WHAT KIND OF SIGNS SHOULD BE ON A LAUNDROMAT?
One question new Laundromat owners frequently ask is "what kind of sign should I put on my new Laundromat?" Here are a few thing you might consider:
1) Cities may have sign standards that need to be reviewed before moving ahead on any changes or additions. Permits are required.
2) If you rent your store, read your lease for sign standards and landlord approval issues.
3) Although vanity signs promoting your brand or chain are personally rewarding, there is no evidence that putting your name, decal or logo increases or attracts more business than a generic exterior sign.
4) Any design or decoration that detracts from the ability to rapidly recognize you as a facility for washing clothes is a distraction.
5) Certain color combinations are useful to know when you're designing your signs. The human eye sees black lettering on a yellow background better than any other color combination, hence the use of traffic signs being yellow with black lettering. I remember when all stop signs were also colored yellow with black letters. The second best color combination that the human eye can see is white lettering on a red background, hence the current red stop signs with white lettering.
6) If your city or landlord requires individual letters, many owners will select "Laundromat" over "Coin Laundry" because it has one fewer letter. 24, 30, or 36 inch individual lighted letters are expensive.
7) In my travels in Baja California, Mexico, I never saw a Lavanderia sign, but it has become popular in SoCal. "Lavanderia Laundromat" is a popular choice.
8) The quick glimpse afforded a driver while driving past multiple monument signs is just about one second. Try to control your creativity and keep your signage to declaring your business. "LAUNDROMAT" gets noticed, while "LARRY'S FAMOUS WASH TUB LAUNDRY" is too long, complex and not easily recognized no matter how much you might like the design, message and color.
9) Interior signs are the place to free your spirit of creativity, logos, colors and designs.
10) Blocking your front windows with signs, writing, vending machines or dryers reduces the ability to see the interior and lessons the feeling of safety necessary for the well being of your customers.
12) Advertising the brand of equipment on an exterior sign should only be done in situations where the manufacturer or distributor is paying for all or part of the sign. Customers don't select Laundromats by the brand of equipment installed, no matter what a distributor might tell you.
13) I've seen owners spend more time designing and naming their Laundromats than they did finding a name for their own children. Spend the time and money on management, equipment and promotion.
In a dense urban setting, with a variety of washing facilities available, street side monument signs, fast moving traffic and arterial roadways, I believe your exterior signs need to quickly grab your eye and brain.
Signs declaring their service are very popular, such as Butcher, Computer Repair, Emergency Room, Palm Reader and Watch Repair are just a few examples. You don't need to brand these enterprises on their exterior signage; people know immediately the services offered. Let's look at a few branding names that make quick recognition difficult. The Coin Wash, Clean and Lean (combination of Laundromat and exercise), Suds and Duds, Come on Over Laundry, Sparkle Plenty Home Washing and Rub a Dub Dub Wash in a Tub.
I believe that embellishment on street side monument signs should be big letters, short and simple. Storefront signs should be simple and as large as possible by city codes. I suggest that cute names, logos, pictures, phrases or phone numbers do not need to be displayed on exterior signs. Signs that display the brand of the washers and dryers may last longer than the brands themselves. Anyone still have a Norge, GE or Primus logo on their sign? Does anyone believe that advertising the equipment brand leads to more customers? There is another branding technique used by some distributors to push their company. When they build a new Laundromat, they use a name stating their company name to continually advertise their name on your business free of charge. Here SAP Distributor has created a smart, continuing promotion at your expense. Their branding doesn't draw in customers for you, but for them.
WHAT TYPE OF FLOOR IS BEST FOR LAUNDROMATS
Here is my input on flooring: 1) Laminate planks. I tried the "wood look" in half a dozen stores. Looked great but didn't wear very well at all. The water would get under the vinyl and pop up the planks. Hard to repair and they can tear. They also tend to shrink in colder weather and expand in warmer weather and can cause the planks to wrinkle. Very pretty but not durable. NO. 2) Carpeting. 1970's fad in Laundromat flooring. Looked good but couldn't hold up. Hard to repair. Water overflows difficult to fix up. Short life expectancy and the laundry carts don't like these floors. NO. 3) Vinyl Tiles. This is the old standby 12"x12" (or in the older days called asbestos tile.) Congoleum is one brand that has stood the test of time. You glue them in place and they stick for a long time. Use the best glue. Various colors and patterns. Can be easily repaired. YES. 4) Epoxy. I have tried a few times and it stands up very well. Others have told me to about peeling problems. Ground water rising up through the floor because of lack of moisture barrier increases problems. Repair is possible. A wide variety of colors and patterns. MAYBE. 5) Ceramic tile. Tried in earlier days. Cracking a problem, especially if it is not properly installed. Must make sure the floor is leveled. Avoid complicated or busy patterns. Not as strong as Porcelain. Lasts a long time, but often seen with cracking or worn off glazing. Lots of colors and patterns. MAYBE. 6) Porcelain Tile. Gold standard of Laundromat flooring. Make sure you purchase color all the way through, slip resistant, commercial grade tile. Avoid the varied height surface (used mostly on stairs or slopes) styles due to inability to easily mop the floors. Keep a box of extra tiles for the rare potential of a crack (drop a big hammer impact.) Various colors and patterns. Have them laid in offset pattern so long grout lines do not show any variation in width of isles. YES. 7) Painted Floor. Peeling and short life. Avoid. Future replacement alternative flooring complicated. NO. 8) Polished Concrete. Comes in colors and neutral gray. Long life and durable. Gives a industrial look that some people like and others not so much. Easy cleanup and maintenance. Not recommended for older floors with cracks and covered saw cuts. Experience of installers important. MAYBE. 9) Stone or real wood. Expensive and inappropriate for Laundromats. NO. When selecting colors the lighter colors are best because they hide surface dirt better (like on automobiles.) They also reflect the light and make the space seem larger. Avoid complicated patterns. Keep in mind the impact of spilled liquid bleach can have on the floor material you choose. If you install porcelain or ceramic, keep the grout lines small a natural grey to disguise any floor dirt. Consider which floor surface will clean easily and last a long time in a traffic intensive environment. Preparation of the floor surface is important, choose a good installer.
SELECTING AN AGENT TO HELP YOU SELL A LAUNDROMAT
Before discussing the amount of a commission you may want to consider the history of success that your potential agent has experienced. You want an agent who is knowledgeable in the sale of Laundromats. Ask for references and actually visit the stores he has sold. Talk over the quality of service received. You might want to check the local courthouse records for lawsuits (mostly available on line) and the real estate department in your State to verify past discipline issues. You really want to avoid an agent that has been in numerous lawsuits alleging fraud and misbehavior. Lawsuits can cost you a ton of money and is not covered by your insurance. Keep in mind that whatever is said by your agent is your responsibility. He is acting under your authority, and if he lies, tricks or overstates the income, expenses and other aspects of your business, the two of you could face a lawsuit. As to amount of commission, there is no fixed or normal business brokerage percentage. You have a right to negotiate. The higher the value of the Laundromat, the more likely a broker will negotiate his fee. I've seen fees that range from 5% to 10% depending on features, ease of sale and proper pricing by the owner. Review the advertising program used by the potential agent. An experienced broker will prepare a record of income and expenses, demographics, pictures, water bill analysis, lease review, site selection analysis and assist in negotiations with the Landlord. The amount of work a good quality agent expends is often considerable. A good agent can usually ensure that you receive the maximum amount your Laundromat is worth. Selling is a skill and deserves to be appropriately rewarded. The most important thing an agent can do for you is to help you value your Laundromat. Overpriced stores don't sell. Priced right stores attract buyers.
YOU SHOULD SELECT YOUR OWN LAUNDROMAT SALES PERSON
It is best to be represented by an experienced sales agent who is working only on your behalf. A dual agent relationship is usually not good for buyers. You should insist on the right to select your own agent and require your agent be paid from the commission proceeds of the sale. You can make this a term on your purchase agreement. Keep in mind that the laws, regulations and standards imposed on agents involved in the sale of a home do not always apply to the sale of a business. Many Laundromat agents are not Realtors or members of associations and are therefore not bound by an association code of ethics. Any agent who refuses to share the commission paid by the seller may unfortunately be tempted to put earning a commission ahead of your best interests. A lawyer would never consider representing both parties in a contested divorce or any other contested action between parties. A purchase of a Laundromat is a contested event. Your agent should be fighting to get you the lowest price and the best terms, not just trying to close the sale to earn a commission. Non-disclosure agreements are often used by agents during a potential sale. They are seldom requested by the sellers, but only benefit the agent who wants to protect his/her commission. Read any non-disclosure agreement carefully and see if it protects you, the agent's commission or the seller. Always print "Valid only if the agent has a current written listing agreement for the sale of this business at the time of my signing," above your signature. There are no proprietary secrets in our industry that necessitates a non-disclosure agreement. No secret formulas, competitive marketing strategies or other proprietary information that needs to be preserved by a non-disclosure agreement. An experienced owner can estimate income and expenses by observing operations over a period time. The water meter is usually available for anyone to read. The non-disclosure agreements are really meant to protect agent commissions and the sometimes attached disclaimers are written on behalf of the agent to shift the responsibility of errors or fraud to the seller. Your agent should know due diligence standards and be willing to disclose any issues being withheld or fabricated. My advice is to retain or use your own agent or consultant to review the terms prior to signing a purchase agreement.
SHOULD YOU START A DROP OFF SERVICE, WDF OR FLUFF AND FOLD
Drop-off service is also known as WDF (wash, dry, fold) and/or Fluff and Fold in various parts of the country. It requires more attention (work) and management than a self-service only store. If you plan to devote a good amount of time to operating your Laundromat, and don't mind doing other peoples laundry at times yourself, it can be a good business. Success is normally contained in three aspects: 1) Is there potential demand present. Review your demographics and marketing area. 2) Do you want to put in the effort to develop this business, and 3) Are you willing to charge enough for the service to make a reasonable profit. Advice often given to new owners is to wait at least six months before making additional significant investments or changes. This includes establishing a new drop-off service.
SHOULD I BUILD A NEW STORE OR BUY AN EXISTING LOCATION?
Some folks are afraid of building a new Laundromat because there is no history of income. Others don't want to buy a business that has used up older style legacy equipment. They want the latest energy saving equipment to reduce monthly utility costs. I grasp the warning in buying an existing business and fixing it up or buying a new Laundromat without a proven track record.
What I don't understand is the common belief among potential buyers that all buyers have the same motives in their Launromat purchase. There are at least six reasons to want to own a Laundromat. Earning money is only one.
Let's use an example many of you will clearly understand. Your Dad has lots of money and says "so, I want to buy you a car for high school graduation. Pick out what you want."
Do you select a twenty year old Volkswsgen or a brand new BMW? You have lots to learn about owning a car, and both of these cars will provide the education, only the new BMW won't be leaking oil on the driveway.
I suppose it's normal that Laundromat owners assume that all other potential buyers come from the same station in life. This is not always the case.
Since the silver spoon failed to be placed in my mouth at birth, I share your concerns and the idea of starting out slow. I worked my way up the ladder. If you own the ladder would you view things the same way?
If today I was offered a free brand new store or a free fixer upper, I would take the new store. Part of the obligation of a Laundromat sales person or a distributor is to ensure that owners don't buy over or under their means.
I hope other existing owners would gather more information about a potential buyer's financial position and motivations before advocating a single goal to a complex question.
WHAT TO EXPECT AND WHAT TO DO WHEN A BEAUTIFUL NEW STORE OPENS NEAR YOUR LAUNDROMAT
Potential competition from a new and remodeled Laundromats are part of the experience of Laundromat ownership. If you operate your store as a safe, clean (with well maintained equipment) and a friendly staff, you will see an initial drop in income, but after the Grand Reopening promotions of a new competitor are over, your business should return to normal. Keep in mind that new Laundromat also draw most of their customers from apartment buildings and homes with old or broken washers. It's a mistake to believe that a new Laundromat will draw away all or most of your customers.
As your business dips at the beginning, it also makes your store more desirable because your store is not as crowded on weekends. Avoid engaging in a price war of any kind. Competing with lower prices gains nothing for you or the new Laundromat owner. Try to arrange a meeting with the new owner and ask about his pricing policy. Explain that no one wins in a price war. If your equipment is older, advise him that you will price your equipment at a quarter less than his new machines. If he's an experienced owner he'll set his prices accordingly. Avoid discussing fixing a price, but only advise that you'll be following his lead on whatever pricing he selects.
The money he spends on promoting his business will also tend to help you as he attempts to draw customers out of their apartments and into the notion of using the many benefits of a Laundromat. In a worse case situation, the new owner will believe he can drive you out of business. It won't work, and keep in mind that in six months to a year you'll both be competing with used equipment. Don't panic, don't get into a price war and make sure you treat your best employees with special attention. The new owner could attempt to recruit your best workers. Be aware and act accordingly. Finally, try to handle this event with a positive attitude. It's part of the Laundromat experience and remember that problems are not forever and that "this too will pass."
MORE INFORMATION & IDEAS OF LARRY LARSEN
Reversing a letter can draw attention