Taking a Look Back at the Industry’s Trade Show and Convention

CLA Clean 2017 Wrap-Up

The Clean Show celebrated its 40th anniversary last month in Las Vegas – and more than 12,000 people joined the party.

The biennial event was held June 5-8 at the Las Vegas Convention Center – and 12,563 laundry owners, potential investors and other textile-care industries decision-makers were on hand for the four-day extravaganza. In addition, the show’s exhibit floor was sold out at 227,006 net square feet, representing the largest square footage since Clean ’07, which coincidentally was also held in Las Vegas.

“Las Vegas is a dynamic and exciting destination for Clean and its attendees, including yours truly,” said CLA Chairman Jim Whitmore, a multi-store owner based in Massachusetts. “This Clean started on a high note – Las Vegas, a healthy economy, a show packed with the newest and best from each vendor, and thousands of people eager to explore it all. The energy was electric.”

Compared with Clean 2015, registration was up from 11,264, and exhibit space was up from 197,400.

What’s more, attendees came from around the world to see the latest and greatest that the laundry industry has to offer – with international attendees numbering 2,271, and representing 96 countries outside the U.S.

“Every Clean Show I’ve attended has given me at least one new idea,” explained Ron Kelley, owner of EZ Coin-Op in San Jose, Calif. “Some years, there are many, but even one good idea is well worth the investment in the trip. The other benefit is meeting the equipment manufacturers; building a relationship with them is an important piece of running a successful business.”

“For me, the best thing about the Clean Show is networking with existing store owners and other distributors,” said Brad Steinberg, co-president of PWS. “It’s great to see the progressive things people are doing to increase sales or reduce expenses. Currently, I’m very focused on water recycling/reclamation technology, so it was good to discuss that with a few companies at the show.”

“If I had to sum it up in a phrase, I would say that Clean 2017 was ‘The Year of Technology,'” noted California multi-store owner Brian Brunckhorst. “Almost every major equipment manufacturer was demonstrating software to better manage its equipment. Whether it was software to report data from the machines, control operations or remote vend the machines, we saw it this year. In addition to the equipment manufacturers, there were many third-party vendors offering credit card, loyalty card and mobile payment options for equipment. This business is quickly changing from a coin-op-only business to a hybrid payment business, and those not jumping on this bandwagon will find themselves missing out.”

Indeed, the Clean Show is the world’s largest exhibition of textile care products featuring working equipment.

“The Clean Show is the only place where someone can directly compare equipment and see where the industry is headed,” Brunckhorst added. “As a multi-store owner, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m making equipment purchases nearly every year, for one store or another. Having the ability to compare equipment allows me to make the best decisions for my company.”

[Video] A Word From Brian Wallace, CLA’s CEO

Click to watch this video recap of The Clean Show:

Back to School

Of course, education has always played a key role at the Clean Show. And the 2017 event was no exception, with the CLA offering attendees more than eight hours of laundry-specific content.

Retail Design

CLA President and CEO Brian Wallace welcomed 425 attendees to the organization’s first educational seminar of Clean 2017 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Dubbed “Great by Design: What Laundromats Can Learn from the Latest Retail Trends,” this session was presented by leading retail design expert Brian Dyches.

During his presentation, Dyches shared why creating a dynamic interior design and brand experience within a laundry is good for the bottom line, sharing key retail and hospitality design trends with the packed meeting room.

“It’s not the strongest and smartest who will survive, but those who can adapt to change,” said Dyches, CEO of Digital Experience Lab Group/Atmospheric. “Change is our friend. In retail, we’ve gone from not having an experience to being all about the experience and your store’s brand. It may be someone else’s third-party brand washer and dryer in there, but, folks, it’s your brand and your reputation.”

Dyches pointed out that Clean 2017’s host city offers great examples of what should be done.

“In just six years, Las Vegas has changed radically,” he noted. “This town knows how to get money out of your pockets. And you’re all looking to do the same. We’ve all got to squeeze more juice out of that orange… and Vegas is good at it.”

He suggested laundry owners attending the show take some time to “walk the retail and open your eyes, see what’s working and what isn’t.”

Dyches – who has served as the international president and chairman of the Retail Design Institute, a global nonprofit professional association representing the retail experience and design community – pointed to recent reports predicting that 25 percent of U.S. malls will shutter within a few years.

“But the A malls are increasing their rent,” he added. “It’s the B and C malls that are dying, because they forgot to change and ignored the customer experience.”

Although he accompanied his presentation with a slideshow of some of the latest and greatest retail design examples from around the world, he promised the audience that he wasn’t trying to bust anyone’s budget. “For every expensive application, there is a ‘Home Depot chic’ application,” he said. “It’s not outside your ability to do this, and some of you are.”

Among the many store design tidbits and tricks of the trade he shared were:

  • Light impacts heart rate and mood. Even lighting is a failure; there should be differentiation and flow.
  • An entry door more than six feet wide will bring in twice the number of people.
  • Humans prefer curved shapes. We gravitate to elements like circular soffits. Anything circular is currently very hot in the retail design marketplace.
  • Simple, inexpensive design materials, such as corrugated metal or blackboard paint, can make a huge difference in the customer experience.
  • For impactful wall murals and powerful graphics, visit SEGD.org to find local graphic artists. Local colleges also can be helpful in finding inexpensive graphic design and artwork resources.
  • A successful experience is about slowing customers down and letting them experience your brand and store.
  • 80 percent of people move through a retail store counter-clockwise, so remove any speed bumps in your laundry’s flow.
  • Adjusting your LED lighting can be a powerful mechanism for leveraging the colors in your store.
  • Localization (photos, etc.) lets customers better identify with your store’s area and community, and people like to feel as if they belong to an area.

As he wrapped up his information-packed, 75-minute presentation, Dyches urged today’s laundry owners to continue their research into retail design, suggesting the following resources: the Retail Design Institute, the Color Marketing Group and VMSD magazine (for which he writes a semi-monthly column on architecture and technology).

“The average coin laundry customer is in your store for about an hour and a half,” Dyches marveled. “Very few industries can keep their customers in their businesses for 90 minutes. You need to squeeze that juice out of the orange.”

Click to Download the Presentation

Facebook for Business

The first day of Clean 2017 wrapped up with a jam-packed presentation about Facebook by digital marketing expert Bonnie Hanson of The Laundry Doctor, based in St. Paul, Minn.

Hanson began her presentation by explaining why Facebook is the place store owners need to be getting out the word about their businesses.

“Facebook has 1.94 billion users, and 79 percent of all U.S. adults on the internet are on Facebook,” she noted. “In addition, 50 percent of users log in daily, spending about 700 billion minute per month on Facebook. It leads the social media landscape.”

This session featured a helpful “top 10” list of ways operators could best leverage their Facebook pages. These included:

  1. Complete the “About” page.
  2. Get your page verified.
  3. Invite your email list.
  4. Size your graphics properly.
  5. Use video.
  6. Write great copy.
  7. Use Facebook Insights.
  8. Boost your content.
  9. Know the algorithm.
  10. Post regularly.

“It’s about getting people to want to hang out with you, not selling them something,” she said. “The key to getting started is taking the first step and beginning a conversation.”

Click to Download All Clean 2017 Presentations

Partnerships With Laundry and Dry Cleaning

The CLA and the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute kicked off Day Two of Clean 2017 with the first joint educational presentation by two of the show’s sponsoring organizations in the 40-year history of the event.

As CLA’s Wallace noted during his introduction of the 75-minute session, the lines between the laundromat and drycleaning businesses have increasingly blurred in recent years – with more vended laundry owners working with drycleaning businesses, and conversely, more drycleaners showing an interest in adding wash-dry-fold laundry to their own mix.

The discussion was moderated by Jeff Gardner, owner of The Laundry Doctor, based in St. Paul, Minn., and an operator who partners with a local drycleaner himself. Joining Gardner on stage were Chris Balestracci, a multi-store owner from Connecticut who works with a drycleaner; and Stephen Moore of Pressbox in Atlanta, a route drycleaning business that farms out its wash-dry-fold work.

Gardner posed some nuts-and-bolts questions to his two-man panel, covering some of the key aspects of the laundromat-drycleaner relationship, as well as the ways in which Balestracci and Moore have made their respective partnerships work for them.

About Laundromats Giving Back

The CLA dedicated its first educational session on the third day of Clean 2017 to how laundry owners can give back to the communities they serve.

“Can we agree that we are an industry that can use some reputation-building?” the CLA’s Wallace asked the audience. “Could we stand to give off a better impression?”

He added that laundry operators are perhaps better positioned for impactful corporate social responsibility than some other business owners, for two reasons: (1) opportunity and (2) obligation.

“We are everywhere, in every neighborhood,” he explained. “Many of the customers we serve could definitely use a hand. So, we have the opportunity. And I feel personally feel an obligation – all those quarters and card swipes have fed my family for 25 years.”

Wallace then introduced two laundry owners – Brian Holland and Tyrone Akins of The Laundry Cafe in Philadelphia – who share his sense of obligation.

“We see our customers as our neighbors,” Holland explained. “And that makes a difference in how you treat people. It starts with caring.”

“We are from the neighborhoods we now serve,” Akins added. “We grew up here and know it well. You have to decide if you’re going to be just a business in your community, or truly part of the fabric of the community. The more you give back to the community, the better you feel.”

He then told a story about a girl who regularly used their laundry’s Wi-Fi and quiet setting to do her homework when she was in high school. Today, she’s a young woman who just graduated from Temple University, with eyes on an advanced degree.

Beyond offering a sort of educational refuge at their two stores, Akins and Holland have hosted a number of community programs – from financial literacy and stroke prevention to how to buy a first home and establish good credit.

“Your laundry is about space and time,” Holland said. “What wonderful resources those are. People can use them to benefit the community, and you just need to connect the dots. When you reach out, the community will reach back.”

“One candle can light a thousand candles, and the life of that candle will not be shortened.” Akins quoted. “Be a candle in your community.”

Another laundry owner definitely lighting the way in his community is Kevin Adkins of New Jersey’s Dirty Laundry Express.

Adkins’ store recently hosted a hugely successful free laundry event.

“It was a home run,” he said. “It brought me to tears. It was a beautiful event. Don’t do it because the CLA wants you to do it – do it because it’s priceless. To this day, I still get hugs from my customers.”

Another laundry owner doing her best to create change within her community is Samantha Sammis. However, Sammis became a store operator somewhat by accident.

As founder of the nonprofit group Loving America Street, based in Charleston, S.C., Sammis became aware of an opportunity to purchase an old, rundown laundromat in her neighborhood. And that’s when the lightbulb went on.

“We live in the neighborhood we serve, trying to help leverage people out of poverty,” she said. “That old laundromat was the only laundry in the neighborhood.”

So, she bought the store and renamed it Laundry Matters — renovating in and transforming it into not only a laundromat, but a community center.

These days, Laundry Matters offers: free laundry for homeless, free computer classes, Bible studies, free books and Christian literature, and much more… as well as employing some of the local residents

Lastly, Jane Park Woo of Too Small to Fail, which serves as the literacy partner of the CLA’s LaundryCares Foundation, brought the audience up to speed with what was new within her organization.

Wallace wrapped up the day’s first session by appealing to the store owners in attendance to consider getting more involved within their own communities.

“Not only is it the right thing to do,” Wallace noted, “it’s good for business.”

Wash-Dry-Fold Efficiency

The second seminar of the morning, “Maximizing Labor Efficiency in Your Wash-Dry-Fold Operation,” was presented by Jeff Gardner of The Laundry Doctor, located in St. Paul, Minn.

With more and more laundry owners looking to grow their businesses through the addition of wash-dry-fold services, Gardner focused on packaging and presentation of the final product. Threats to wash-dry-fold profitability also were discussed, including an increased minimum wage, paid leave and mandated advance scheduling. Some of the solutions Gardner suggested to combat these threats were a pay-on-performance system and team bonuses.

Wi-Fi for Laundries

Next, with the increasing popularity of laundry owners offering Wi-Fi access to their customers, securing your network and marketing this now-common store amenity are critical for today’s operators. As a result, Thomas Reamer, a systems engineer for Chicago-based IT Lighthouse, presented “Wi-Fi in Your Laundromat: Best Practices for Security and Marketing.”

For New Owners

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.

To accommodate this sizable audience, the CLA’s fourth day of education at Clean 2017 was all about the basics of laundry ownership, featuring a 90-minute session presented by CLA Chief Operating Office (and a former store owner) Michael Sokolowski.

Sokolowski kicked off the morning’s presentation with a quick snapshot of the 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.

This 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.

Click to Download the Presentation

Just Talking Laundry…

Clearly, 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 networking… and just plain mingling.

“Since we just finished building and opening both of our stores, I didn’t need to come to the Clean Show to find the newest products,” said Ross Dodds of Wash on Western, located in Los Angeles. “For me, it was about the CLA’s networking events and opportunities to meet with others from different parts of the country. Being able to share ideas and struggles, as well as to pick each other’s brains about the business, was worth the trip, hands down.”

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.

“There are very few places where we can meet up with friends from all over the country and talk laundry,” Brunckhorst said. “We help each other with issues we have and just have fun hanging out. I’m so grateful for the friendships we have developed over the years, and I enjoy making new friends every time.”

During the receptions, the association took the opportunity to present some of its industry awards. And the 2017 winners are:

  • Founder’s Award: Mort Pollack
  • Chairman’s Award: Craig Kirchner and Jeff Gardner
  • Member of the Year: Paul Hansen
  • Distinguished Service Award: Andy Kretz, Craig Kirchner and Bryan Maxwell
  • Leadership Award: Craig Wells, Brian Grell and Dennis Diaz
  • Outstanding Director: Kathryn Rowen
  • Outstanding Affiliate Award: Iowa Self-Service Laundry Association
  • Community Service Award: Brian Holland and Tyrone Akins of The Laundry Cafe
  • Sustainability Award: Jim Whitmore and Lisa White

Traditionally, the most highly anticipated social gathering of the show is always the CLA’s membership party – and the June 6 gala event did not disappoint. For that night, the association transformed the Cosmopolitan’s Brera Ballroom into its very own nightclub – “Fabriq” – complete with a red carpet leading to the club entrance, “VIP” areas and, of course, music spun by one of Las Vegas’ hottest professional DJs. In all, more than 500 CLA members packed the ballroom for a memorable night of music, great food and conversation with their fellow laundry owners.

“We have a lot of very smart people in this industry, and having them be open to sharing what has and hasn’t worked over the years is a blessing for a new guy in the business,” Dodds explained.

“Attending the Clean Show is a critical ‘must-attend’ for store operators committed to excellence,” Whitmore summed up. “It’s the place to discover or to hone your edge. For me, it’s also a place to reignite the fire that drives me to be my best in service to my community.”

Before long, it will be time to start thinking about Clean 2019 in New Orleans!

Many Thanks to Our Sponsors

Thank you CLA Clean 2017 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 2017 event are:

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