Shiny new stainless steel front-loading washers line one wall, begging for their first customers. Hardwood-style floors and decorative interior brick set the ambiance, while flat-screen televisions draw attention high up on the walls.
Finishing touches are being made on The Wash House’s new laundromat at the corner of Glenstone Avenue and Bennett Street. It’s a $750,000 investment, the bulk of which covers the 30 new commercial washers and matching dryers.
This is a drastic difference from where The Wash House started in 1977 in Republic. While the latest owners still operate the original laundromat – albeit revamped – they’ve got their sights set on expansion in Springfield.
Co-owner Brad Harris says four stores is the goal in Springfield. Come the first of November, it’ll be two down and two to go.
“We think that’s about what the town can support for our business model,” Harris says.
It’s a family affair – Harris and his wife Anne work with Nick and Kelly Luzecky. The women are sisters, and they handle the day-to-day affairs of The Wash House.
In the wash
The co-owners never thought they’d be in the laundry business. Brad Harris had a corporate job with Miller Brewing Co., and Nick Luzecky was a banker in Atlanta.
Both of their jobs were downsized.
Luzecky responded by buying a KeeWes Equipment Co. distributorship, which provides laundromats with equipment and supplies. Harris went to work in sales for his brother-in-law, Luzecky, and parlayed that into his own purchase of a laundromat: The Wash House in Republic five years ago.
Harris acknowledges he got tumbled around a bit learning the new business.
“Being a corporate guy, I thought I had everything figured out. But I quickly realized there are things about the industry that are different – mostly consumer-based interactions,” Harris says. “Staff has been a challenge – always and forever for all locations.”
However, he knew what the laundromat needed. And, of course, they knew where to find equipment: KeeWes deals in Speed Queen washers and dryers. The brothers in law continue to work together with KeeWes.
“It was a complete overhaul,” Harris says of the original store. “The place was a disaster. All the equipment was old – over 30 years old.”
Three years ago, they entered the Springfield market in Sheid’s Plaza at Walnut Lawn and Campbell Avenue. The machines in that store, Harris says, have a daily capacity to wash 36,000 pounds of laundry.
The key performance metric is the number of sales per machine per day within that capacity. According to industry standards, 3.9 turns per day per machine is the sweet spot.
“If you can hit the industry standard, you are doing great. We’re way over it,” he says.
Harris says coin-operated laundromats are not a thing of the past – even with the growing trend of apartment developers upping the ante on washers and dryers, including more often installing the machines inside individual units.
According to the Coin Laundry Association, it’s a $5 billion industry.
“The sales seem to be on an upswing,” says Brian Wallace, the 1,800-member association’s president and CEO. “There are a number of demographic and consumer preference trends that are supporting more business. The more people, the more dirty clothes – that’s sort of an irrefutable law of physics that we like.”
Harris identifies four groups of users, beginning with those who will never have wash equipment.
“That’s your core customer. They pay the rent, basically,” he says. “They’re transitory. They go in and out, depending on where they want to live.”
The second group is without equipment for the time, maybe because they’re in-between houses. Next are those who have oversized or specialty items – such as pet beds, king comforters, boat or jet ski covers, horse blankets and tents – that require commercial grade equipment.
“That customer is not price sensitive. They just want equipment that can handle their stuff,” Harris says.
The fourth group is the drop-off customer, which encompasses commercial accounts and individuals.
“A lot of guys who don’t want to do their laundry, bring us their laundry,” he says. “It’s an act of faith. You’re giving us a bag of laundry and saying you want it all back.”
The 2,400-square-foot new store, 1755 E. Bennett St. behind a Rapid Robert’s gas station has about 6,000 renters within a mile of it by Harris’ calculation. He says traffic count at the Glenstone intersection is twice that of Campbell and Walnut Lawn.
The new coin
Yes, the machines still take coins. But as technology has it, they also accept debit and credit card payments.
“If you have a smartphone, you can pay through these machines,” Harris says.
For $1.25 per pound and a minimum 10-pounds, The Wash House staff will wash, dry and fold laundry dropped off. The cost to wash individual items ranges from $5 for a decorative pillow or throw blanket to $40 for a feather mattress.
The Wash House partners decline to disclose annual revenues.
The laundry costs come down for those who choose to hang around and handle their own loads. For those customers, the business partners provide free Wi-Fi to help pass the time.
“Doing laundry is not any fun anyway,” Harris says. “We should at least make the experience something that’s enjoyable.”
Where megaretailers abound and more development is coming
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