Leading Manufacturers Weigh In on the Current State of the Vended Laundry Dryer – And Its Impact on Today’s Laundry Owners and Customers

What’s really new with dryers and drying?

Dryers and the very act of drying clothes and other items, by definition, represent half of the laundering process. Yet, it seems that drying often takes a backseat to washing procedures and those gleaming, new, high-tech machines that make it happen.

So, last month, we chose to shine the spotlight on drying – speaking with several laundry owners about their machine mixes, pricing structures and dryer strategies. And we’re following up this month with the industry’s equipment manufacturers, who continue to develop new technology to provide store owners with “smarter,” more energy-efficient and management-friendly dryers.

What’s the role of the dryer in today’s modern laundromat? What’s trending? And what can store operators expect in the future? This month, we posed those very topics and others to an all-star panel of some of the business’s top manufacturers.

Our expert panel includes:

Joe Carrita
Customer Relations Manager
Whirlpool Corporation Commercial Laundry

Jason Fleck
Lead Sales Development Manager, Laundromat Segment
Alliance Laundry Systems

Kevin Hietpas
Director of Sales
Dexter Laundry

Joel Jorgensen
Vice President of Sales
Girbau North America

What’s the specific role of the dryer in today’s laundromat setting?

Joe Carrita: The dryer plays an important role in today’s laundromat. First and foremost, a customer expects functional, clean, efficient dryers that meet their laundry needs. For an owner, dryer selection, care and maintenance can impact the success of an operation. Washer-to-dryer ratios, equipment and pricing selections are all important considerations for a vended laundry. Equipment must complement the washer mix and be effectively maintained in an effort to reduce downtime.

Kevin Hietpas: Dryers have a critical role in delivering customer satisfaction. Customers want to see dryers warm up fast and dry their clothes quickly and safely. Dryers are essentially the second half of laundry process, so we need to remember that customers are counting down the time left before they can go home and get on with their day. If they perceive the drying process is slow (or just faster at another laundry), it can hurt their opinion of that location.

Joel Jorgensen: Dryers are in laundromats to safely and quickly dry customer laundry. They are used for the self-service side of the business, as well as for full-service wash-dry-fold. It’s critical they are fast and efficient.

Jason Fleck: Dryers facilitate the evaporation of water level in the load from the washers, using the right balance of motion, heat and airflow. Some manufacturers put more emphasis on one variable over another, but I really think the key is to find the right balance, which results in acceptable dry times and efficient gas consumption. They also are the final impression you make on a customer before they leave your store, so make it a good experience by having quality tumblers.

Tumblers are the most energy-intensive part of the laundry process – up to 60 percent of the energy used in today’s laundromat. Also, there are multiple variables that impact drying including ambient conditions, proper venting, makeup air quality, gas supply, time, energy (temperature), airflow, and load (size, composition, initial residual moisture, etc.).

How has the popularity of high-speed/high-extract washers impacted the role of the dryer and its importance?

Jason Fleck: High-speed washers provide the optimum speed that can extract as much as 20 percent to 50 percent more water from a load, depending on load material and/or the age of the equipment you are comparing it to. A lower moisture content coming out of a washer equates to faster throughput in drying and the ability to do more turns during peak times. A lack of drying capacity is a common mistake when laying out a laundromat. Too few tumblers in a store, versus washer pockets, can create a bottleneck and, ultimately, a negative customer experience.

Joel Jorgensen: High-extract, soft-mount washers remove more moisture from laundry, which can cut dry time by up to 50 percent, when compared to slower-extract, hard-mount models. By cutting dry time, laundries can serve more paying customers per day, eliminate dryer bottlenecks during busy periods and enjoy considerably lower utility costs. Because the dryers operate for shorter periods, they use less natural gas and tend to last longer as well. Moreover, anytime dry time is reduced, so is fiber loss.

In a nutshell, soft-mount, high-speed washers allow customers to complete laundry in considerably less time; cut dry time, energy consumption and utility costs; quicken customer turnover; and extend the life of dryers and customer clothes. So, dryers – while always important to a laundry’s equipment mix – become of less significance when paired with soft-mount, high-speed washers.

Kevin Hietpas: There is no doubt that high-speed washers have improved customer perception of dryers. The greater moisture extraction that is occurring in washers means that the overall workload – and energy usage – of the drying process is less. Often, laundry owners who have installed higher speed washers will have customers think that the dryers have been changed as well, simply because their overall time at the laundry has been shortened.

Joe Carrita: Newer machines have high G-force extraction to remove more water, allowing for shorter dry times. This means owners may be able to increase the number of customers served on a day-to-day basis. In addition, dryer capacity and efficiency has increased throughout the industry, allowing owners to consider adjusting their pricing strategies as well. Whether a washer or dryer, machines with greater efficiencies and capacities can offer the opportunity for variances in pricing. This means they can potentially bring in more revenue per wash than single-load machines. To get the most out of their machines, owners should consider the neighborhood demographics, area competition and utilities before setting pricing rates.

How has dryer efficiency improved in recent years? And how has that changed the game for vended laundry operators?

Kevin Hietpas: Manufacturers continue to make incremental improvements in heating systems and internal airflow designs, but the best way to have a significant impact on drying times and lower overall energy usage is to upgrade to higher speed washers.

Joel Jorgensen: It is true that dryer efficiency has improved nominally. Axial airflow dryers are more efficient in moving heat energy through the load and efficiently make contact with and remove moisture. However, what have really changed the game are advanced, efficient and high-extract, soft-mount washers. Soft-mount, high-speed washers are really responsible for reducing overhead costs, improving customer turnover and giving customers what they want – the ability to complete laundry in less time.

Jason Fleck: For us, axial airflow design was and continues to be a game changer. The axial design forces the hot air through the load of laundry like a ram air engine throughout the tumble process. The previous conventional or radial airflow design “bakes the load” from the outside in less efficiently and in a more time consuming manner. Axial airflow thus, improves dry times, uses less gas and improves throughput of a store, especially when paired with 200 G-force washers

How have dryer strategies changed over the years?

Joel Jorgensen: There are more large-capacity stack dryers and 75-pound reversing dryers today to complement large-capacity washers. Moreover, savvy operators are realizing that the place they make money is on the washers, not the dryers. Many have realized that more turns on the dryer significantly increases natural gas usage and utility costs, which in the long run negates the vend price for another dryer turn. They are learning that it’s critical to have efficient dryers, but even more so, to invest in high-speed washers.

Kevin Hietpas: Beyond upgrading to higher speed washers, the best option for owners to consider to help improve the customer experience and to increase store profitability is a change to single-price, or full-cycle, vend for their dryers. After all, washers are at a set price for a wash, why should your dryers be any different? By historically vending the dryers simply by time, the laundromat industry has actually trained customers to open and close the dryers more often than needed, which extends dry time and wastes energy. If a location has a proper mix of dryers to match its washers, with single-price vend, we can give customers a proper dry cycle and eliminate the extra opening and closing that costs customers and owners both time and money.

Jason Fleck: Mainly, they have changed in efficiency, as previously mentioned, and in pricing. These days it’s much more common to see full-cycle vend pricing in stores that are price leaders in their markets. Full-cycle pricing is better for the end-user and, in a lot of ways, better for the store owner. With this strategy, we can remove some customers’ “nickel-and-dime anxiety” of how much is it going to cost to dry their clothes. For example, pricing a 30-pound stack dryer at $1.25 for a 20-minute cycle allows the tumbler to be more efficient, shortens dry times and enables the owner to make more money on drying. I’ve seen stores get their dryer revenue up to 40 percent to 50 percent of their washer revenue with full-cycle drying.

Overall, full-cycle drying can help lead to a better customer experience. Customers know exactly how much it will cost them to dry and how long it will take. They can start the machine and not have to worry about coming back to check on their clothes. Plus, if you utilize today’s app technology, you can get a notification before the drying cycle is complete.

This strategy also helps reduce utility costs. The dryer heats up once and efficiently dries the load, versus a customer opening the door every five to six minutes to check the clothes.

Regarding overall equipment mix, what washer-to-dryer ratios would you suggest?

Joe Carrita: The success of your laundry business starts with what’s inside. The number of washers and dryers, machine efficiency, proper maintenance and utilization of space all contribute to the effectiveness and profitability of your store. Neighborhood demographics will help determine the ideal number of machines to have. You’ll want the maximum amount to provide the total turns per day that will get you the desired ROI. This means considering not only how many washers and dryers you need, but also which type.

Having enough dryers can help prevent bottlenecking. Industry standards suggest that you should have one dryer for every two topload washers and one dryer for each frontload washer. This is based on the knowledge that customers will generally put two loads of laundry from topload washing machines into one dryer but only one load from a frontload washer into the dryer. Some suggest that adding a few extra dryers above the estimated need is helpful since drying can take longer than washing. In addition, stack dryer options can provide more drying capacity in less floor space for additional efficiency.

Kevin Hietpas: It will always be easier and faster to get clothes wet than to get them dry, so there is no simple answer to this question. The absolute minimum amount of drying capacity would be an amount equal to the amount of washing capacity, preferably something closer to 120 percent to 125 percent of the amount of wash capacity. Beyond that, owners should consider the number and the sizes of dryer pockets available to support different washer sizes. If a location has increased the number of larger washers over the years, it may very well be short on drying capacity. Fortunately, with the introduction of larger stack dryers, adding drying capacity is easier than it has ever been.

Jason Fleck: In actuality, the optimum dry-to-wash ratio is 1.25 or greater – anything less than that and I would recommend adding more tumblers. Another way to more accurately look at it compares the total pounds of capacity of washers, versus the total pounds of capacity of tumblers. This way, those large 75-pound tumblers get more consideration in the calculation.

Joel Jorgensen: I’d recommend a ratio of one washer for 1.2 or 1.3 dryers with wash wheel numbers matching dryer pockets. The reason why is that many times customers walk into a laundry just to see if it has open dryers. If it doesn’t, they walk out. That’s why it’s important to have a slightly higher dryer ratio.

What key innovations to dryers can laundromat owners expect in 2020? What’s new in this category?

Joel Jorgensen: Inverter-drive technology improves energy-efficiency because it saves on power at start up. Additionally, reversing dryers are now available in the vended laundry market, including in stack dryers. Finally, programmable controls are becoming more flexible – allowing owners to control and tweak variables within the dry cycle, along with vend pricing. Some controls provide valuable diagnostics capability and offer customers more cycle options. This is all good!

Jason Fleck: Technology like touchscreens allows for cycle modifiers, where there previously weren’t such options, and ultimately this leads to more revenue opportunities on the tumblers. Networking features are also growing in popularity. Networking enables owners to track revenue, remote-start dryers, get real-time data and troubleshoot maintenance.

Kevin Hietpas: One of the great things about our industry is that innovation and product improvements are ongoing. At Dexter Laundry we are celebrating our 125th anniversary. We’ll continue to innovate and provide improvements in a variety of areas, including dryers.

Joe Carrita: Technology and connectivity continue to be at the forefront of our industry. The best part about the advancements in today’s technology is that it can help an owner manage a store remotely, even when he or she is not there. Machines with remote connectivity capabilities provide access to diagnostics information and reporting that can be leveraged to potentially improve efficiency and revenue. Owners can be equipped to do things like adjust pricing, rates or cycle modifiers remotely.

As the industry turns toward modern advancements, the commercial laundry industry and owners are able to access the technology they need to help them run their stores more efficiently and effectively, thus improving the customer experience along the way.

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