most likely will be more conscientious of labor costs as they relate to the wash-dry-fold service, simply because their payrolls will increase as the need to have more people work more hours to process wash-dry-fold loads increases. However, fully attended store owners typically won’t think of it like that until they get to the point where they need to hire a second or third employee to complete all of the wash-dry-fold orders.

Another key factor is the need to have definitive systems in place. Let’s say you have a system where you take in wash-dry-fold orders all day, and then the next morning your attendant gets it all done during the early part of the day, when your store isn’t as busy. This way, your evening attendants aren’t bothered with wash-dry-fold orders; they’re focused on cleaning and taking care of your self-service customers.

That seems like a sensible system. However, to make it work, you have to develop a way to track those various wash-dry-fold orders. Whose clothes are in which machine? What belongs to whom? Perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll face when doing wash-dry-fold laundry is ensuring that you don’t mix up customers’ orders or misplace their garments.

There are a couple of different ways to keep track of your wash-dry-fold orders. The first method is to invest in a product called Color Catchers, which enables you to wash an entire load in cold or lukewarm water. Since you’re not separating lights and darks, you’ve lessened the chance of accidently mixing up different customers’ garments or misplacing them. It’s also a good way to save a little bit on utility costs because you’re combining those loads.

With that said, most laundry operators separate lights and darks, and wash them in warm to cold water. Personally, at my laundry, we use hot water for whites only, because hot water presents too much of a risk of bleeding colors from one garment to another.

When just getting started with wash-dry-fold, a good method for tracking your orders throughout the process is by using a simple three-part tag, which you can purchase from most supply companies. These tags typically feature a white, a yellow and a pink sheet. You can write down the customer’s name, phone number, the time and date he or she wants the order back, and when the order came in. Traditionally, we’ve put the white slip on the order when finished. We give the customer the pink slip as a claim check. And we use the yellow slip while processing the order.

We would write down the washers and the dryers, and have the yellow slip follow the order – so we can keep track of what washer and dryer the order is in, and we can always refer to that slip when we assemble the finished order. Then, we would attach the white slip to the final product.

As your wash-dry-fold service grows, I strongly suggest upgrading to a point-of-sale system. Once you’ve advanced to this stage, many of today’s POS systems offer printable wash-dry-fold tracking slips, or they will allow you to print multiple receipts so that you can actually place one receipt on each machine, and those receipts can transfer to the dryers – that way you know exactly what’s in each machine because the receipt for a particular order is on the machine. Again, a POS system is the best method, but while you’re still growing your full-service operation, a basic, handwritten three-part slip system will work just fine.

Once you’ve washed and dried the garments, it’s time to fold them. And you need to decide exactly how you want your staff to fold your customers’ clothes. Consistency counts. And we’ll discuss this in detail in my next column.