Looking Back on the Industry’s Trade Show and Convention
For first-time attendees, the sheer size and scope of the Clean Show can be a lot to take in.
“When I first walked in, it was a bit overwhelming,” described Alabama laundry owner Ken Barrett, of this year’s event, held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. “I spent the first afternoon just walking the trade show and talking with an old friend in the business. However, the next day was more focused. After spending some time in the Coin Laundry Association seminars – all of which provided great, actionable information – it was time to hit the floor.
“I had a couple of missions. The first was to see and discuss as much as I could that related to my current and future stores. And the second task included a list of specific questions I had about the equipment I have in my three stores. But the best part of the show was meeting the other owners who I have read in PlanetLaundry or traded information with at the CLA online forums, as well as getting to know the CLA staff.”
Michael Lair of Harvey Washbangers in College Station, Texas, had a similar deer-in-the-headlights reaction initially.
“This was our first time at the Clean Show, and we were amazed at how much we got out of it,” Lair said. “Being a small laundromat with unique circumstances, we weren’t really sure how much would be applicable to our specific business model.
“The first thing we were impressed by was the size and scope of the show – having never been to a laundry trade show, we had no idea what we were in for. We felt like kids in Willy Wonka’s Laundry Factory, looking at some of those enormous machines. Once we got past the feeling of being overwhelmed, we found so many valuable solutions and tips for our business.”
In fact, just two days into the four-day Clean 2015 – held April 16-19 – the industry’s biennial event had already surpassed the attendance figure of the 2013 show in New Orleans by approximately 5 percent. And, by the final day of the event, the number of attendees swelled to more than 11,000. Additionally, the Atlanta show’s net square footage of 189,300 square feet was roughly 2 percent ahead of the show two years ago.
“We’ve had a very positive response to this year’s show,” said Clean Show Committee Chair Brian Wallace, who serves as president and CEO of the Coin Laundry Association. “The exhibitors were busy, and the educational seminars were packed and extremely informative all four days. Store owners who came to Atlanta had to be thrilled; this year’s show had everything they needed to enhance their laundry businesses.”
Due to logistical reasons, Atlanta had not hosted the Clean Show since 1987. However, thanks to the strong industry turnout this year, it definitely won’t be another 28 years before laundry owners return to the Big Peach for a Clean Show.
Wallace explained that the Clean Show Committee had set attendance and square footage “performance targets” for the 2015 event – and those benchmarks were quickly hit and surpassed. Thus, a return trip to Atlanta is inevitable. In fact, the show tentatively will be back in the historic southern city from June 10-13, 2021. (However, before that, 2017 will mark the show’s return to Las Vegas, from June 26-29. And Clean 2019 will be held June 20-23 in New Orleans.)
“I’ve attended the Clean Show since 2003 and can honestly say that, without question, it was the best one to date,” noted CLA Chairman Craig Kirchner, of Dexter Laundry. “Things went smooth from the very beginning – from setup to teardown, everything was flawless.
“The show traffic far exceeded our expectations. The attendees were able to experience a variety of events, including the opportunity to network with their peers and manufacturers. They had the ability to attend a variety of educational seminars to learn about industry topics and current trends. And they had the opportunity to meet with experts from the manufacturers to learn about new products, technologies and innovations – all in one venue.
“The general attitude from the attendees was very positive. I think people left Atlanta with a new perspective and excited about what the future holds for the coin/vended laundry business.”
Although Clean 2015 reverted back to its traditional four-day format, after experimenting with a three-day show in New Orleans in 2013, this year’s event carried over many of the popular features introduced two years ago – including educational sessions located within the actual exhibition hall, a Clean Show mobile app and a strong social media presence with live Twitter feeds from the show.
On the trade show floor, the interest sparked in alternative payment options and POS systems at Clean 2013 only intensified this year – with a number of these products on display. As always, the major manufacturers brought a vast array of their biggest and best to Atlanta, focusing heavily on energy efficiency.
“As a startup looking to take those next crucial steps to grow our business, we zeroed in on laundry card systems, laundry wrapping machines, POS systems, packaging, bags and so on,” said Patricia Cunningham of Lafayette Laundry in Detroit. “Everything was there for us to peruse, test, visit, engage in and gain valuable, hands-on knowledge. We met many wonderful people who were genuinely pleased to meet us. Our takeaway: we were happy, delighted and excited to have experienced this show.”
Education has always played a huge role at the Clean Show. And the 2015 event was no exception, with the CLA offering more than eight hours of laundry-specific sessions.
“The seminars were great,” Lair noted. “It was reassuring for us to hear about other owners doing what has worked well in our store. We also learned a tremendous amount that we had never thought of and that we can hardly wait to put into practice. All in all, we got some great ideas, made some great connections, and are excited to take it all and push our business to the next level.”
Coin Laundry Association President and CEO Brian Wallace welcomed nearly 400 attendees to the organization’s first educational seminar of Clean 2015, which was dubbed “Flip My Laundry.” The session took an in-depth look at three separate laundry renovation projects.
“When I look at the trends since the last Clean Show in 2013, one of the more prominent trends I’ve noted is remodeling,” Wallace said. “Honestly, there are a lot of lousy laundries out there that are in good locations.”
Among the owners who shared their retooling stories (through video presentations, followed by brief Q&A sessions) were: T.J. and Diane Kardas, Soap Opera Laundromat, Downers Grove, Ill.; Daniel Sofranko, Perfect Wash Express Laundry Center, Huntington Beach, Calif.; and William Robinson and Chris McCartha, Forest Park Laundry, Forest Park, Ga.
T.J. Kardas discussed his renovation of a very “tired” existing Illinois laundry. “It was a total remodel,” Kardas explained. “We gutted it to the four walls.”
The four-month, $800,000 project was Kardas’ third such venture, which helped smooth out the process.
“I learned from the others,” he explained. “I had created a list of everything I needed to do, because I want to make all of the laundries uniform. This made the current project rather easy.”
The 24-hour, card-operated store admittedly is not in a “classic” laundromat location, according to Kardas. However, he added that a solid 20-year lease, along with a “gut feel” led him to make the investment.
The second remodeling project profiled was Sofranko’s California store – a 40-year-old laundry loaded with toploaders and the original dryers.
“When I purchased it, more people were coming in to use the change machines than the washing machines,” Sofranko joked. “We saw a need for a better laundry; the community deserved better than this.”
Sofranko’s first laundry – and first business venture, for that matter – wasn’t quite a plug-and-play proposition. Nothing was up to code, and the store’s older equipment meant that utility costs represented from 30 percent to 40 percent of the business’ gross revenue.
“I picked out the worst store in the city,” Sofranko said.
He replaced everything that was underground, placing all of the upgraded utilities overhead. And his upgraded washers and dryers have dropped his utility costs to less than 10 percent of sales, once wash-dry-fold revenue is factored in.
The store broke even after its first six months, and Sofranko hopes to replicate his business model in beach towns up and down the California coast.
The final retooling profile of the morning session was Forest Park Laundry, which was a work in progress and still 10 days from completion.
“It was in the original condition,” laughed co-owner Chris McCartha.
When completed, the 24-hour store will boast 30 percent more capacity and will be the only laundry in its market that accepts debit and credit cards.
With a 15-year lease at just $6 per square foot, both owners were quick to praise their landlord for helping to make their renovation possible.
“We have a great landlord,” McCartha said. “He wants to see us succeed.”
The first day of Clean 2015 wrapped up with a standing-room-only presentation by Brian Henderson, who serves as operations manager for Liberty Laundries, his family’s three-store chain based in Tulsa, Okla.
This packed educational session was held in the exhibition hall, giving laundry owners the opportunity to attend without having to stray too far from the trade show floor.
And the topic was one that is on many laundry owners’ minds these days – technology… namely, how to use today’s tech to streamline laundromat operations.
Having joined the family business in 2010, just as it went from one store to two (and would soon grow to a third location), Henderson was forced to come up with more effective ways to keep tabs on Liberty’s growing team of staff members, which now stands at 25.
“Everyone is looking to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of their team members,” Henderson said. “You have to manage those ‘pain points,’ and develop systems to cope with those growing pains.”
Among the four key technologies that Henderson outlined in his session were: QuickBooks Online; Dropbox, an automatic file backup and sharing system; Google tools, including Gmail, Calendar and YouTube; and WordPress, which is a free website building platform.
As examples, Henderson detailed how his company controls workflow by handling time-off requests through a private WordPress site, as well as how his staff members’ work schedules are saved to Dropbox.
“Right here on stage, I could handle work issues and manage my team from back home,” he explained.
What about employees who aren’t very techie?
Henderson said that he looks for people with some internet familiarity during the hiring process. However, he admitted that Liberty does employ some valued staffers who are allowed to handle their work schedules, etc. with old-fashioned pen and paper.
In closing, Henderson promised to create a few YouTube videos to further elaborate on the key points made during his session.
The CLA kicked off Day Two of Clean 2015 with a couple of educational sessions covering topics critical to the vast majority of today’s self-service laundry owners, if not all small-business operators – (1) leveraging the many business tools Google now offers and (2) maximizing employee performance.
Marketing consultant Jamie Sewell led off the morning’s packed session at the Georgia World Congress Center with “All Things Google: Tips and Secrets to Your Best Marketing Resource.”
“I want to get you thinking about how you approach online marketing,” Sewell said. “Your store is being marketed by its very existence, just by being there.
“And who you are online is as important as who you are in person.”
The key to successfully promoting your store online, according to Sewell, is getting familiar with at least some of the 181 Google tools currently being provided to small-business owners, especially seeing as four out of five consumers now use search engines to find local business information.
According to Sewell, the first order of business for laundry owners is to be sure they are listed on Google My Business (formerly Google Places). And some of the key components to a successful listing include store photos, your business hours, phone number, directions to your laundry, customer reviews and strong web search keywords.
Beyond Google My Business, Sewell also detailed the benefits of leveraging such helpful tools as AdWords Express, an online advertising tool for smaller and local businesses; Google Alerts, which will email you with online search results relevant to your business; and Google Analytics, which provides detailed statistics about your company’s website traffic.
The morning’s second session – “Maximum Performance:
Getting the Most from Your Laundry Attendants – was presented by Brian Brunckhorst, a multi-store owner based in northern California.
Referring to a recent Coin Laundry Association survey, Brunckhorst pointed out that the average self-service laundry has three employees, adding that roughly 85 percent of stores are either fully or partially attended.
The benefits of running an attended store, he noted, are rather obvious – attendees help customers, add an extra layer of security, clean the facility, generate over-the-counter sales, process wash-dry-fold orders and can attract more business overall.
Of course, there also are challenges to having employees. According to Brunckhorst, some of those obstacles are: managing relatively low-skilled workers, trying to hire the “right” people, training, payroll management and, certainly, cost. As far as cost is concerned, Brunckhorst suggested that a laundry’s staffing expense range should be somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent of its gross income.
Does your store need to be attended?
Brunckhorst said a store with income less than $10,000 per month doesn’t really need to be attended and probably can’t afford an attendant. Once a laundry jumps up to the $10,000 to $20,000 a month range, a partially attended situation is in order, he explained. And, if you’re lucky enough to be pulling in more than $20,000 a month, your store needs to be fully attended.
For operators who have (or are planning to hire) attendants, Brunckhorst offered up four keys to creating a successful staff – (1) creating clearly defined job goals; (2) providing resources, such as an employee handbook and a duties checklist; (3) training; and (4) empowering your employees.
“Your people are your business,” Brunckhorst said. “The fate of your business often rests with your lowest-paid workers. Your attendants can be your greatest asset or your worst nightmare.”
With more and more self-service laundry owners looking to grow their businesses through the addition of wash-dry-fold services and commercial accounts work, the Coin Laundry Association – on the third day of the Atlanta trade show – dedicated the entire morning’s education to these two segments of the industry.
This first session focused specifically on wash-dry-fold packaging and presentation of the final product. This workshop was led by Minnesota laundry owner Jeff Gardner, who was accompanied by Brian Henderson of Liberty Laundry, Tulsa, Okla., and Rita Foley of Regency Cleaners, Durham, N.C.
Due to the highly visual nature of the topic, this presentation featured live folding and packaging demonstrations, which were captured via overhead camera and projected onto the meeting room’s two large video screens. As a result, attendees were able to view the exact folding, packaging and labeling tips and techniques that each of the three speakers were discussing.
Beyond each presenter’s own personal strategies for handling wash-dry-fold orders, all three strongly concurred on the need for consistency and uniformity when processing drop-off laundry orders.
Gardner, who also runs a thriving commercial accounts business from his St. Paul-based laundry, was the sole presenter for the second hour of education on Saturday morning – a session outlining ways to land commercial business.
While discussing the market opportunities, Gardner suggested laundry operators take a “niche approach” to building their commercial accounts business.
“The sweet spot for laundromat owners are those accounts that are too small for the big commercial laundries to consider, and not large enough to have their own laundry facilities on site,” Gardner explained.
Some common commercial accounts targets for self-service laundries include catering companies, small hotels, spas and medical offices, according to Gardner.
However, before calling on any of these businesses, Gardner advised the laundry owners in attendance to know their price structure.
“First, you need to know how much commercial laundry your staff can produce,” he said, adding that his employees can process 50 pounds per hour, versus 33 pounds of residential wash-dry-fold laundry.
In addition, it’s important to break down all of your potential productions costs – washing, drying, labor, chemicals, driver expenses, vehicle expenses, etc. With all of this information, you then can determine your pricing.
Next, Gardner moved on to the selling technique, stressing the importance of understanding the specific marketplace and the potential customer.
“What kind of laundry will you be doing?” he asked. “What are their laundry challenges? What are they currently paying?”
To more clearly drive home the basics of a typical cold call with a potential commercial account, Gardner welcomed Coin Laundry Association President and CEO Brian Wallace to the stage for a quick role play, with Wallace in the part of a spa owner in need of laundry service.
Needless to say, Gardner closed the “deal,” and – with the detailed information provided at both of this morning’s Clean Show sessions – attendees left better armed to boost their own businesses’ bottom lines as well.
Of course, in addition to veteran laundry owners looking to stay one step ahead with regard to the latest trends and technology, the Clean Show has always served as a starting point for potential investors doing their due diligence.
However, as the economy improves and with a good number of under-performing laundromats available in strong markets, the number of corporate dropouts and other entrepreneurs eyeing the self-service laundry industry as a solid investment opportunity has increased.
To accommodate this growing trend, the CLA’s fourth day of education at Clean 2015 was all about the basics – featuring “Top 10 Secrets Potential Laundry Owners Should Know,” an hour-long session presented by CLA Chief Operating Officer (and a former store owner himself) Michael Sokolowski.
Sokolowski kicked off the morning’s presentation with a quick snapshot of the approximately $5 billion per year industry, offering a number of reasons potential investors would want to consider entering the business, from recession resistance and a strong average return on investment to schedule flexibility.
“There is tons of flexibility in your schedule,” he explained. “That’s why the laundry business is great for entrepreneurs. But you can’t get into this business expecting to be an absentee owner; you can’t neglect it.”
Sokolowski also presented the flip side of the argument for getting into the business – offering the large capital investment required, rising operating costs and strong competition in many markets as reasons potential investors should do their homework first.
“There is definitely a scarcity of locations,” he admitted. “There are not a lot of undiscovered locations.”
This exhaustive session also covered the pros and cons of building a new retail, self-service laundry, versus purchasing an existing store. Essentially, Sokolowski noted, the final decision comes down to two main factors: the availability of stores in your desired market and your financial picture.
The discussion also touched on energy-efficiency questions, maintenance and repair considerations, and the due diligence required for the selection of a quality laundry site.
“If the seller doesn’t want to negotiate, be prepared to walk away from the deal,” Sokolowski added.
He also included a number of best practices for those looking at getting into the business. Among the top suggestions were: being the price leader in the marketplace, maintaining an energy-efficient store, marketing and advertising the business, paying employees well and focusing on preventive maintenance.
So, what’s the No. 1 “secret” potential laundry owners should know?
It’s all about location, location, location.
“When you find the right location, you can make a profit,” Sokolowski said. “Take your time and use the resources available to you. This is the greatest business to be in when you’re doing well.”
The association began the morning’s laundry business education with a 60-minute panel discussion on the hot topic of acquisition financing, moderated by Sokolowski. The panelists included Carol Dang, Elite Business Systems; David Nolan, Firestone Financial; Matt Westphal, Alliance Finance; and Jennifer Whitney, Eastern Funding.
“In general, the climate for acquisition financing is exciting,” Whitney said. “More and more resources are available than just five years ago.”
“It’s a strong market,” Nolan concurred. “Banks are opening up now.”
The session delved into seller financing, buyer profiles and the documents required to secure financing.
“Be sure to get in touch with your lender early on,” Westphal suggested. “This way, you can move quickly once you find a location.”
Getting to Know Each Other
Of course, the four-day show wasn’t all about educational presentations and kicking the tires on the latest equipment – there also was time for some good, old-fashioned mingling.
“The networking opportunities were endless, and being able to meet with our industry peers was invaluable,” Cunningham explained.
After the first and third days of the show, the CLA hosted jam-packed cocktail receptions at the convention center, where attendees could grab a drink and compare notes with fellow store owners.
During these receptions, the association took the opportunity to present its industry awards. And the 2015 winners are:
• Chairman’s Award: Keith Griffin and Andy Kretz
• Distinguished Service Award: Jeffrey Barman, George Pierce, Deborah Dower, Kenny Wells, Wayne Lewis, Bill Bittner and Keith Griffin
• Leadership Award: Brian Grell, Daryl Johnson, Michael Finkelstein and Robert Maes
• Outstanding Director: Jim Whitmore
• Member of the Year: Tom Rhodes
• Outstanding Affiliate Award: Delaware Valley Coin Laundry Association
• Richard H. Torp Memorial Excellence in Education Award: Wally Makowsky
• Founder’s Award: Kenny Wells
In addition, the association held an Affiliate Appreciation Leadership Luncheon to thank its affiliate presidents and their boards of directors for their continued leadership, dedication and support of the CLA and its local grassroots programs.
This event was held in a dining suite at the convention center – and was hosted by Director of Membership Julie O’Rourke, Membership Services Manager Tanisha Moore, and President and CEO Brian Wallace.
Of course, the most highly anticipated social gathering of the show is always the CLA’s membership party – and Friday night’s Southern Swing Party did not disappoint. In all, more than 500 CLA members packed the Centennial Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta for a night of music, local fare and great conversation with fellow laundry owners.
“The Clean Show again was amazing,” said Daryl Johnson of Giant Wash Laundry in St. Ansgar, Iowa. “The quality of the vendors and their offerings to the vended owners took a large step forward from the last show. I loved reconnecting with owners from across the country, many of whom I hadn’t seen for a year or two. Also, the CLA again brought in several amazing speakers who gave me a large list of things implement within my operation.
“Unfortunately, I was only able to spend two days on the show floor, and that’s a shame – because I know I missed a bunch of opportunities. I can’t wait for the next Clean Show in 2017.”
It’s never too soon to start thinking about Clean ’17 in Las Vegas.
Many Thanks to Our Sponsors
Of course, the Clean Show is nothing without the generous support of the CLA’s strong industry partners and show sponsors. The companies that really stepped up big for the 2015 event are:
Alliance Laundry Systems
American Dryer Corp.
R&B Wire Products