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Vended Laundries: Why Dry Cleaners Want One (Part 1)

Diversification and customer crossover can bring unexpected profits

CHICAGO — A growing number of dry cleaners today are looking to ramp up revenue, decrease overhead costs, and diversify and secure their businesses to better protect them from economic downturns. Some dry cleaners are investing in vended laundries — essential businesses — to achieve these goals. In this article, three experienced drycleaning operators weigh in on vended laundry’s value.

Owned by David Machesney, Pratt Abbott Garment Care, based in Westbrook, Maine, is the state’s largest provider of drycleaning, vended laundry and linen/uniform rental services. Pratt Abbott’s vended laundry sector significantly contributes to the success of the company as a whole, gleaning similar profits to dry cleaning, according to Machesney. In many ways, the two intertwine. This is partly because most Pratt Abbott vended laundries and drycleaning stores are located side-by-side (eight of Pratt Abbott’s 12 locations include vended laundries). This configuration draws revenue from a broader demographic, creates shared operational savings and encourages consumer crossover.

“We look at it as a convenience to the customer and a way to serve more customers,” Machesney says of the vended side of his business. “Co-mingling also allows us to run fully attended laundries and offset some of the labor cost from drycleaning revenue.”

Sheldon Cleaners, in Kentwood, Michigan, operates from a similar platform. The company umbrellas a 32,000-square-foot drycleaning plant; 25 satellite drycleaning retail locations; a 6,500-square-foot, high-speed vended laundry called The Laundry Café; and a coffee and crêperie inside the laundry. Revenue flows from various income generators, including dry cleaning, self-service laundry, wash/dry/fold, and food and coffee.

The Laundry Café – developed in 2017 with high-speed Continental ExpressWash and ExpressDry equipment — gave the company the space and machine capacity to launch wash/dry/fold service, according to General Manager Jeff Engle. It also immediately spurred an unexpected 30% surge in over-the-counter drycleaning sales at that location.

ECONOMIC SAFETY NET

Not only has that vended laundry created another source of income at Sheldon Cleaners’ main plant location, but it’s also acted as a safety net — protecting the company as a whole from economic fluctuations, according to Engle. This includes COVID-19.

“The more Laundromats you have, the more secure the business,” he says. “The Laundry Café was not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas our drycleaning side was drastically affected. Our business platform moving forward includes developing more vended laundries,” he adds.

In Montgomery, Alabama, Jim Massey’s Cleaners & Laundry realized the same benefits. Owner Jim Massey, who has been in the drycleaning business since 1941, constructed his first vended laundry six years ago.

“During the pandemic, vended sales were up 10-15%,” he says. “On the retail drycleaning side, sales were initially down 72%, but have rebounded somewhat lately and are now down 28%. From that standpoint alone, I’d much rather have lots of vended laundries,” he says.

To prove that point, Massey has a second vended laundry in the works. “If something can be cleaned, why wouldn’t we capitalize on the fact that we can clean anything?” asks Massey. “Vended laundries allow us to grow revenue without growing outside a 90-mile radius.”

While Jim Massey’s Cleaners and Sheldon Cleaners are somewhat new to the vended game, Pratt Abbott isn’t. Machesney understands full well how his eight vended laundries contribute to overall company success: “The vended helps,” he says. “During this pandemic, vended laundry and home delivery saved us. Our dry cleaning and uniform rental were basically shut down for a while.”

Haley Jorgensen is a freelance writer operating from her business, Public Image, in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion, including information on maximizing market penetration and enhancing the customers' experience.