KENTWOOD, Mich. — “It was something I could do,” says George Cares, of launching Sheldon Cleaners, in 1949. During its 66-year history, the Kentwood, Mich., company has reinvented itself multiple times; embraced and eliminated revenue streams; and overcome economic and industry-specific hurdles.
Today, George’s sons, Louie and Paul, lead the enterprise. While Sheldon Cleaners remains grounded in the mission and culture George created—one of quality and convenience—it’s morphed into a multi-faceted business encompassing several revenue streams and customer-focused services. The newest addition? A high-speed vended laundry.
The brothers turned to Michael “Stucky” Szczotka with their idea of developing a 6,500-square-foot, high-speed vended laundry and café.
As the owner of Carrington Cleaners, a dry cleaner in Washington Township, Mich.; CRDN of Southern Nevada; and Eagle Star Equipment, a commercial laundry and drycleaning equipment distributor in Troy, Mich., Szczotka knows dry cleaning and laundry. He also knows the vended laundry business, as owner of New Wave Laundromat, in Sterling Heights, Mich.
Together, they designed a cozy and hip laundry, complete with semi-private areas featuring clusters of laundry equipment, Amish-made folding tables, Wi-Fi, TVs and kids’ play areas. The laundry also encompasses a dining area with an indoor-outdoor fireplace; and Café Louis, offering crepes of all types, wraps, sandwiches, salads, muffins and a full menu of coffees, lattes and mochas.
The new laundry is attached to Sheldon Cleaners and features a convenient drive-up door.
“We had 10,000 square feet available and 32,000 cars drive by daily,” says Paul. “We are on the border of upscale housing and apartments. Mom gave us the idea of building a vended laundry. So we decided to make it a nice one.”
The Laundry Café was developed to be an added revenue generator, but having fun with it was essential to its owners. Immediately, the new laundry spurred an unexpected 30% surge in over-the-counter drycleaning sales at that location.
Drawing attention to the store—and making passersby smile—is a “steaming” coffee cup that’s 10 feet in diameter. It is affixed to The Laundry Café’s rooftop.
Szczotka recommended a mix of high-speed Continental laundry equipment, including card-operated Continental ExpressWash Washers and ExpressDry Dryers.
“We purchased Continental machines for the drycleaning plant through Szczotka and have had great success with them,” says Louie. “We’ve replaced all of our old machines with the high-speed Continental soft-mount washers in our drycleaning plant. In 10 years, we’ve never done a thing to them or had to replace bearings.”
For the Cares brothers, going the Continental route on the vended side was a no-brainer. Thus, The Laundry Café touts three 90-, six 55-, eight 40-, 10 30- and 12 20-pound capacity ExpressWash Washers; five 45- and 13 30-pound double-pocket stack ExpressDry Dryers; and six reversing single-pocket 75-pound Continental dryers. “All of the washers are freestanding, stainless and high-speed,” says Szczotka.
Equipped with the ProfitPlus Control, the washers feature four primary cycle options: Superwash, an extra-long cycle for heavy soil; Hot, for whites; Warm for colorfast and permanent press items; and Cold for colors. They allow customers to add an Extra Wash, Extra Rinse and/or Delicate Cycle. Anytime an “Extra” is selected, it adds to overall revenue.
Customers enjoy completing laundry in less than an hour. The ExpressWash Washers produce extract speeds up to 384 G-force, according to Szczotka, so they remove more moisture from every load when compared with traditional hard-mount washers.
“Laundry comes out of the washers nearly dry,” he says. “This shortens dry time by up to 50% and allows customers to get in and out of the laundry in less than 60 minutes.” Dryers run less often, which conserves natural gas and electricity—cutting operating costs.
Meanwhile, the Card Concepts card system seamlessly communicates with the ProfitPlus Control, allowing the Cares brothers to quickly tweak vend prices and programs on multiple machines simultaneously. From a cell phone or remote computer, using the Internet, they can also track revenue and turns per day; run operational reports; execute pricing specials and promotions; and build customer loyalty. Customers just load value onto loyalty cards with cash or debit/credit cards. They then use their loyalty cards to operate the washers and dryers.
While the self-service side of the business is humming, full-service wash/dry/fold is also gearing up.
“We are just getting into wash/dry/fold,” says Louie, “but want to promote it at all of our drycleaning satellite locations. We piloted wash/dry/fold at the main store and charge $20 per laundry bag, no matter what is in it or how much it weighs. It is working out great as a new revenue stream.”
And, so is the newly developed Café Louis. The combination laundry/café/dry cleaner brings the ultimate to area residents.
“We love that our customers can drive up, pick up their dry cleaning, a coffee and a wrap, and be on their way in a couple minutes,” says Louie. “We feel good knowing they are receiving quality products and services.”
And like George, Paul and Louie infuse that quality commitment into all they do.
“Dad always said you have to work harder than your competitors,” says Louie. “He is the biggest humanist of anyone I’ve ever known. He treated our employees like family.”
Opened less than a year, The Laundry Café and Café Louie are expected to deliver a full return on investment in just five years, according to the Careses. Simultaneously, the brothers anticipate that Sheldon Cleaners will enjoy a 10% profit boost this year.