Three Multi-Store Owners Share Their Advice

Whether your store’s laundry equipment is 15 years old, 10 years old or was installed just a few years ago, upgrading to new, advanced machines can boost your bottom line while saving on utility costs and offering increased revenue opportunities.

So, before completely writing off the idea of replacement, consider the benefits – both short- and long-term – that replacing equipment can have on your store’s profitability and customer satisfaction.

I recently spoke with three multi-store owners who have experienced the benefits of equipment replacement first-hand:

Why did you choose to invest in the laundry industry?

Pete Ammentorp, who owns three Sunshine Laundry locations in Washington: I learned about the laundry industry as a worthwhile investment opportunity 20 years ago from a friend in Iowa who, at the time, owned a successful laundromat and car wash. In 2007, I purchased an existing store in Vancouver, Wash., as a side business that would complement my professional background in engineering, management and sales. Since then, I have purchased and upgraded two other existing laundromats. I consciously choose to purchase old laundromats with potential, and transform them into more profitable businesses that serve their communities. The vended laundry industry has truly become an exciting business venture.

Craig Wells, who owns Marysville Laundry Station, Puget Park Laundry and Arlington Laundry Station – all in Washington: When my wife and I married, we explored profitable business ventures that would allow us the flexibility to spend time with family. After spending some time in the vending industry, I met a laundromat owner in Marysville, Wash., who was looking to sell his 10-year-old store once the building’s lease ended. In 2004, we purchased the laundromat, which turned out to be a fun and lucrative investment. With one store’s success under my belt, I decided to expand my business plan to other locations. I then bought Puget Park Laundry in 2007, and most recently renovated an old bakery to create what is now Arlington Laundry Station. The laundry business has provided me with the freedom to go to the beach with my family or pickup my grandchildren from school. I experience all the benefits of retirement, while managing profitable businesses.

Jim Bracht, who owns Carthage Laundry North and Carthage Laundry South in Missouri: In March of 2010, a good friend of mine was selling two of his laundromats – a stand-alone store in Carthage, Mo., and another located in nearby Lamar in a shopping center. With my previous business background as the CEO of a bank, I decided to invest in these laundromats and utilize my management skills. I have since sold the laundromat in Lamar, but purchased another existing store in Carthage, just three miles south of my first laundromat investment. It is important for me to be close to my businesses because I enjoy being a hands-on owner. The laundry industry has proven to be a wise investment for my retirement income, especially since replacing old equipment. The energy-efficient qualities of today’s laundry machines combined with the technology to tailor vend prices are beneficial for the customers and my bottom-line.

Why did you decide to replace your stores’ equipment?

Ammentorp: The first store I bought was equipped with machines that dated back to 1990. In order to be profitable, I knew I had to completely renovate the infrastructure and start fresh, so I replaced the old machines with 36 new washers and dryers. The next laundromat I purchased was built in the 1970s, with equipment that ranged from 10 to 20 years old. I knew right away I was going to replace the old and inefficient machines with brand new equipment, because I did not want to constantly worry about maintenance repairs and machine downtime. Similarly, the most recent laundromat I purchased desperately needed to be renovated and re-tooled. I added new flooring, lights, and countertops to create a more appealing environment for customers, and replaced the old equipment with more energy efficient machines featuring state-of-the-art control systems that provide me with new revenue opportunities.

Wells: The Marysville Laundry Station originally had old, small-capacity machines in the store with one 50-pound washer that customers consistently waited in line to use. With this in mind, I decided to replace two smaller washer-extractors with two 60-pound machines to meet customer demand. After noticing a drastic increase in revenue, I partnered with my equipment manufacturer’s financial services division, which allowed me to re-tool the entire store with new, larger-capacity equipment featuring advanced control systems. I even added a 100-pound machine to the store, which I was hesitant about at first, but the investment has really paid off. Replacing equipment can sound daunting, but with a distributor that provides customized support every step of the way, and a lender that understands the laundry industry, the process is easy and affordable. There was no reason not to replace the old machines.

Bracht: When I purchased the Carthage North laundromat in 2010, some existing machines dated back to 1985. Since I bought the store, utility costs in the area have increased by 16 percent, making the decision to install more energy-efficient machines a no brainer. My business background compelled me to find a solution that would make Carthage Laundry North a more efficient and effective operation. In October 2014, I started the retooling process by replacing five older washer-extractors with new machines. This proved to be successful and I later replaced six topload washer-extractors with 20-pound washers. I am replacing old machines in batches until the entire store is equipped with more energy-efficient equipment. I am also carrying out this same strategy in my other store, and I have already replaced 12 machines with larger-capacity equipment.

What benefits have you experienced since replacing equipment?

Ammentorp: Since replacing the equipment in all three of my stores, I have seen a significant decrease in utility costs and experienced a boost in customer traffic. In particular, the second store I opened doubled the gross income of the previous laundromat after I upgraded. With powerful machines that clean better and dry faster, customers are able to get their laundry done quicker without sacrificing quality. Advanced features such as cycle modifiers that offer a wide variety of wash cycle options, including prewash and additional hot and cold rinses, provide customers with exactly what they need at the price they want. By replacing the old equipment with more efficient machines, I have increased customer satisfaction in my stores while I save money on daily operating costs. It’s a win-win situation.

Wells: The main benefits of replacing old equipment are the full-store management capabilities and innovative technologies machines with advanced control systems offer. I have noticed substantial utility savings in each of my three stores, but most importantly the new equipment and technology help to make my businesses the hands-off investments I had hoped for. The advanced controls featured on the machines allow for easy programming, which I can accomplish in as little as five seconds. I also have access to the machines on my laptop so I know what is going on at all times. This allows me to spend more time with my family, while feeling confident that the machines are all working properly and customers are satisfied with the service. Aside from savings, I have also seen an increase in revenue, which I credit to the multi-vend pricing feature available via the control system. In no time at all, I can adjust the prices based on time of day and also run daily specials to maximize my revenue per cycle and enhance customer loyalty. Customers love being able to select the level of pricing that best suits their budget and laundry needs.

Bracht: I have seen a 20 percent decrease in water and electricity usage in Carthage Laundry North since I started gradually replacing the old equipment. The new machines’ energy-efficient qualities help me save money on daily operating costs, while the control system allows me to tailor vend prices to be most cost-effective. I can easily program the machines to charge different prices for hot, warm and cold washes; and with time-of-day pricing, I can optimize prices during peak hours and run weekly specials. Customers also appreciate the different levels of pricing I provide that give them the opportunity to select exactly what they need based on each load. Overall, the equipment has led to a dramatic boost in customer satisfaction from having efficient machines that improve the quality of wash and reduce cycle times. I am excited to completely replace all equipment in both of my stores with new machines to see even more savings than I have already experienced. None of this would be possible without the support of an equipment distributor that serves as a true partner, and one that understands my business philosophy and goals.

What advice do you have for store owners considering replacement?

Ammentorp: It’s important to remember that even if a machine isn’t near the end of its lifespan, it can cost an owner more in utility expenses and repairs than the machine is worth. With utility costs rising, it is becoming more and more important to conserve energy and water as to not spend nearly a quarter of gross revenue on utilities. When it comes to washers, the machines today save a significant amount of money on water with advanced technologies that allow for customized wash cycle options. Also, high-efficiency washers’ fast extraction speeds draw out more water from each load leaving clothes virtually dry before they are put into the dryer. Advanced dryers produce an even dry for customers, without overheating clothes, and help reduce dry times and gas consumption even further. Upgrading equipment boosts your bottom line with significant savings, while avoiding expensive and untimely maintenance repairs from older machines breaking down.

Wells: Today’s laundry equipment is revolutionizing the way customers do laundry, and the way store owners manage the laundromat. Over the past few years, the laundry industry has rapidly developed better tools and practices to make this daily task more cost-effective and energy-efficient. The great thing about new equipment is the advancements in technology and control systems, which allow me to successfully operate three stores from anywhere I have internet access. I have the ability to quickly monitor each of my laundromats and machines remotely, giving me peace of mind that the stores’ daily operations are still running smoothly while I am away from the business and spending time with my family. Store owners may be apprehensive of change, but purchasing new equipment doesn’t have to be intimidating if you work with a knowledgeable lender and laundry distributor that understand your unique needs. I would not be able to dedicate my time and energy to family without the flexibility that new equipment provides.

Bracht: When store owners consider replacement they may think about savings and other revenue opportunities; however, there is more to it than that. Upgraded equipment provides customers with enhanced wash quality and reliable services that keep them coming back. Not only do new machines shorten cycle times and reduce energy costs, they also offer customized wash options and multiple levels of pricing to deliver a personalized laundry experience that meets the customers’ specific needs. Instantly after upgrading, my customers noticed an improvement in performance and appreciated the addition of state-of-the-art machines to make laundry easier and quicker for them to complete. This ultimately increases customer satisfaction and builds loyalty within the community. Saving money with the new equipment has been great, but retaining customers while attracting new ones has been crucial to the success of my businesses.

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