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

Technology was center stage at this year’s Clean Show in New Orleans.

“Technology is beginning to rapidly disrupt the vended laundry world,” noted Sharon Brinks, who owns The Laundry Station in Wichita, Kan. “And, at almost every trade show booth, you could see manufacturers integrating it into their products.”

Indeed, systems and equipment networking and connectivity continue to take on greater importance within the laundry industry. What’s more, the concept of pickup and delivery services as an integral part of many laundromat businesses is gaining traction, as are the companies that provide point-of-sale software and apps for these full-service options.

And all of this new technology – as well as the latest in washers, dryers and ancillary equipment for today’s laundromats – was on display for four days from June 20-23 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

According to show management, more than 11,000 registrants were on hand at the textile-care industries’ biennial trade show – which covered 224,500 net square feet of exhibit space, surpassing the mark of 195,140 square feet that was set the last time the show was in New Orleans in 2013. Advancements in machinery, software and services were presented by more than 430 exhibitors from around the world, including 60 brand new Clean Show exhibitors.

Show highlights also included 30 hours of educational seminars, organized by the five collaborating associations within the textile-care industries. These include the Coin Laundry Association; the Association for Linen Management; the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute; the Textile Care Allied Trades Association; and TRSA, the association for linen, uniform and facility services.

As has been the case since 1981, venerable show manager John Riddle and his team at Riddle & Associates were at the helm. However, Clean 2019 was the last for Mr. Riddle, who is retiring from trade show management.

Germany-based Messe Frankfurt purchased the Clean Show from the five sponsoring associations several months before the 2019 event, retaining Riddle to oversee this year’s show. But Messe will manage future shows.

Constantin von Vieregge, president of Messe Frankfurt North America, noted that show exhibitors and attendees can expect business as usual for the laundry industry’s main event in the U.S.

“We run shows all the time,” he said. “We know how to run a show. But the show is never about us. It’s about the exhibitors. It’s about the people doing business. Without that, we don’t have a show.”

Clean will remain on a two-year schedule, according to von Vieregge, who announced that the next show will be held June 10-13, 2021, in Atlanta. .

“We will not reinvent what is working well,” he said.

Never Stop Learning

Education has always played a key role at the Clean Show. And the 2019 event was not exception, with the CLA offering attendees several hours of laundromat-specific content.

CLA President and CEO Brian Wallace welcomed more than 150 attendees to the organization’s first educational seminar of Clean 2019 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Dubbed “Laundries Connecting Communities,” this session focused on the initiatives of the CLA’s LaundryCares Foundation.

Wallace challenged those in attendance to grow their laundry businesses by leveraging community engagement with the help of LaundryCares.

“Corporate social responsibility is king,” he said. “Community engagement is new to us, but not to the rest of the business world. The biggest brands aren’t talking about their products, they’re talking about their missions, because that resonates with customers.”

Wallace explained the three key initiatives to “living the mission” of the CLA’s charitable foundation: disaster relief, free laundry days and laundry literacy activities.

Laundry owners who exemplified each of these initiatives then discussed their real-life experiences with giving back to their respective communities.

First, multi-store owner Luke Williford from North Carolina shared the actions that he and his family took when Hurricane Florence displaced many of their customers and staff members alike.

Working with LaundryCares, the Willifords held a free laundry event in Fayetteville to support those impacted by the storm, eventually processing more than 20,000 pounds of free laundry.

“It was a big community hug,” Luke explained. “You can be engaged during a disaster. It’s a great opportunity to shine, and whatever you give to your community will come back tenfold. Disaster relief is a great pillar of LaundryCares. Stay engaged and shine bright during times of need.”

Next, Philadelphia store owner Brian Holland called free laundry days and the work of LaundryCares “an industry reboot,” explaining that “something magic happens” during free laundry days at his stores.

“It’s not about laundry or burgers or music,” Holland said. “Think about your customers. Those customers see the disparity between your lifestyle and theirs. But free laundry days bridge the gap, and the divide shrinks. Your customers see that you care, and that’s when great things happen. In the end, you will move a community. When they see that you truly care, they will wrap around you.”

Multi-store owner Daryl Johnson, with laundries in Iowa and Minnesota, discussed his experience with providing reading and literacy spaces at his laundromats.

He explained that the literacy light bulb went on for him upon hearing a statistic that there was just one book for every 300 children in one of his marketplaces.

“That rocked my world,” Johnson noted. “Previously, I had no concept of the book desert and the lack of learning materials in the community.”

He immediately installed some very basic “wash and learn” centers in some of his laundries with amazing results.

“The kids would flock to those areas,” he said. “They were engaged and their faces lit up. They would take books home and bring them back so that other families could take advantage of them.

“By adding a literacy element to your laundry, you will be changed and you will change your community in ways you can’t imagine. And LaundryCares will help you.”

The one-hour session also featured research updates from Jane Park Woo of Too Small to Fail, which is a partner of LaundryCares in its mission to bring literacy-rich spaces to laundromats, as well as Dr. Susan Neuman of New York University.

Neuman outlined the highlights of her groundbreaking study in New York City, which resulted in 30 times more literacy-related activities in laundromats that offered books and learning materials to the children of their customers.

At the outset of this first educational session of Clean 2019, Wallace stated: “We want to fundamentally and forever change the image of our business.”

With that in mind, LaundryCares unveiled the first Family Read, Play & Learn kits, which are now available to laundry owners to use in their stores.

“I was impressed with the industry’s continued movement toward community involvement, with options such as the new reading centers and free laundry days,” said Chicago-based multi-store owner Paul Hansen, who has hosted free laundry events at his stores. “One of the highlights of the show for me was the availability of the new Read, Play & Learn centers.”

The CLA kicked off the second day of Clean 2019 with an in-depth look at “The Lifecycle of a Laundromat,” which was presented by Northern California multi-store owner Brian Brunckhorst of Advantage Laundry.

Brunckhorst began with an overview of the six stages of a laundry business’ life: development, startup/launch, growth, expansion, maturity and eventually decline — then sharing ways to maximize a business for best return on investment for its given lifecycle.

He spent a good deal of time on the valuation of a laundromat, including formulas for reaching a realistic store value as well as the key factors that will impact what a vended laundry is worth.

According to Brunckhorst, two variables the will most strongly affect a laundromat’s value is the length of the lease and the age of the laundry equipment.

With regard to lease terms, he suggested a few factors to negotiate into that critical document:

• A minimum length of 15 years
• A five-year option
• Rent increases no more than every five years
• Rent increases based on the CPI, and capped at 4 percent
• Rent payments no more than 20 percent of gross sales
• The right to assign the lease
• The first right of refusal to buy the building
• The right to sublease
• The right to choose utility companies
• An exclusivity clause
• Avoiding large rent increases each year

“You start with your dream lease, and meet the landlord in the middle,” Brunckhorst explained. “When you make concessions, be sure to get something in return. And, if you get five to eight items on your wish list, it’s a win.”

As far as equipment, he noted that the best time to reequip is at the beginning of the decline stage of a store’s lifecycle, which he followed with an example of how and why to go about equipment replacement.

“It will extend your lifecycle,” he pointed out. “Expenses will drop. It’s also the best time to renew your lease, which essentially begins a brand new lifecycle — and then you get to play the game all over again.”

The second session of the morning was “CLA Connect LIVE: Interactive Idea Exchange,” a panel discussion moderated by CLA Director of Membership and Section Relations Danielle Bauer.

The panelists included veteran laundry owners Art Jaeger of Southern California; Gail Vladimir from Philadelphia; Ken Barrett of Alabama; and Dave Menz from Ohio.

The panel tackled a number of topical and timely issues — including important factors when retooling a store, trouble-shooting equipment, laying out a new laundromat, operating a wash-dry-fold service, pickup and delivery, and employee relations.

The wash-dry-fold business continues to be one of the largest growing segments of the vended laundry industry — and the future of this full-service offering is on many laundry owners’ minds.

This is why the CLA dedicated its first educational session on the third day of Clean 2019 to “Wash Dry Fold 2.0: What’s Next for Full-Service Laundry.”

Minnesota store owner Jeff Gardner, president of The Laundry Doctor, led this presentation, which also featured Vijen Patel of Tide Cleaners and Amy Martinez-Monfort, who owns Tampa Laundry Company.

“It’s been an incredible journey to see this industry change,” Patel noted. “How do we eliminate laundry day? If we can take this pain point and turn it into a pleasure point, we can create an evolution — much like the one Uber created within the taxicab industry. It’s up to us to create this, and I believe that all of us with all of our customer interactions can make it happen.”

Martinez-Monfort, who opened her laundromat in 2015, turned to wash-dry-fold to keep her machines turning during her store’s slower times of day, as well as to combat a long-term construction project in her area that was impacting walk-in business.

“This can be done no matter what size store you have or where you’re located,” explained Martinez-Monfort, who purchased an ironer and some larger machines dedicated to her wash-dry-fold business.

Focusing on residential and commercial accounts, including a pickup and delivery service, she started out using her personal vehicle for deliveries.

“I began by using my black Honda Odyssey,” she said. “I’d pick up my daughter from school, and if there was still laundry in the back, she knew we still had more deliveries to make.

“Start as small as you need to. Don’t grow too fast, and use what you’ve got.”

Martinez-Monfort shared a list considerations today’s laundry owners should think about before adding a wash-dry-fold service. They included:

• Do you have sufficient staff?
• Do you have enough room to process this work without interfering with your self-service business?
• Do have the right kind of equipment and supplies to do this kind of work?
• Do you have a system for intake and keeping items separate?
• Are you prepared for receivables?

She also pointed out the importance of leveraging social media, especially with regard to commercial accounts.

“Share who you’re working with on social media,” she explained. “It’s a great way to develop some cross marketing.”

The one-hour session also touched on such issues as the continuing trend of outsourcing services, pickup and delivery options, and processing higher-end garments — and it wrapped up with questions from the audience.

The second session of the morning focused on the due diligence processes of preparing to buy and sell a self-service laundry.

This panel discussion featured Carol Dang of Elite Business Investments; Bob Eisenberg of BFE Consulting; Daryl Johnson of Giant Wash Coin Laundry; and Bill Kelson of Statewide Laundry Equipment. The panelists shared a number of tips and strategies for getting the fairest price when buying a vended laundry, as well as for receiving top dollar when selling a laundromat.

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 2019 was all about the basics of laundry ownership, featuring a two back-to-back, 60-minute sessions presented by CLA Chief Operating Office (and a former store owner) Michael Sokolowski.

Sokolowski kicked off the 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.

These sessions covered the pros and cons of building a brand new vended laundry, versus purchasing an existing store – as well as highlighting 10 key factors all first-time owners and prospective investors should consider.

Not All Business

Of course, this four-day show wasn’t all about industry education and kicking the tires on the latest equipment. There also was time for some good old-fashioned networking… and just plain mingling.

“I’m able to talk with other operators and manufacturers about the latest and greatest that’s coming out from an equipment standpoint,” explained laundry owner Michael Finkelstein of Associated Services Corp. in Danville, Va. “Also, just through chatting with some operators located in my area, I learned about a utility increase I wasn’t aware of. At Clean, you’re able to interact with people – sharing ideas about what you do that might help them or vice versa.”

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. Also, during the second reception, the association took the opportunity to present many of its industry awards. The business leaders honored were:

Founder’s Award: Bernard Milch

Chair’s Award: Jim Whitmore and Ron Kelley

Member of the Year: Michael Finkelstein

Distinguished Service Award: Jeff Gardner, Howard Herman, Tom Rhodes, Michael Finkelstein, Chris Moreno, Karl Hinrichs and Jim Whitmore

Outstanding Director: Ted Ristaino

Community Service Award: Paul Pettefer and Daryl & Lisa Johnson

Sustainability Award: Michael Fanger

Traditionally, the most highly anticipated social gathering of the show is always the CLA’s membership party, and the June 21 gala event did not disappoint. For that night, the association took over New Orleans’ historic Sugar Mill for its very own Mardi-Gras-themed dinner party, complete with live music throughout the evening. In all, more than 500 CLA members packed the former sugar holding facility, which dates back to the 1800s, for a memorable night of music, great food and conversation with their fellow laundry owners.

“I always pick up new ideas whenever I attend CLA events,” Hansen explained, “whether it’s at the Clean Show, Excellence in Laundry or a local Connect LIVE event.”

“The better operators are here,” Finkelstein noted. “And they’re willing and able to share with you what they’re doing, and that’s what I really enjoy about the show. It helps you validate the things you’ve done right and see whether or not there’s a better mousetrap out there.”

“Store owners serious about their businesses attend Clean,” Brinks added. “When owners care about their businesses, they strive to improve them. But, to improve, it really helps to see the big picture of the entire industry, to meet other owners, to listen to speakers giving advice on how they improved their businesses. We must keep learning!”

With that said, it’s never too soon to start thinking about Clean 2021 in Atlanta!

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