CHICAGO — Building a new drycleaning facility can open your company up for new possibilities and better position your business to gain customers, but taking the time to plan before breaking ground at the new location can pay benefits well into the future.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we met cleaners who built new facilities, and in Part 3, we examined how they met the pandemic’s challenge with the new tools they now have. In this, the conclusion, we’ll look at ways cleaners who are considering building new plants can plan for the future.
EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED
As with any big project, there are going to be surprises. While neither Jon Simon, owner of Parkway Custom Drycleaning in Rockville, Maryland, nor Mark Watkins, owner of Mark’s Cleaners in Birmingham, expected a full-blown pandemic to strike just as they were getting started, they were prepared for the usual snags that go along with the process and have managed to ride out the rest.
“The biggest surprise was probably the overall cost of having things done, although I think we did it about as well as we could have,” Watkins says. “We saved everywhere you can save, and we still have a nice, pretty building to show for it.”
Making sure the zoning laws are in your favor is crucial, he says.
“You need to read the fine print and make sure where you’re moving can accept the business you have,” Watkins says, “and that you can do it the way you want to. If you’re renting, it’s a different story because they’ve already done all that work.”
Getting inspections can sometimes push a schedule back unexpectedly, as can supply shortages and other factors outside of your control.
“Expect that you’re going to have delays,” Simon says. “Also, if you’re renting now, you’d better build in some flexibility with your landlord into going month-to-month on your lease once you give notice you’re moving. If something gets delayed, you could be in a lot of trouble.”
Because of the nature of construction — the drywall team can’t come in until the plumbing is complete, for example — a schedule can get out of control quickly if the building owner or general manager of the project isn’t on top of things.
“It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” Simon says, “only you have to put the pieces together in a particular order. You have to put down pieces 43 and 44 before you can put down piece 45.”
FIND YOUR FUNDING
Watkins believes that the old construction adage that “everything will take twice as and long and cost twice as much” is something those who are building a new facility should take to heart.
When taking on a project like building a plant, having a financial cushion can save you from disaster.
“If you’re contemplating it, I’d make sure I had a bunch of money in my back pocket,” Watkins says. “I was in a decent spot where I made sure I had the funds that I needed so I wouldn’t have to get a second mortgage on my house. Make sure you’re lined up with good creditors and that they can give you some parameters on how lenient they can be or how much space they can give you.
“Let’s say you need to add a different boiler or you need a little more equipment. You need to be able to talk with your lender and make sure that, if something comes up unexpectedly, they will be able to help you out.”
FACING THE FUTURE
Stuart Ilkowitz, president of Mamaroneck, New York-based Trevil America, offers some guidance for those who are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and want to capitalize on what comes next.
“Define your expectations,” he says. “Give yourself a good understanding of what it is you are hoping to achieve, instead of buying things here and there, and then opening the doors and see what happens. You must be prepared for a lot of hard work, but there’s a lot of opportunities. There’s a younger generation who has different (drycleaning) expectations and needs.”
Above all, Ilkowitz advises, pay attention to industry trends.
“If you’re going to build a new plant today, you’ve got to plan for what this generation is going to expect, not what has been happening from 2010 to 2020. You want to build a plant that is going to operate from 2025 through 2050 and try to figure out what that’s going to look like.”
For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2 of this series, click HERE. For Part 3 of this series, click HERE.