Store Owners Share Their Strategies for Keeping Laundry Equipment in Service and Operating Smoothly
[This is the second part in a series on equipment repairs and maintenance.]
In last month’s cover story, a number of laundry owners shared their strategies and personal thoughts on keeping their store’s equipment running smoothly and making money.
This month, more of today’s successful operators weigh in on how they keep their washers and dryers in service – as well as what specific repairs they choose to fix themselves, what types of issues they leave to the experts… and why:
Troubleshooting can take some time and effort. However, since we have multiple machines, it allows for swapping parts to determine the root cause of an issue. If we had to pay an hourly rate for troubleshooting, all of our profits would dwindle quickly.
Some of the top repairs we always handle in-house include coin jams, drain clogs, water valve/diaphragm issues, belt replacement and dryer trunnion replacement.
You need to be somewhat handy in this business, or else you better have handy friends or a large pocket book. Fortunately, there are a number of resources you can consult to keep your equipment up and running, including the PlanetLaundry Open Forum online, YouTube videos and internet searches. And, of course, I also can call my distributor for help over the phone.
Time spent per week servicing and maintaining the store and its equipment: Four to eight hours per week.
The tools Albert couldn’t live without:
• Six-way screwdriver, which works great for coin jams
• 100+ tool set that has all of the sockets and bits for special screw heads
• A car jack to help lift motors and install belts on extractors
• A paint scraper, which helps clean in all of the nooks and crannies
Where he draws the line between doing it himself and calling an expert: If I need special tools, such as a puller kit for a bearing job, I’ll let a professional handle it. Those tools cost more than $1,000, and the labor is $450 – so it’s cheaper to call in a technician.
Shamrock Coin Laundry
Handling some of the simpler, more basic equipment repairs in-house offers a cost savings and provides the owner with the ability to put equipment back into service quicker. Personally, I have the ability to perform not only equipment repair, but also most of the building repair.
You can be successful in the laundry business without being mechanically inclined, but you need someone who can fulfill that role. You don’t want to be dependent on a third party to keep your business operating. This goes to customer satisfaction and cost control.
For equipment issues, I’ll first consult the equipment maintenance manuals. And, on the rare occasions this isn’t helpful, I’ll reach out to my equipment supplier or directly to the manufacturer.
Time spent per week servicing and maintaining the store and its equipment: Because I stay on top of my equipment, I average about two hours per week on maintenance and about five hours a week on servicing.
The tools Edward couldn’t live without:
• Torx bits
• Small, medium and large socket sets
• Volt/ohm meter
Where he draws the line between doing it himself and calling an expert: Although I have the ability to perform most of my own repair work, I will bring in a contractor if a repair requires a large investment in specialized tools that may be needed to handle a unique situation.
Our Beautiful Launderette
Huntington Beach, Calif.
I can think of three reasons why it’s important to try to tackle some of the simpler equipment repairs on your own. First, you’ll save the cost of hiring a repairman. Second, you’ll get the machine back into service more quickly. And, third, you’ll learn to become a good diagnostician.
With that said, I have always had a basic philosophy – if I can get it repaired without getting dirty, I will do it. This will include such basic projects as unjamming a bill acceptor, cleaning out coin drops, changing door switches on the lint access doors on the dryers, recycling card acceptors and changing light tubes.
Time spent per week servicing and maintaining the store and its equipment: Less than an hour.
The tools David couldn’t live without:
• A screwdriver
Those are the only tools I use.
Where he draws the line between doing it himself and calling an expert: As I mentioned earlier, if I can get it repaired without getting dirty, I will do it. Otherwise, I’ll call in a professional.
Middle Island, N.Y.
For good or bad, I really can’t afford to pay anyone to fix our equipment for us, so I’ve adapted by fixing and modifying all of my own machines and regularly performing maintenance myself to avoid larger repairs. And, truthfully, even if I could afford it, I probably would still do all of the work myself.
The only exception is if I’m away for any period of time. If something breaks while I’m gone, I’ll have my attendant call our mechanic immediately. Like most owners, I take pride in the lack of out-of-order signs in our store. If something is broken, I give it 100 percent to get it fixed before the next busy weekend.
Oddly enough, my mechanic has taught me most of what I know about laundry repairs. He does this type of work on the side, so he often doesn’t have the time to come here and help in person – but he has been more than happy to give me advice. Of course, the internet has been very useful as well.
Although it’s not necessary to be extremely handy to run a laundry business, you do need to have your niche where you can contribute in your own special way and add value to the business. For instance, I hire an accountant; I wouldn’t dream of doing that work myself, but other owners may be so inclined.
Time spent per week servicing and maintaining the store and its equipment: Two to four hours.
The tools Richard couldn’t live without:
• By far the most important tool is my puller. It is the most used, and I purchased the best one I could find. I’d be lost without it.
• Quality standard and Phillips screwdrivers
• Water pump pliers
• A voltmeter
• A sharp utility knife
Where he draws the line between doing it himself and calling an expert: That’s only if I’m not physically near the store. Otherwise, I’ll do it myself. I’ll even replace a machine if I have to.
Wash It Kwik
For the most part, the majority of repairs can be made in less than 30 minutes. I relate owning a laundromat to owning a boat. If you know nothing about the boat, you won’t enjoy having it nearly as much. If every time you want to use your boat, you have to call someone for service, it isn’t going to be as much fun. Similarly, a good working knowledge of your laundry equipment is a must, even if you don’t handle every repair yourself.
My number-one rule is: “If it doesn’t compute, you must reboot!” Many error codes will resolve themselves if you just turn off the system and then turn it back on.
Given that, water and drain valves are the top two issues I deal with, and these are quick and easy to fix. Next, it would be belts – again, an easy fix. Typically, with dryer issues, there will be one of three things wrong – the air flow switch, the ignition board or a relay.
Time spent per week servicing and maintaining the store and its equipment: Two to three hours.
Where he draws the line between doing it himself and calling an expert: I choose to let the pros do bearing jobs on my washer-extractors.
Bakers Centre Laundry
My laundry is relatively new, so I don’t have many major repair issues at this point. However, a store owner should at least be willing to unclog a drain valve. And, if you have a card store, you should be able to remove and install a new card reader.
I’m not mechanically inclined at all, and honestly, I hate doing equipment repairs. Therefore, I depend on a terrific service technician. Owners who are mechanically inclined and can do more of the repairs themselves obviously have a huge advantage. But, if you’re not, you better have a great service technician who is fair, reasonable and dependable, which can be challenging to find. Again, the more maintenance and repairs you can tackle yourself, the sooner your washers or dryers will back into service, producing income.
Time spent per week servicing and maintaining the store and its equipment: I probably spend an hour or less a week on actual repairs, which usually involves unclogging drain valves. Also, my washers display error codes if there is any issue, so diagnosing problems is quick and simple.
The tools Larry couldn’t live without:
• A power screwdriver
• A 5/16-inch nut driver
The first time you have a distributor’s technician out to fix something and he pulls a candy wrapper out of a coin drop, your shoulders will drop when you discover that candy wrapper just cost $125 for 30 minutes of labor and a trip charge. Any store owner can – and should – tackle the simple issues, as well as challenge themselves on some of the harder problems, too.
I think many laundry owners start out not being very handy, but due to necessity, they learn to work on their equipment. My advice is to not be afraid of it – and to cheat a little. After all, if you’ve got 10 of certain type of machine in your store, why not move a part from one to the other to see if the problem follows? It’s an easy diagnosis. Of course, for more difficult repair problems, don’t forget that Google has it all.
The key to good maintenance is offsetting things before they happen. After you’ve owned a certain type of washer or dryer, you will learn what tends to fail and when, as well as what parts to keep in stock.
The tools David couldn’t live without:
• A double-sided screwdriver at each location
• Razor blade scrapers
• Acrysol, which is a good ink cleaner
• A Shop-Vac, because laundries are “lint farms”
Where he draws the line between doing it himself and calling an expert: I repaired BMWs for 13 years, so I’m extremely mechanical. I even do all of my own bearing jobs.
Of course, I think there’s a time-versus-expense ratio that must be considered. For instance, if you’ve done the basics and can make more money servicing commercial accounts, then go ahead and pay your distributor to service your machines. However, if you have the time and the desire, move those parts from one machine to another until the problem follows – then, you not only have learned to fix that particular problem, but you also know what part to keep in stock in the future.
Sunshine Express Laundry Center
Your washers and dryers can’t make money for you if they don’t work. And quick, in-house resolutions of basic equipment issues will leave your machines available for peak usage periods. In addition, it also will instill confidence in customers that your store’s equipment is going to be reliable and in working order for them.
At my laundries, we handle the basics on our own – including coin jams, blocked drains, over-sudsing issues, door-catch repairs, belt replacement and bill verifier replacement.
In general, you don’t need to be extremely handy to be a profitable laundry owner. However, it’s a matter of scale. If you own a small, moderate-producing single store, you are going to need to be rather mechanically included, whereas a large, high-volume laundry or multi-store operation likely will allows for the retention of a paid technician or handyman.
Time spent per week servicing and maintaining the store and its equipment: Personally, I spend 15 hours total, spread across my three locations.
The tools James couldn’t live without:
• Screwdrivers – long and short, large and small, Phillips and flathead
• A set of wrenches
• A set of Allen wrenches
• Needle-nose pliers, large and small
• Arc-joint pliers
• A hammer
Where he draws the line between doing it himself and calling an expert: For liability and safety reasons, I draw the line at gas- or gas-valve-related issues. I also let the experts handle bearing jobs and bill acceptor repairs, because we simply don’t have the expertise for that kind of work.
Canon Coin Laundry
Repairs can take a big bite out of your profits, especially once your machines hit the five-year mark and beyond. I built all six of my stores myself, so I handle all machine and building maintenance. This is not a sideline for me.
In my area, the laundries are typically smaller to medium-sized. I would have to do much more volume than I do to be a hands-off owner. Just clearing drains alone would be a huge expense if I had to call someone in. Plus, customers don’t like out-of-order machines – and I can repair equipment much more quickly myself.
I like to keep my stores at 100 percent. I have a truck with a utility body, and I have tools and parts with me, which saves a lot of time. I set aside specific days for certain maintenance at all of my stores – cleaning changers, flushing water heaters, rinsing lint screens and so on.
When trying to figure out a specific repair solution, the online laundry forums are a great resource; just about every problem you can think of already has been discussed. Also, a good relationship with your distributor is important, as a quality distributor will really help your business.
The tools Chris couldn’t live without:
• A Klein 11-in-1 screwdriver – I can get into just about any front panel with it.
• Channellock pliers
• An LED flashlight
• A quality multi-meter
• A long, magnetic pickup tool
Where he draws the line between doing it himself and calling an expert: There is no “line” for me. This is my business. Keeping machines running is what I do. I guess I’m an owner, not a “laundry investor.”