Retooling Your Laundromat: When is the Right Time?
In such a competitive industry, the most successful laundromats must work hard to stand out and attract loyal customers. While location, atmosphere, and ambience all impact a customer’s laundromat choice, even the best business will struggle to retain customers if it offers outdated washers and inefficient dryers.
On the other hand, modern commercial laundry equipment can make a considerable difference in your business’s ability to attract customers and stand out from the competition. Not only do updated machines make the entire facility appear cleaner and more modern, they offer features that customers appreciate, such as advanced technology, faster cycles, improved efficiency, and flexible payment options.
Unfortunately, retooling a laundromat can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Due to concerns over capital expenditure, equipment downtime, and lack of guidance, many laundromat operators lack proactive equipment replacement strategies, thereby hurting their bottom lines. So, how do you know when it is time to retool your laundromat, and how do you overcome common obstacles to do so? Read on for these answers and more.
Repair or Replace?
When a piece of equipment breaks down, it can be difficult to determine whether it should be repaired (again!) or whether it’s time to invest in a replacement. While there is no universal formula, laundromat operators should weigh the following factors against the cost of a new unit to determine when to replace a commercial washer or dryer:
- Volume of Business—while commercial laundry equipment is designed to withstand harsh conditions, excessive turns per day can shorten a machine’s useful life. If your business is extremely busy or you have a particular machine that customers prefer, it may need to be replaced sooner than expected. Assess the wear and tear on your equipment in addition to relying on manufacturer’s recommendations when determining whether it needs to be replaced.
- Utility Costs—new commercial laundry equipment is more efficient than older units, which translates to reduced water, electric, and/or gas bills. Compare usage estimates for new units against existing equipment to calculate potential savings.
- Repair Costs—if your existing equipment requires frequent service calls, those expenses can add up fast. Review your receipts to determine how much you spend in equipment repairs—if you replace an older machine with a new one, it will be less prone to malfunctions and may even come with a warranty that will help you avoid costly repairs for many years.
- Customer Retention—laundry equipment that is inefficient, constantly breaking down, and generally outdated is the quickest way to drive customers to a nearby competitor. On the other hand, studies have shown that customers are drawn to laundromats with new, modern laundry equipment. While this can be hard to accurately quantify, consider that updating equipment will help attract more customers to your facility, thereby increasing revenue.
- Advanced Features—even if equipment functions well, it represents a critical opportunity cost if it lacks modern features that appeal to customers. Important features to consider include flexible payment types—including connected smartphone apps that enable mobile payment, advanced cycle selection as well as loyalty programs—large capacity machines, custom cycles and more. If your store doesn’t offer the features that customers want, they may very well choose a laundromat that can.
- Cost Per Cycle—studies have shown that customers are willing to pay more per cycle for modern commercial laundry machines. Research what local competitors charge for similar equipment to determine how much you could charge, thereby increasing revenue with new machines.
- Business Valuation—considering selling your business soon? Many owners who are thinking about selling are hesitant to invest in retooling, but they fail to realize that a laundromat with modern equipment often has a higher business valuation. Work with a financial advisor to compare the equipment investment to projected increases in your business valuation—the results might just surprise you.
- Tax Savings—some municipalities offer tax incentives for upgrading to more efficient equipment. Look into programs in your area and factor savings into your retooling decision.
It is also important to keep an eye on the competition. While your laundromat may be running effectively and attracting loyal customers, this can all change on a dime when a new business opens down the street or an existing competitor invests in a complete retool. Proactively keeping your facility’s equipment updated can help engender customer loyalty and prevent a competitor from swooping in and stealing your customers.
Fortunately, many distributors offer attractive programs and incentives that can help laundromats manage the cost of replacing equipment. If you are considering retooling your facility, researching distributors to find the best incentives can result in significant savings. Some programs to consider include:
- Financing Programs—many commercial laundry equipment distributors offer attractive financing programs to help offset the capital expenditure. Compare different financing programs to find the best interest rates, payment terms, and more.
- Trade-In Incentives—while some companies may offer to haul away your old equipment for free, others will actually pay you for your used commercial laundry equipment. Ask about trade-in incentives that can help you recoup some value from your old equipment.
- Special Pricing/Deals—some distributors offer special pricing and incentives during different times of the year or for purchasing equipment in specified quantities. Always inquire about promotional offers to help maximize your retooling budget.
- New Technology—while all new commercial laundry equipment offers attractive new features, some product lines are more efficient and durable than others. Work with a reputable and experienced distributor that represents top-rated manufacturers with the expertise to help you assess the costs and benefits of various equipment to determine the best product mix for your needs.
Laundromat Retooling Strategies
Once you’ve made the decision to update your facility, you must also determine the best approach to doing so. There are three primary strategies, each with their own benefits and limitations:
Individual Machines, As Needed—some laundromat owners prefer to weigh potential savings against repair costs for each individual machine, replacing one at a time as it makes sense to do so.
This conservative approach helps ensure that the useful life of each machine is extended as long as possible and helps divide replacement costs, but can cause greater disruption to day-to-day business. If machines are being replaced individually, the facility may need to shut down more frequently for equipment delivery and installation.
Additionally, having new and old machines intermixed within your facility prevents laundromats from reaping customer attraction benefits that a large quantity of new machines would provide. Instead, customers gravitate toward their preferred machines and may leave if their washer of choice is occupied.
Full Store Retool—this approach is most frequently taken by new store purchases or overhauls. Many investors who purchase existing facilities begin with a full store retool, allowing them to refresh the facility and attract customers.
While this approach delivers the greatest value in terms of customer appeal and cost savings, it is also the most expensive option. For this reason, existing businesses tend to put off a full store retool too long, allowing existing equipment to become extremely outdated or inefficient before committing to the expense.
Stepped Approach (One Machine Type or Row at a Time)—this is the most common retooling strategy implemented by successful laundromat owners, and for good reason. With a stepped approach, laundromats minimize disruption to their business by scheduling partial retools at regular intervals. Furthermore, by being proactive they can anticipate the expense, rather than reacting to equipment breakdowns.
While replacing multiple units at a time is more expensive than the individual machine approach, laundromats consistently appear modern and appeal to customers with uniformity and consistency amongst machines. Having a plan in place to proactively replace machines in a stepped approach can help you budget for replacement costs, minimize equipment downtime, and attract loyal customers.
Many laundromat owners struggle with determining when and how to keep their equipment up-to-date. The most successful businesses follow a stepped approach to retooling their facilities, with plans to proactively replace equipment one row or type at a time. With this approach, owners can anticipate capital expenditures, minimize facility downtime, and reap the financial and managerial benefits of having a facility outfitted with modern equipment. Many distributors are willing to work with owners to help manage the cost of a retool with financing, trade-in incentives, special deals, and efficient technology. Having a plan to keep your equipment up-to-date and working with a trusted distributor can have a massive impact on your success as a laundromat owner/operator.