I’m very fortunate that my career with the Coin Laundry Association has enabled me to travel internationally to the trade shows that serve our industry worldwide. Each of these opportunities yield great returns, as I learn more about the business and build relationships with our industry peers globally. Last month brought a definite highlight to my itinerary with a visit to Tokyo, Japan for the 3rd International Coin-Operated Laundry Expo 2018.
The organizers asked me to make a presentation on the state of the vended laundry business in the United States, including a statistical profile, photos of some of the top U.S. laundries and my predictions for the future of the business. I was honored to be given this opportunity and enjoyed sharing best practices exhibited by the leading laundries in our country. As always, one of my favorite aspects of the event was the chance to take questions and speak directly with the Japanese entrepreneurs who are building great laundries across the region. Of course, I was more interested in learning from my hosts and walking the show floor to see the latest innovations in the Japanese market.
There are approximately 20,000 vended laundries in Japan – and, yes, they are mostly very small, unattended locations serving the residents in the immediate block or two nearest the store. I saw several combo washer-dryer units and, in fact, many of the questions I received revolved around dryer use. Culturally, many consumers in Japan are accustomed to line-drying their clothes – a trend on clear display as I toured Tokyo and saw garments dangling from the balconies of thousands of apartments throughout the city.
I also had the opportunity to sit in on an awards presentation, which recognized several outstanding laundries from all parts of Japan. The following day, I headed out to visit one of the award winners in Tokyo, Kissa Laundry. This community meeting place was part coffee shop and lounge and part laundromat – and all focused on offering a clean, comfortable place for residents to visit with one another, do laundry and enjoy their dwell time – sound familiar? I can’t say which aspect of Kissa Laundry I liked better based on my interests – the fully stocked book shelves offering reading material for kids, or the very unusual site of vinyl records for sale in the laundry! They could do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.
I ventured around the block to visit a more conventional laundromat for the area – Aqua Laundry. The facility was small and unattended, but it was bright, clean and well-equipped. Walking up to the machines, I was surprised to hear the washer operating instructions automatically broadcast to me! Seeing the coin-operated machines further enforced the intense interest I heard from show attendees in the new payment systems so popular in the U.S. market.
Among the whirlwind of spending just a couple of days in Tokyo, the main takeaway for me was how similar laundry entrepreneurs are no matter the destination. Despite being so far from my familiar market, the focus on digital marketing, machine maintenance, customer service and striving to differentiate from the competition made me feel right at home.
I truly appreciated the chance to enjoy the incredible hospitality and meet a number of inspirational laundry owners in Tokyo. Furthermore, I look forward to finding new ways to share the global experience of laundromat ownership from all corners of the world. We have much to learn from one another as we broaden our community of interest to more markets on more continents.
Brian Wallace is the president and CEO of the Coin Laundry Association.