Making Laundry Your Main Gig

As a part-time business on the side, a laundromat certainly checks off several of the boxes – from such tangible advantages as being a cash business with flexible scheduling for the owner, to requiring no product inventory and (depending on the type of operation) a relatively small number of employees.

However, once people get their feet wet in the laundry business, it’s often the intangibles that make them want to go further and take it full-time. Perhaps it’s about being an entrepreneur and finally calling your own shots. Maybe it’s being able to carve out more quality time with family. For some, the pull of full-time ownership is about the ability to provide meaningful employment to others, or to truly lift up a neighborhood and make a difference in the community they serve.

For whatever reason, more and more individuals today are building multiple stores, adding new services, and choosing the full-time path in what was once the ultimate side hustle.

This month, five laundry owners – some who already have gone full-time and a couple who are still hanging onto their day jobs – share their backstories of how they got into the business, their plans for the future and what others who may be considering making laundry their main gig need to understand:

Marlena Norris
The Laundry Centers
Atlanta

I was the vice president of finance for InterContinental Hotels. However, I was looking for a business that would generate a profit and help transition me out of corporate America, while also fulfilling a consumer need.

Then, in October 2014, while sitting in the hair salon one day, I met a gentleman who was delivering the towels from the local laundromat, which he owned. We briefly discussed his laundry business and, ultimately, agreed to future meetings. Eventually, we decided to partner. After all, I knew from my work experience that hotels often outsource their laundry, so it seemed like a logical step for me.

I opened my first store in January 2015. And I left the hotel business, going full-time with laundry, in December 2015.

Two factors led me to consider taking my laundry business full-time.

First, my company decided to relocate my position to Mexico. I had no interest in relocating, so I took early retirement. By then, my first laundry location was already successful, and I was already contemplating a second one. My job being relocated simply sped up my decision.

Secondly, my first laundry taught me a lot about myself, my purpose and the community I served. During that first year of store ownership, I experienced a paradigm shift. I wanted do more than manage shareholder value and corporate profits. I wanted to give back to the community and provide employment to the people in the communities I operate in.

Before Going Full-Time: My goal was and always has been to replace my salary. That was the benchmark. How many stores do I need to replace that salary?

Also, before going full-time, a laundry investor needs to understand the following:

• The laundromat business is a service business, which is all about location, location, location.

• Understand the changing demographics and market demand.

• Laundromats do well in certain communities, so be sure to understand what shifts or potential shifts are expected in the market you choose.

• Do your due diligence, understand the statistics for success and build a financial plan – both the short term and long term are keys to sustainability.

• Create an employee retention plan and a plan to inspire and engage your staff. They really need to see the business vision and buy into it, as they are the most valuable asset you have.

• You’ll wear many hats as you grow, so it’s important to understand how much time it takes to ramp up, especially with a new store.

• Understand that while a laundromat is a somewhat simple business model, it is not an easy business, as some might have you think.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time: As a full-time owner, I find myself more involved and hands-on than as a part-time operator. When you’re part-time, you delegate more. When full-time, the natural tendency is to jump in with both feet, because it’s your primary source of income.

Also, I’m now the face of the brand. When we had just one store, we kind of let it operate the way it always had. Then, we opened the second store and went full-time, and I decided to create a brand and raise awareness – and I became the face of that brand. When you go full-time, you’re everything.

Keys to a Smooth Transition: You need a clear understanding of the business and a business plan for growth and stabilization, as well as a good marketing strategy. To be successful, the full-time owner needs to understand her income needs, how many customers it takes to achieve that income, and where and how to find them.

I think a lot of owners get into the business and think it’s going to be this lucrative cash cow. I’ve seen a lot of businesses fail because someone told them it was going to be about simply taking quarters to the bank.

Advice to Part-Timers: Consider the human component. I believe being a “people person” and a “servant leader” will not only help you to connect with your customers, but also to retain them as well. You have to understand what needs compel your customers to choose you over the competition and not be afraid to make tradeoffs to meet those needs.

Secondly, decide whether you want to “lead” or “lag” in the marketplace. Consumers make laundry choice decisions for many reasons, and price is not at the top of the list.

Dustin Gill
Patio Laundry
Norcross, Ga.

For the past 17 years, I’ve sold foodservice equipment, as a manufacturer’s rep. I sell cooking equipment, refrigeration systems, custom stainless steel fabrication, walk-in coolers, and so on.

Then, about 12 years ago, my dad opened his first laundromat Jacksonville as a side business. When he told us how much it cost to get into the business, we had sticker shock – the whole family thought he was crazy.

However, after a few years of being in business, the store became profitable, and it just grew and grew. My dad was able to maintain his day job and run the laundromat on the side.

Fast forward to a little over two years ago, and I opened my first location – a 5,600-square-foot laundry in Norcross, Ga. Plus, I’ve got a second, 3,200-square foot laundromat in Brookhaven, Ga., scheduled to open soon.

I’ve learned a lot from my dad’s experience and his trial and error, so I was able to get cranked up and running much faster than if it were truly my first time in the business.

He knows how to work on laundry equipment and has taught me a lot. Plus, he’s a big believer in marketing, which most laundry owners don’t do at all. In addition, he was instrumental in helping to lay out my first store and getting the equipment mix correct, based on the demographics.

I’ve enjoyed the laundry business from the beginning, and I see myself making it my full-time business. I enjoy the simplicity and the flexibility it offers; we’re open 24/7, but I don’t have to be there 24/7.

Before Going Full-Time: I’d prefer for my loan to be paid off before I take it full-time. We’re working hard to pay down that debt.

I’d also like to try to continue double-digit sales growth. We hit it this year, but when you’re in the early stages of growth, that’s expected. It gets harder to hit every year, but I’d like to be able to do that for the foreseeable future before going completely full-time.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time: As a full-time operator, I believe my response time will be a lot faster. Now, I’ll get a message from a customer, and sometimes it has to wait until I get off of work for me to call them back – or we may have some equipment go down, and that has to wait on my schedule. I’d love to be able to serve my customers better and be certain not to have any equipment down.

Moreover, I’ve got a lot of different marketing ideas that would take more of my time to develop and see through.

Keys to a Smooth Transition: Having my finances in order is a big deal. Also, obtaining good health insurance is a key. Right now, my health coverage is through my employer. I’ll have to do my homework with regard to transitioning into similar health care. That’s big.

Advice to Part-Timers: Talk to other owners who have gone full-time. I’ve been to a few of the regional CLA meetings and some of the distributor events, where you can network with full-time owners. For me, most of the operators were very encouraging and really promoting full-time ownership. It made me feel like I was on the right path and wasn’t crazy for thinking about going full-time. I would suggest talking to those who are doing what you want to do. You can learn a lot.

John Simmons
Sun Beach Laundry
Pompano Beach, Fla.

I’ve been involved with software development for about 25 years, and I’ve been a software consultant for 12 years. I like it, but at the same time, I’d like to scale back.

Last July, my wife, Brenda, and I got into the laundromat business. She has always loved doing laundry. Then, about a year ago, she went to visit our son who had a broken washer and a pile of dirty clothes. She dragged him and the clothes to the local laundromat. The store was busy and obviously making money. She came home and said, “We need to buy a laundromat!” And the rest is history.

We bought a unique, little, 1,800-square-foot store right on the beach. It’s not a traditional laundromat customer base. Our customers are older, fairly well-off and definitely seasonal.

Wash-dry-fold represents a big portion of our business. We’ve also partnered with someone to do drop-off drycleaning and are looking to establish some commercial accounts with local hotels and hair salons, to keep business consistent. That’s the bulk of our business. Self-service customers are a small part of what we do.

We knew it would be a full-time business for Brenda. But we would like to buy two or three more stores so that it can become a full-time thing for me in a couple of years.

Before Going Full-Time: I’ve got visions of grandeur. I will consider going full-time, depending on the cash flow of this store and our ability to acquire more laundries. Basically, my day job is still covering most of our action here. We’re just starting to get this business off the ground.

I’d like to see our laundromat netting $60,000 at minimum before we buy another one. And the next store might be more of a self-service, 24-hour, possibly unattended type of operation.

I like to see that second store making an additional $70,000 or $80,000 just to be able to think about walking away from my day job, or at least scaling back.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time: Going full-time is pretty all-consuming. For me, it needs to be everything you think about all the time. Every waking moment until that business is on cruise control. Your business has to be your total focus.

Of course, an advantage would be not having to divide my attention like I do now. As far as workload goes, I don’t think there will be much change in my approach. I’m going to be grinding it out, trying to be creative and do whatever I can to make the business better. That’s how I’m wired.

Keys to a Smooth Transition: For me, I want to reduce my expenses in terms on my personal life. I own a couple of houses – one is a rental and the other I live in. I’m going to sell both of those and move closer to the beach, where our current laundromat is located.

I want to reduce my footprint, as far as what I have to manage in other areas of my life. I’m going to buy a smaller house, trim some excess and reduce expenses, and focus all of my attention on growing the laundry business. I think this will be the most important aspect as far as me making that leap into the full-time realm.

Advice to Part-Timers: Before you make a leap into a full-time operation, do the math. Make certain you can cover yourself. Whatever you need to survive, be sure you’ve got that covered, as well as a plan to go well beyond that. If you’re a part-time owner, make sure you’ve got a reasonable plan for growth.

Try to keep it fun, because it’s going to get frustrating. Keep a smile on your face. Pay attention. Keep your eyes open. Be creative. Form a good team. Above all, if you really have a passion for the laundry business, you’ve got to do what’s right for you.

Sherwin Clemons
Peachy Clean Laundry
Acworth, Ga.

I was a senior vice president and shareholder at a boutique wealth management firm in Atlanta. We focused on asset management and financial planning. Most of the clients I worked with who had businesses were self-started. And, as part of their financial planning, we would discuss their businesses. I guess that was my unofficial training for becoming an entrepreneur.

My husband, Dexter, actually came up with the idea to get into the laundry business. We were both working full-time, and we saw the owners of our respective companies making decisions that we were less excited about over time – decisions that could potentially put us at risk. And it didn’t feel good.

At this time, Dexter was working with a woman who owned a couple of laundromats with her husband. But these stores were unattended and just didn’t look great.

We knew that, if decided to get into the business, we couldn’t do it like that. We knew we didn’t want an unattended store, where we just collected the money. We wanted to create an experience. We’re both extraverts. We both love being around people, and our laundry business would be an extension of us, in terms of building relationships with the customers. We wanted to create an inviting environment.

In August 2016, we incorporated our business structure. And, in December 2016, we opened Peachy Clean. It was a former laundromat that had recently closed. We completely gutted the old building and reopened with a new name, a brand new feel and the latest technology.

But, just months before launching this new venture, we received unexpected news – Dexter was laid off from his job, and then he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

At that point, everything changed.

I don’t want to say the decision to go full-time in the laundry business was made for us – but, with the unexpected diagnosis, it was a much different story as far as how we were going to proceed.

The changes overtaking our lives were significant – with work, the new laundromat, becoming a caretaker and being a mom. In November 2017, I resigned from my position – with no plan.

However, we were still in the laundry business, and we wanted to continue forward. Even though we didn’t have a “plan” in place, being able to step away and remove the stress of my full-time job, gave us the flexibility we needed to figure out what to do next.

Upon Going Full-Time: When we went full-time, we had a new store that was open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday. And it was profitable.

However, we saw our machines and our space going unused at times – so we tossed around some ideas to put those machines to work during those down times. Eventually, we thought about the convenience services we used in our everyday life – from a lawn service to grocery delivery. And, in 2018, we ended up launching Peachy Lyfe, a laundry pickup and delivery service.

At this point, we already had more than two years of experience running the laundromat, so we increased our prices above the market rate. And our customers didn’t blink. In fact, business increased month-over-month in our drop-off service. We could see the growth.

Seeing the excitement in our community gave us the confidence to deploy the revenue from our laundromat to launch our new laundry service.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time: Personally, the difference after going full-time was getting my head in the game. As a part-timer, I saw myself as a business owner, but I didn’t necessarily see myself as a business operator. Once I went full-time, I had to become much more engaged.

In the beginning, I depended too heavily on external consultants, which was a cost we incurred that we probably shouldn’t have. It was a result of my past environment. When you work for a corporation, if you have tech issues, for instance, you have experts who handle them.

However, when you own your own business and you’re working at it full-time, you don’t have the luxury of outsourcing everything. It becomes expensive. We outsourced a number of tasks – including machine maintenance – rather than taking the time to figure them out ourselves. My first thought now is, “How can I fix this myself?” versus making a phone call. We’ve become quite selective about what we pay people to do.

When it becomes your full-time gig, the stakes are higher. You have to become more engaged.

Advice to Part-Timers: When you make the leap to full-time status, you want to be sure you fully understand the business financials. That’s how you’ll be able to more effectively set goals and targets you need to hit. You don’t know what you don’t know. You can see the cash coming in, but are you really running a solid business? You need to know this.

Also, don’t be afraid to invest in technology. Don’t be afraid to take chances. And don’t be afraid to charge more than the guy down the street.

Brandon Rawlings
Arrow Coin Laundry
Fontana, Calif.

Before getting into the laundry business, I was in the banking industry for about 18 years. I worked primarily with small-business owners and their financing needs, such as lines of credit, equipment loans and commercial real estate loans.

In 2014, I read the popular business book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” which prompted me to look into assets that provided cash flow and could provide a tax break. I started out with a few vending machine routes, and slowly began fixing and replacing the machines and adjusting the pricing.

I was pretty busy with servicing the vending machines in the early morning and then working my full-time job at the bank. At this point, I started to look into laundromats. They appealed to me because I could focus on just one location, versus the vending routes, which were spread out all over the place.

I ended up buying my first laundry in early 2015 and my second store soon after that. I sold the vending business a few months later so that I could focus on the laundries.

Not long after my first two stores were retooled and operating, I realized that the potential income was pretty good, if I did things right. In early 2016, a location that I really liked went up for sale, and the previous owner had taken care of the place and had reliable financials. I put an offer in to buy the store, and that’s when I started doing the math to figure out whether or not I could replace my W-2 income with what the laundries were making.

I have four young children, so one of the major factors that drove me to want to get into this business full-time – or, as I call it, “retire from my job!” – was to be with them more and give them more of my time as a father. At my previous job, I would work long hours and have long commutes in L.A. traffic. Most nights, I wouldn’t get home until after the kids were asleep. Now, I’m home every night with them for dinner and to help them with their homework.

Before Going Full-Time: The first priority for me was to be able to cover all of my current expenses and continue to put a little into savings with the cash flow from the laundries. I also had to have a level of confidence in myself as an operator and in the laundries that they would be sustainable – meaning the equipment was in good shape, the leases were in order and the stores looked good. Once I felt confident in those factors, it was an easy decision to go full-time.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time: The main difference to me is the stress level. When you are a part-time laundry owner, you have your main job with all of those responsibilities and demands on your time, and then you’ve also got the stores you’ve invested a lot of money into, which you’re worried about and want to do well. But, again, your time is limited. By contrast, when you are a full-time owner, all there is to worry about is how well the laundries are doing and how you can grow the business.

Keys to a Smooth Transition: For me, it boiled down to income and expenses. Once I was able to generate enough income from the laundries to replace my W-2 income, it made the transition easy for both me and my family. It took a lot of time management in the beginning, due to having to manage a full-time job and building the laundry businesses to get to that level of income.

The keys were having the goal to go full-time and communicating with my family that all of the time I was spending on the laundries in the beginning would lead to us having more time together.

Advice to Part-Timers: My advice is to develop a well-thought-out plan that addresses the pros and cons of your different options to go full-time.

Next, if you need multiple stores to make going full-time work for you, try to acquire or build stores that aren’t more than a 20-minute drive from your home so that they are relatively easy to service and you can get to all of them in a day.

Lastly, make sure your family is on board and that you clearly communicate to them your goals to make it work. There is a learning curve and a lot of time invested initially during that transition from part-time operator to full-time owner.

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