The Industry’s Leaders Descend on Southern California to ‘Look Forward’

Nearly 200 of the nation’s leading laundry owners and industry executives recently joined their peers for two days of high-level networking and progressive educational sessions – all set amidst the tranquil beauty of Ojai, Calif.

On May 18, Coin Laundry Association President and CEO Brian Wallace welcomed attendees to the opening of the third Excellence in Laundry Conference, a biennial event hosted by the trade association and held this year on the spacious grounds of the 220-acre Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.

“This is your greatest opportunity to share best practices and build relationships that will benefit your laundry business for years to come,” said Wallace, in his initial remarks.

If there was an unofficial theme to this year’s conference is would have to be “looking forward”- as all three of the event’s keynote speakers focused on some aspect of what the future might hold for the self-service laundry industry.

The educational sessions kicked off with Dr. Alan Beaulieu, president of ITR Economics, who presented “Good Days Ahead”to a packed crowd in the Anacapa Ballroom.

“This is a group that should feel good about life,” Beaulieau explained. “The country is in good shape right now.”

One of the nation’s foremost economic forecasters then went on to spell out a few of the reasons why laundry owners today should be optimistic.

He pointed to “near-record levels”in the manufacturing sector, a strengthening on the service side of the economy, a healthy employment outlook, a rise in real personal income and the fact that the U.S. is virtually an energy-independent country as signs that much of the economic gloom and doom being portraying on the nightly news may be less than accurate.

“The economy is going to get better as we go into 2017, with 3.5 percent growth next year,” Beaulieau noted. “There’s nothing but growth through 2018.

“Retail sales are doing well,” he continued. “People are spending.”

However, toward the end of 2018 and into 2019, he predicted a mild recession, which he described at a “consumer-led cash event.”

He also warned those in attendance that the U.S. debt, as well shifting world demographics and the global manufacturing climate, may cause challenges for U.S. businesses in the future. And, taking a much longer view, Beaulieu called future health care costs “a real problem”- with approximately 50 percent of the federal budget going toward health care by 2035, according to his company’s research.

His parting advice for today’s laundry owner was to lock in costs now, know your business’ competitive advantages, and plan for higher wages and energy costs. He added that right now is the time to be aggressive and perhaps take some calculated risks.

“The last thing I would worry about with this industry is a lack of clientele,” he added.

The second speaker of the morning was Tim Greiner, co-founder of Pure Strategies, Inc., a company that has worked with businesses like Walmart and The North Face to create workable sustainability programs.

“Businesses could lead to sustainable solutions,” Greiner said, explaining his reasons for starting Pure Strategies in the first place.

He stressed three main areas in which running a greener, more sustainable laundry operation could help owners succeed. Those categories included productivity, risk reduction and growth opportunity.

Among productivity, Greiner included the examples of increased energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, leveraging water conservation technology and implementing a recycling program.

“Reducing costs will go right to the bottom line,” he said.

With risk reduction, he pointed to less energy and water pricing risks as laundry operators become more sustainably minded. And the areas of growth opportunity for the industry that Greiner mentioned included urbanization, the emerging “sharing economy”and the explosion of social media, where feedback is nearly instantaneous these days.

Greiner then turned the tables, asking the audience to break into small groups and come up with what they thought were the biggest sustainability opportunities for the laundry industry. This interactive exercise garnered an array of answers – from utility costs and water efficiency to tax incentives and consumer education.

The third keynoter, who spoke on the second morning of the conference, was demographics expert Paul Taylor – author of “The Next America”- who shined a light on the likely impacts of today’s quickly shifting demographics within the U.S.

Among Taylor’s keys points were:

  • The U.S. is experiencing two major demographic changes simultaneously: (1) it is becoming a majority non-white country, or a “rainbow society,” and (2) the population is “graying,” with roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day.
  • The country is in the midst of a “racial makeover,” with Hispanics expected to account for 74 percent of the growth in the labor force from 2010 to 2020.
  • Although the U.S. population is getting collectively older, the rest of the world is “getting older faster,” according to Taylor, thanks in part to longer lifespans and declining birth rates globally.
  • The Baby Boomers’ mass exodus from the work force will greatly stress the country’s social safety net of Social Security and Medicare in the years to come.
  • 58 percent of Americans now live in multi-generational households.
  • There are now more Millennials in the U.S. than any other age group, with 39 percent of them still living with a parent or relative, due to student loan debt and other economic hardship. Taylor referred to Millennials as the “first downwardly mobile generation.”

The second day of the conference also featured a jam-packed session called “Doing Well by Doing Good,” in which successful store operators discussed some of the programs they’ve implemented that are making a difference in the communities they serve.

“I want to make my small corner of the world a better place,” said Tom Rhodes, owner of Sunshine Laundry Centers, headquarters in Vero Beach, Fla., “I love giving just to give – that’s my passion.”

Among the programs Rhodes has implemented within his business include providing laundry vouchers to an area ministry for clothing to the disadvantaged, donating $75 laundry cards to a local church and hiring from a local jobs training group.

CLA Chairman Jeff Gardner of The Laundry Doctor, based in St. Paul, Minn., discussed a reading program he created within his community, while Paul Pettefer of Laundry World in Lake Charles, La., outlined his work with hiring local at-risk youth and raising money for neighborhood charities, including auctioning off catered BBQ events.

“I want to be a connector in my city,” Pettefer explained. “I use my stores to tell about whatever is going on in my life. It’s my platform.

“What’s your platform?”he asked the audience. “Use your platform.”

Lastly, Tyrone Akins and Brian Holland of The Laundry Cafe© in Philadelphia detailed their many community-related initiatives – from an honor roll awards program for local kids to a voter registration drive to a “family night”event, including pizza and a movie.

“Customers will tell you what they want and need from you,” Holland said. “You just need to stop looking at your laundromat as a laundromat – it’s a communal space with the potential for impact.”

Along those lines of making a difference and creating an impact, the CLA’s LaundryCares Foundation, which was established to provide laundry services and education to those in need, held a silent auction during the conference. This auction included such generous donated items as a seven-night stay at the Royal Sands Resort in Cancun, a Green Bay Packers game package, a 27-inch iMac computer and much more.

Excellence 2016 also featured two days of exhibits from the leading manufacturers in the industry, giving attendees the perfect opportunity to ask questions about the latest products and services on the market – again, helping laundry owners to “look forward”with respect to their businesses.

Networking Takes Center Stage

As with past Excellence in Laundry events, the numerous networking opportunities were the star of the show in Ojai.

And the industry’s elite had a great chance to talk shop on the evening before the conference even began, with a welcome cocktail reception held at the 10,500-square-foot, Tuscan-style Casa Elar, located on the Ojai Valley Inn property.

The next evening’s event featured an elegant poolside buffet dinner under the stars. However, it was the night’s pre-dinner entertainment that had everyone talking.

Prior to dinner, attendees were treated to “An Evening with Kenny Aronoff,” in which the iconic drummer pounded his way through hit after massive radio hit – in between sharing stories about his well-traveled professional career in the music industry.

Perhaps best known as the drummer on John Mellencamp’s long string of hit records beginning in the 1980s, Aronoff has reinvented himself over and over to stay relevant in his industry. And, after decades in music, he remains one of the most sought-after studio musicians and hired guns in the business – working with the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, The Rolling Stones, Sting, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Dave Grohl, Johnny Cash, Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, The Smashing Pumpkins, Meatloaf, B.B. King and John Fogerty… to name just a few.

In a message with universal appeal, Aronoff preached self-discipline, hard work, a passion for what you do and the importance of working well as part of a team as the keys to success for anyone in any endeavor.

Keeping with this year’s theme (and with the sound of Kenny Aronoff’s drum beats still ringing in our ears), is it too soon to “look forward”again and to start thinking about a trip to Naples, Fla., for Excellence in Laundry 2018?

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