Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Roof Repairs Can Be A Surprise Expense To a Laundromat Owner

Jena Jo needs to pay better attention
My friend Jena Jo loves to travel.  During a recent meeting in a Starbucks, she told me about her trip to Africa. She brought along a truly scary picture and an equally scary story.  She was on tourist tour in a river boat and was not paying particular attention to the guide.
She missed the part about how soon they were going to dangle a chicken on a string and a crocodile would come out of the water and snatch the chicken carcass off the pole.  She should have paid attention to the length of the pole and how close to the edge of the boat the chicken was going to lure the creature in.

Having seen a number of the alligator shows in Florida, Jena Jo was unprepared for the sudden appearance of a super huge crocodile just inches from her face.  She thought she was an experienced outdoors woman, skilled world traveler and had been on many adventures.  This experience scared her to her bones.  She had even thought of leaning down a few moments earlier to dangle her hand in the cool river water.

It made me think of how many buyers of Laundromats think they know about how to buy a business and then all of a sudden out of the depths of realty comes a really scary moment.  The one that comes to my mind at this moment for me is the failure of most buyers to inspect the roofs of their Laundromats before a purchase.

The roof inspection should be done as a part of your due diligence.   A visual inspection by a walk on the roof by the buyer is the norm.  Detailed inspections are done after an offer is made and your approval of the roof condition is included as a contingency of your purchase. 

Staining of ceiling tiles is not uncommon.  There are usually no AC units on Laundromts.  Swamp coolers are used in Laundromats in southern California.  The water used in the swamp cooler process can drip over time onto the tiles surrounding the interior vents. Look for interior stains and shrinkage of the sealant around the swamp coolers.

Interior roof stains can be removed by using a 50%-50% mixture of liquid bleach and water.  Spray lightly on these stains and they disappear. Sometimes a second or third treatment is needed.  Wear old clothes, and a mask so you don't breathe in the bleach.  If the stain is too deep, the ceiling tiles will have to replaced.

The swamp cooler unit should be inspected every year to insure that it is functioning properly and is clean.  The water portion of the cooler is similar to a toilet, with a float.  The remaining portion of the cooler is composed of a box, screens and a motor driven fan.  If the units are made out of metal they can eventually rust out (the water is held in a pan and pumped to the screens) but it is unlikely that they are rusted and as I remember we used fiberglass units.

All Laundromats have roof leaks because of the high number of roof penetrations and the high summer temperature in southern California.  The sealing around the vents (caused in part by the motion caused by the force of dryer air) can shrink and cause cracks that allow in water.  During your yearly roof, swamp cooler and vent inspection, I suggest you take a putty knife and some Henry's sealant with you to smear around any cracks that are developing.  This should be done prior to the rainy season.

Avoid the surprise of a huge repair bill by inspecting your roof prior to purchase and keep up the inspections on a yearly basis.  This is one monster you can avoid if you are paying attention.  Are you paying attention?

                                     -The Latina Laundromat Advisor

Monday, August 8, 2011

Teach Your Customers To Do Their Laundry - Create A Positive Store Personality

My friend Jena just turned twenty-three and I took her and another friend Emily to a restaurant to celebrate her birthday. The world considers Jena to be an adult, but in many ways she still has the mind of a teenager. I snapped this picture of her “taking a bite” out of a paper hamburger.

23 years old and all grown up - really? - she still has things to learn.

Although Jena is smart, talented, and even employed in the midst of this depression, I realize from my mature position as a true adult – since I am five years older – that Jena doesn’t know everything there is to know.

Our friend Emily was with us at the lunch with her beautiful baby Yvette.  Emily is twenty-four years old, and has the responsibility of raising a husband – opps, I mean – baby, and still is learning a lot of  “grown up” things, including doing your laundry properly.  The phrase "babies raising babies" jumps into my mind.
During our lunch discussion, Emily asked me a question about washing her new blue jeans.  She was worried they would bleed and ruin her other clothes.  Everyone thinks I know everything about laundry, because I work for a Laundromat distributor and am therefore "in the business."

Yvette may think mommy knows everything, but . . .    
After helping her with her question, I realized that many young women really don’t know very much about doing their laundry.  Laundry is something everyone has to do.  We may have paper hamburgers, but we live in a world that doesn't use throwaway paper clothing, so it’s a job every woman will have to learn to do well.
I also thought, I bet most Laundromat owners could benefit from knowing that all of their customers don't know as much about washing clothers as one might think.  Putting in place a program of teaching customers how to do laundry would be a great benefit.  Laundromat owners could use cute signs, a brochure, or use your attendants to share a little knowledge with your customers.
Here are the items I think you should concentrate on teaching customers about washing their clothes in your Laundromat:
1)  Teach customers that washing is a family affair.  Use your husband or boyfriend to pre-sort the clothes at home.  The children can also help and put the items into pillow cases or laundry bags.  No matter how young, the children of the family can help with the laundry and it can become a time to bond and share work together.
     My favorite
2)  Teach customer about the washing chemicals.  Every customer uses a variety of laundry aids to get their clothes clean.  Review and explain soaps, detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets – and especially bleaches, dry and liquid – so your customers know what the chemicals are supposed to do and how much should be used in each washer load.  Explain the newer lower suds soaps for use in front load washers.
3)  Teach customers to pre-treat their clothes.  Your customers will return more often if their clothes come out cleaner in your Laundromat.  Keep some pre-wash stain treatment in the backroom and offer it for use for free to your customers.  It comes in stick, spray, or liquid.  Your attendants should also have the treatment available, and the knowledge to be able to offer advice on how to use the product.  Tell your customers that pre-treatment works best if it is put on the clothes immediately after the clothes are taken off and the stain is discovered.   If you teach your customers to form this as a habit, you’ll have a bunch of customers with stain-free clothes and a great reputation in the neighborhood.  My favorite - and the one I use - is Soilove.  It's available at most 99 cent stores.  Inexpensive and it works great.
4)  Teach customers to separate their colors.  Sorting clothes is something a lot of young people don’t understand.  Whites should go into one pile that can be treated with liquid (chlorine) bleach and washed in hot water.  Colors into another pile and a washed with regular detergents and powdered bleaches (or color enhancers) and washed in warm water.  Reds should probably be washed in their own load in cold water to keep the colors bright and reduce the loss of dye.  Same thing with jeans, which can bleed the first few times they are washed, and will stain other clothing.  Treating the first time you wash with vinegar with se the dye into the fabric and it won’t bleed.
        I can see the wrinkles setting in
5)  Teach customer to fold their clothes correctly.  Sounds simple, but most people do not fold their clothes correctly.  It should be folded as soon as it comes out of the dryer.  Wrinkles can set in quickly – especially the permapress and synthetic fibers – so you need to fold them before they cool and set in the wrinkles.  Most people don’t have a routine for folding.  Certain items can be folded cold, such as towels, underwear, shirts, and socks.  Shirts and dresses should be put on hangers first.
These five tips should help your customers get a better experience in your Laundromat.  Some people will be offended is your suggest helping them – but that’s OK – others will be very grateful and appreciate the advice.  You are creating the personality of your Laundromat, and a good personality results in more and happier customers.
Going back to my birthday lunch meal with Jena, Emily and little Yvette, I just want you to see the shoes that Emily was wearing.  She may not know that much about doing her laundry, but she is an expert in picking out beautiful shoes.  :)
                                    -The Latina Laundromat Advisor

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How To Make Laundromats And Coin Laundries More Appealing To Women

Laundromat users - each with two children - have suggestions for you

I took a trip recently with my girlfriends Marla and Lena. We went to Las Vegas for a few days of "fun in the sun" and spent some time by the hotel pool. We only went to see a few of the fabulous shows and entertainers on the Strip. We didn't do any gambling or dancing. : )

Of course the subject of Laundromats always comes up on those long trips across the desert from LA to Las Vegas. Both my friends use Laundromats in their neighborhoods and were complaining to me that Laundromats don't consider the needs of their female customers.

Marla believes that Laundromats are generally used by women - and owned by men - and feels that men can sometimes overlook the needs of their customers. She would like to see a play area for her two children. It would be an attraction to her to use a Laundromat that had one; she could concentrate on sorting and washing her clothes if an enclosed play area was provided.
Ariana, a future Laundromat user has needs too

Lena responded that she wished Laundromats would provide a baby changing table in their restrooms. Many shops, stores and restaurants have them, and she wonders why such a women oriented business as Laundromats don't have them. She hates having to change her babie's diapers in front of other customers and thinks it's just "stinky and icky." 
Marla chimed in that her life would have been easier during her pregnancies if her local Laundromat owner would have provided a few chairs and a lower folding table or two so she could have sat down and folded her clothes, instead of standing on her swelling feet the entire time. 
Lena said said that when she was on a visit to Canada a few years ago she had the opportunity to use a Laundromat that included free soap (injected liquid soap) in all their washers. 
She went on to say, that it is really is difficult to drag two children, five loads of clothes, a large bag of Ariel, fabric softener, stain remover, and a bottle of bleach into the Laundromat. It would be very nice if her Laundromat offered her free soap and bleach so she didn't have to carry those items around. She would use the Laundromat more frequently, instead of using the washers in her apartment building when she didn't feel up to lugging all the items to the Laundromat. 
She added "why not buy some small lockers (like at the health club) so the regular customers who wanted the service could store their favorite soaps and bleaches in lockers." It would be beneficial and lock the customers into returning to the Laundromat.
Marla said she had an idea that would be great if Laundromat owners would only listen. The owners could buy a few of the baby chairs (like the ones used in restaurants), so she could strap her children into these chairs instead of putting them in laundry baskets on the folding table. She sees other women put their children into laundry carts - exposing them to potential laundry cart tip over injuries. If a better option was available, fewer children would be in the carts.

Mommy, don't they have a booster chair for me?

When I returned home I thought, I wonder how many owners really sit down and think of ways to make their Laundromats more appealing to women. Marla and Lena considered the issue from the viewpoint of young mothers, but I bet a lot of smart owners have suggestions others could use for the various ages of the women who use they Laundromats. 

What do your female customers want? What would make them return again? Every owner would be wise to consider what it would take to make their Laundromat more female friendly. Good ideas means good business, and good business makes money. 
As for our trip, we got wet, relaxed, and returned with most of our money. The economy, recession, lack of flowers in our lives, and the rising costs of perfume all seem to disappear as we consumed our favorite icy drink at the hotel pool. ;)

                                           -The Latina Laundromat Advisor

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Laundromat Income Can Decline In The Summer: Buyers And Investors Need To Know

Potential investors and Laundromat purchasers are usually unaware of the up-and-down nature of Laundromat income.  Income goes up and down like waves in the ocean.  If you buy your store in December - despite all the analysis and due diligence you do - it’s possible you may miss the fact that when the summer months come around, your newly purchased Laundromat will produce lower income levels.
Marta wears fewer clothes in July
If the best months of income production for your Laundromat are November, December, and January, the worst months will normally be June, July, and August.  Laundromats in the summertime can have a decline in income of ten to twenty-five percent.

My friend Marta comes from a family of twelve that regularly uses a Laundromat. Mom, Dad, five brothers, and four sisters are in her family. Her mom needs about eight to ten 20-LB washers to clean one week’s worth of her families clothes in December. The Ortez family uses the Laundromat every week and produces a very good income for the owner.
Why does income decline in so many Laundromats in the summer?  I knew the answer was easy, and I've heard it said a dozen times, but it just wasn't sinking in clearly in my brain.

The light bulb of understanding came on one day when I was visiting Marta and saw her coming down the steps from her upstairs bedroom.  It hit me right between the eyes!  Short shorts, halter tops, and bathing suits can fit into fewer Laundromat washers than long sleeve shirts, long pants, and hoodies.

In the summer, Marta’s family can fit their dirty laundry into six to eight 20-LB washers because her family wears fewer clothes in the summer months:  that's the simple answer.  Laundromats don't lose customers, they lose pounds of clothes to process.

Marta’s mom also doesn’t care if her boys wear their jeans for a few extra days - or it their T-shirts are worn an extra day or two.  During the school year, Marta’s mom ensures her boys go to school with clean clothes everyday – in the summer, not so much.

Marta's sister Maria in summer attire
If Marta’s family is typical – and I believe it is - the Laundromat owner receives about twenty percent less income from the same customer base. So now you know why I believe Laundromats make less income in the summertime.
It’s why I always explain the income cycle to anyone wanting to invest in the Laundromat business.  I want them all to view the income for an entire year.  If you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, you know that Marta's picture clearly explains this phenomenon of Laundromat ownership.

There is, of course, always the exception to the rule.  Less income in the summertime may not happen to Laundromats that are located in resort areas or near the Beach.  In fact, the summertime can often be the best income months for a Laundromat owner.  Tourists can bring dollars to resort and beach businesses, including Laundromats.
                                       The Latina Laundromat Advisor

Saturday, July 16, 2011

How To Prevent Dryer Fires In Your Laundromat: Check For Lint

One of the biggest dangers to a total loss fire in a Laundromat is a fire that starts in a water heater, dryer vent, or dryer and rises up into the ceiling beams.  Once the fire gets to the roof, the years of heat – heat rises remember – may have dried the ceiling joists enough that they burn rapidly.

Once the ceiling - or roof really - is burning, there is almost no way for a fire department to prevent the burning away of the entire building roof and the eventual collapse of the burnt timber onto the Laundromat equipment.  Quite a mess in the ones I've seen.

In Laundromats, you normally see little fires – confined to a back room or a single dryer – or you get really big fires that result in the burning away of the roof structure and a total loss.
Shandra reads all the books and manuals     
My friend Tomas has a very smart girlfriend named Shandra.  She keeps their apartment spotless – believe me I’ve tried to find some dirt in her apartment – and Shandra tells Tomas to keep his Laundromat just as clean as she keeps the apartment.

Shandra loves to point out that the most common cause of major damage to Laundromat equipment is a fire that starts in a dryer.  She found a picture of lint burning in a dryer vent and showed it to Tomas.  Tomas brought it to me and thought it would be a good idea to put it on my blog and write about causes of dryer fires.
Every Laundromat owner needs to think clean, and should therefore check the inside of every dryer at least once a month to be sure there is no lint building up inside – usually just behind the drum.  At least once a year, an owner should also climb up on their roof and check to make sure the dryer vents are in place – wind can tip them over – and that no debris is clogging them.  Screens of any type, should never be put on your dryer vents.
During this annual inspection it’s a good idea to also pull a few vent pipes to see if any lint is building up in the exhaust vents.  The higher the ceiling – the longer the vent run – the more likely that lint will build up inside the vents.  Long screws holding the venting together can also catch lint, so the dryer manufacturers recommend using pop rivets when putting venting together.

I guess I should feel happy for Tomas to have such a smart girl like Shandra.  She reads all the service and installation manuals on the Laundromat equipment installed in Tomas’ store.   Smart, kind and intelligent and with any luck she’ll be married to a wonderful Laundromat owner one day.  What could be better?
                                The Latina Laundromat Advisor

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Uniforms And Aprons For Laundromat Attendants

Available in many different colors
Most people tell me that a professional looking attendant adds to a feeling of style and security in a Laundromat.  I believe they look good and help your customers find the attendant quickly if they need any help in using the machines, getting change or a refund.
I have found that the best – and most inexpensive -  way to provide your attendants with a professional look is to buy some matching aprons.

They retail for around $8.50 each, and the source I’ve used is Happy Chef Uniforms (  A badge – or name tag – with the attendants name on it helps personalize the contact between customer and attendant.
Some Laundromat owners insist on having the name of their Laundromat printed on their attendant’s aprons.  It adds to the cost and may not provide additional benefit.

My girlfriend Melina is one of those people who believe she must personalize every aspect of her life.  She makes her own clothes, and when her uncle – who owns a Laundromat with three attendants – decided to explore buying aprons for the staff.  Melina insisted she be given the chance to design them herself.

After a number of design prototypes here’s the one she showed to her Uncle Marvin.   She eliminated the pockets and created a design that could fit into a Disney production of Snow White.

Attractive, but at $35.00 a copy, they are unnecessarily expensive.  Melina also ignored the fact that every attendant might not  have her hour glass figure – or perhaps more of the sand may be in the bottom of the glass of some attendants – so uniforms - or special designs - should first be practical for a variety of body shapes and sizes.
I recommend you buy aprons, not T-shirts – another popular option – or uniforms, because the majority of attendants appreciate the look and fit of an apron.  They are long-lasting – buy two for each attendant – and only a little more expensive than T-shirts.

Aprons are also unisex, so both your male and female attendants can wear them.  If you buy the ones with pockets in the front your staff will have a convenient place to keep their attendant keys and refund money.
Aprons can improve the look of your Laundromat for a very reasonable price.  On the other hand, you could hire Melina to design an outfit for your Laundromat, or just have her wear one of her outfits in your Laundromat.  ;)
                                                -The Latina Laundromat Advisor

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why Giving Refunds Is Important For Laundromat Owners

Luz lives next door to my parents house.  I was talking to her over the fence in the back yard the other day, and - believe it or not - she started to discuss Laundromats.  Since I work for a Laundromat distributor, I guess that people figure I am fair game to talk with them about their Laundromat problems.

Luz has a cellphone and knows how to use it
It seems that Luz was using a local Laundromat and lost money in a washing machine.  She says she wasn’t paying attention and pumped four dollars worth of quarters into a front load washer that was supposed to start after inserting twelve quarters. (That’s three dollars for those of you who don’t have a calculator on their cell phone.) J

She told the owner about her loss, and the owner berated her in front of a bunch of other customers.   He told her that she was lying:  the washers only took three dollars to start, so how could she have lost four dollars?  He told her to fill out a card and he would consider refunding her three dollars if he could figure out if the machine was really broken.

I happen to know for a fact that Luz is an honest person.  There was the night at a family party where I dropped my purse.  My wallet fell out of it after a long night of partying at my parent’s house.  It must have fallen out as I crawled into the passenger of my designated driver's car.   The next day, Luz went over to my parent's and returned the found wallet she had found in the driveway to my mother.  All $46.00 was still in my wallet.  That’s an honest person.

Anyway, honest Luz was now on a rampage.  She was making it her personal goal in life to tell as many people as possible not to use the Laundromat that had stolen her money.  She had been on the phone all morning calling her friends and telling them to never use that Laundromat again.

All Laundromat owners should know the best form of advertising is word of mouth.  What many of us forget is the opposite is also true: when you offend someone, you have just bought yourself negative advertising.  Let’s look at what this $4.00  in a failed refund bought this Laundromat owner in negative advertising and loss of business.

The average customer uses six washers and dryers per visit.  The income of $2.50 average (per load) is $15.00 per week or $60.00 per month - multiplied by the eight people Luz convinced to never return to the Laundromat. That's $480.00 per month or $5,760.00 of lost yearly income.

The success rate of postcards is about 1-2%, and the sucesss rate of hand-delivered flyers is about 2-4%.  In order for the Laundromat owner to recover his lost income, he must send  over 2,800 flyers twice in one year to make up for his one moment of discontent over the request for a refund.  His $4.00 decision just cost him $5,760 over the next year.

Now, not every customer is going to react as strongly as Luz to bad manners.  Some are going to take it worse!  Women, particularly Hispanics, love to talk - perhaps even gossip a little - and have large families.   We love to talk about anyone who offends us, and thereby offends our entire 130 member extended family. :)

The moral of the story is “give the refund.”  The consequences are too great, if you are wrong, and - more importantly - even if the customer is lying, the cost to confront them is not worth it to the owner.
 –The Latina Laundromat Advisor

P.S.  Luz later did get $4.00 sent to her in the mail by the Laundromat owner when he discovered his coin mechanism was jammed, but I doubt Luz is going to spend as much time repairing this owner’s reputation as she did in tearing it down.  Take this advice to heart.