What are the perks, pitfalls and perils of owning and operating a laundromat.
August 13, 2007 3:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about starting up a laundromat. I'm interested in the views of anyone who has ever owned (or knows someone who has owned) a laundromat, with a focus on such things as start-up costs, how profitable (generally speaking) they can be and what I should know about the laundromat trade (perks, pitfalls etc) before going in.
posted by Effigy2000 to Work & Money (21 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have no experience with them except as a client, but in a previous job I found out there are places where laundromat owners can get stuck with some really ugly sewer/wastewater bills.
posted by milkrate at 3:44 PM on August 13, 2007

Not an owner, but a friend of mines parents own and manage a couple laundromats. My friend told me that originally they were open 24/7 and required very little maintenance (mostly just collecting money).

Then homeless people started coming in, spending the night and generally freaking out customers. Now they have to close the laundromats between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

I guess this all depends on the area though. Just something to look out for.
posted by rancidchickn at 3:56 PM on August 13, 2007

Just a suggestion for your research: find an accountant who deals with small businesses, and ask that accountant.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:05 PM on August 13, 2007

My father owns a laundromat. He bought an existing one - so he had relatively low start-up costs. He always says he has to just collect the money. He has learned how to fix the machines to keep maintenance costs down.

The laundromat has a drop off service, so there's always an attendant on duty. It seems that the only problem that keeps coming up is finding someone to work there. Since they're the only employee on duty most of the time, they have to be trustworthy - both with the cash they're handling and doing customers' laundry correctly.

From using a laundromat for years, I think cleanliness is the most important thing. I hated going to the dirty laundromats and would often opt for one further away from home if it was cleaner. If you have vending machines, make sure the food isn't stale. Having an attendant that will help people obey the rules about sitting on counters, kids playing with carts, etc. is also helpful.

I don't know what else to say - if you have more specific questions as you move forward, my email's in my profile and I'd be happy to pass your questions on to my dad.
posted by youngergirl44 at 4:44 PM on August 13, 2007

I would second cleanliness and maintenance as being a top priority. Your machines are going to be the biggest fixed expense, and if they are clean and well-maintained, they will last longer-- not just because machines need regular maintenance, but also because the less often a machine swallows quarters without starting, or fails to dry the clothes, the less the machine will be vandalized or treated roughly. Same goes for cleanliness too-- the cleaner the shop, the more the customers will pick up after themselves.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 4:57 PM on August 13, 2007

depends on the are you're in, but offering free wi-fi is an awesome perk to a laundromat. gives peeps something to do for the hour they're waiting.
posted by knowles at 4:58 PM on August 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

*area. d'oh.
posted by knowles at 5:00 PM on August 13, 2007

I was friendly with a guy who started a laundromat near where I used to live in Montreal in the mid-1980s. He is still running it. Keep in mind that Montreal does not meter water or wastewater usage, so that wasn't a factor. The laundromat is open from roughly 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. and there is always someone on shift because he offers a wash and fold service - I think that's what's made the business run so well. Lots of busy people in the area and lots of smallish apartments without washer hookups = lots of people willing to pay a few bucks to drop off and pick up their laundry. He also made deals with nearby restaurants and cafés to handle their laundry needs.

Be aware that in some areas you will always have to deal with some weirdos, people wanting to use the bathroom to shoot up or whatever it is. My friend has a series of notebooks kept by him and his employees over the years and by now they have an endless fund of stories about the famous and the infamous and the just plain wacky people who have used the laundromat.
posted by zadcat at 5:02 PM on August 13, 2007

One laundromat near me is semi-commercial - they have some large and larger washers and dryers. Walk in customers can use them, but it seems they are mainly used by commercial accounts. I once saw a large dryer that was drying about 20 string-mop heads. A janitorial service company regularly drops off loads of what they need laundered. Even though they also have wash-n-fold service, the few times I've been there it seems the attendant has lots of loafing time.

Getting such commercial accounts sounds profitable but it probably takes a lot of persistance.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:58 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

This blog has some interesting related links on starting a Coin-op laundry.

And of course, there's a blog dedicated to laundromat: The Laundry Capitalist.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:05 PM on August 13, 2007

I wish you were starting a laundromat in Stockholm. I couldn't find a single laundromat in the entire city, and didn't want to pay outrageous hotel laundry prices (8 months of handwashing in the bath!).

Perhaps there might be a market in Sweden if you wanted to expand internationally.

For some inspiration, see if you can find the movie My beautiful laundrette.
posted by flutable at 7:12 PM on August 13, 2007

Coin op busnesses and small cash ones have often been somewhat owned by organized crime for money laundering purposes. Back when the numbers racket was big, it seemed OC owned all the vending and pinball machine distribution and service companies. I don't know how big the numbers racket still is, but to this day whenever I go to a pinball distributor to pick up some replacement parts the owner/manager always seems to be an Italian guy with a bit of bling.

Somebody may make you an offer you can't refuse to pay $3000/month interest on a pretend loan because they are giving you $4000 a month in quarters and dollar bills.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 8:02 PM on August 13, 2007

Ok. So this isn't really going to answer your question directly, but I thought it might be worth sharing anyhow...

Back when I lived in Cambridge, MA, I went to this laundromat where the owner had had some crazy experience in a laundromat in Amsterdam. I have no idea what happened, but he -- previously a civil engineer -- had some kind of epiphany and decided that his calling was to open a laundromat and turn it into a community.

And, at first, I thought he was completely insane, and he kind of freaked me out. He and his wife were always around, doing laundry, folding stuff, talking to customers, asking people what they did and how they were doing. I used to try to avoid him and did my laundry at odd hours so I wouldn't have to deal with him.

But then I suddenly got it. He really had built a community. I'd watch people greet each other in there like old friends. I watched him set up a couple once that, apparently, liked each other a lot, because they kept coming back in together. He'd always ask me about work -- I was working on a satellite telescope that takes pictures of the sun back then -- and he was always interested in what new discoveries I had made (pretty much always, none). Once his wife noticed I was washing a whole bunch of cycling clothes, and so then I'd always have to tell her about my latest race whenever I was there.

All this was contagious, and soon I was on a first name basis with many of the other customers -- neighbors who I never would have met or talked to on the street if it weren't for that place. Believe it or not, I made friends there who I still visit when I'm down in the Boston area.

He added lots of nice details. He put in a coffee machine and would always offer to buy me a coffee every time I went in. He added tables so people could sit and do their laundry and eat the pizza and sandwiches from the pizza shop next door. Really, he made it his mission to make this place as friendly and welcoming as possible, and it worked. Customers came back, and would even come all the way across town to do their laundry there. So many laundromats are just big empty rooms. This was someplace you actually wanted to go.

So I don't know if that's really what you want to do with your place, but this was certainly an effective business strategy. They made a killing and had a lot of fun. I still miss that place.

Now I occasionally get sandwiches from a little tiny takeout place that's actually inside a laundromat Durham, NH, where UNH is. It doesn't hurt that their food is great, but I think they do really well because students come to eat and do their laundry, or do their laundry and then eat, and they make double the money. So that's another interesting strategy.
posted by dseaton at 8:09 PM on August 13, 2007 [6 favorites]

I knew a guy in Brooklyn named Mr. Brown. He owned a laundromat on Bedford Ave. and his machines were regularly robbed. One time he got shot in the neck. Also a pipe burst in the laundromat and lost a lot of money.
posted by mattbucher at 9:29 PM on August 13, 2007

seek out someone who is doing this already and offer them an advisory role. 2k should do the trick for a bit of help and the availability to give said person a call every now and then.

this will most likely be a business that will yield a solid rate of return. I heard more than once that you can make it to be a millionaire by using a car wash, albeit perhaps only barely. it most likely will also require daily attention but if you do get a caretaker/janitor type person who will collect, clean and somewhat supervise the premises, you should be able to expand fairly quickly to multiple locations. that is where the money is. extablish principle and duplicate returns.
posted by krautland at 11:57 PM on August 13, 2007

I asked a laundromat owner. He says the best way to make good money is to learn to repair your own machines. Everytime you fix or maintain one, you have just saved a few hundred dollars.
posted by Dataphage at 4:09 AM on August 14, 2007

Chiming in with a good laundromat experience:

There are tons of laundromats where I live. People schlep their laundry to my mine because it's so nice, despite the fact that it's quite small and narrow. Open late (last wash 8:30 pm), discount wash on the least-busy days of the week, clean, they keep the machines working, and the attendants will exchange you small bills for the change machines (there are two.)

They keep attendants working there by making it cool and permitting flexible hours. The walls double as gallery space for the up-and-coming (if you want a show there, you pretty much just ask nicely to get on the list).
posted by desuetude at 6:41 AM on August 14, 2007

I asked a laundromat owner. He says the best way to make good money is to learn to repair your own machines. Everytime you fix or maintain one, you have just saved a few hundred dollars.

I can't speak to laundromat ownership, but I have repaired a number of washers and dryers. The above (also mentioned by youngergirl44) is very true, and if you are middling mechanically competent you will find it within your ability to do.

Washers and dryers are astonishingly simple beasts and 50% of what you are paying those repair people for is their time driving to and from your place. The only thing I'd suggest is to make sure you buy a brand you're confident you'll have easy access to parts for. Some product manufacturers tightly control the channel for replacement bits and make it hard for weekend warrior types to get pieces affordably.
posted by phearlez at 9:50 AM on August 14, 2007

Thanks for all the advice and perspectives, one and all. It was all very useful, and it was hard to resist marking pretty much every single answer as a 'best answer', though I particuarly liked dseaton's story about the community orientated laundromat. I think that place would be something akin to a 'If Metafilter Were A Laundromat' experience. I might even have to write that as a short story some day...

Still, my plan is to have this laundromat as an unmanned one. My principle thought behind the whole laundromat experience was "What can make me money without needing to pay staff?" and an unmanned laundromat was the first thing on my mind. I figured it would have relatively little ongoing costs beyond rent, power, water and electricity, but I hadn't even thought about wastewater charges. I wonder if that applies to Brisbane, where I live? I'll need to look into that if I plan to make this into a reality.

So thanks again everyone. It's been most helpful and informative!
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:12 PM on August 14, 2007

Still, my plan is to have this laundromat as an unmanned one. My principle thought behind the whole laundromat experience was "What can make me money without needing to pay staff?" and an unmanned laundromat was the first thing on my mind.

Don't know if this will be in an area with a lot of laundromat competition, but I'll always go to a manned laundromat over an unmanned one, for reasons of cleanliness and reliability.
posted by desuetude at 12:29 PM on August 15, 2007

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