Last updated on March 11th, 2019 at 12:21 pm
Opening up a laundromat may not be the most glamorous small business idea.
But, if executed well, it can be a sustainable and even lucrative business.
Starting a laundromat can cost between $200,000 to $500,000, depending on location, the size of operation, and current revenue.
In a lot of ways, laundromats are one of the rare business models that can easily make money on their own. Most laundromats make some sort of profit within a few years, thanks to the built-in clientele and consistent maintenance and labor costs.
But it’s not easy to open any new business, much less a laundromat. You’ll need to make your business stand out, both online and off, to get and keep the customers coming.
Starting a Laundromat: Built-in Market, Stiff Competition
In many cities, some apartment complexes don’t include laundry among their amenities, and busy people don’t have the time to bother with the laundry.
So you already have a market for your services. Whereas if you start up a restaurant, potential customers may or may not be interested in the meals you serve.
Still, especially in cities with a lot of apartment complexes, you could face a lot of competition from already established laundromats. On the other hand, new laundromats open everywhere all the time.
As long as you offer a good experience and perhaps something a little bit different, you may be able to carve out a space for your business.
Websites Stand Out
One way to make your laundromat stand out will be to have a website.
Many newcomers to an area will search for local laundromats, and if you have a website, your business will be more likely to appear in the top of the search results.
For a laundromat, your website can do more than just display hours of operation and the address.
If you want your site to be a bit more sophisticated, consider setting up a reservation system so that customers can book a machine or sign up for wash and fold service ahead of time.
There are four important things you’ll need when you start up a laundromat, and setting up your website.
1. Domain Name
First, get a domain name. With your own domain name, your website address looks significantly more professional than if you just set it up through a free service such as WordPress or Tumblr.
GoDaddy is one of the best-known and best-priced in the business.
A $0.99 for the first year, you can go and claim your domain name fast. The price does go up to $14.99 a year after the first year, but that’s only a little more than a dollar a month.
2. Web Hosting Plan
Next, get a web hosting plan. You’ll need to manage your website and its traffic somehow, and unless you’re a webmaster, you’ll have to find a web hosting provider.
We recommend BlueHost. This web hosting service offers all the basics you would want from a web hosting provider, with the option of yearly or month-to-month plans.
The three-year commitment is cheapest at $2.95 per month for their basic plan. But if you don’t want to make that long of a commitment just yet, you can sign up for a year plan at $8.99 per month.
3. Get A Business Loan
You’ll also need to get a business loan or other investments in your business so you can get started.
While you can always approach your local bank or ask your wealthy uncle to start you out, there are other avenues to look into once you’ve gotten off the ground.
Kabbage is one such avenue. Kabbage provides loans to businesses that have been around for at least one year, and provide loans up to $100,000, as per Kabbage’s discretion.
Applying is easy – you can do it right from your phone, and it’s hardly more difficult than signing up for a website – and you get a quick decision on whether and how much funding you can access.
Why a Website?
Now, you may be wondering, why would a local laundromat need a website?
Well, just like any other type of business these days, customers often research businesses online before buying any products or services there.
According to one study, 81 percent of consumers do this pre-purchase research.
If you have a website, even if it’s just a single page displaying opening hours and contact information, you’ll get more hits on Google and other search engines.
Many consumers these days also prefer to even conduct their business online. Some people even do their grocery shopping on the internet.
If your business offers an online transaction component, such as allowing customers to book machines ahead of time or schedule a laundry drop-off/pick-up service, you’re making your services that much more convenient.
On another level, you can integrate your laundromat location with your website by tracking machines that are in use during operating hours.
A booking system would of course be able to display this information, and further increases convenience for customers. If they can see on your website that no machines are available, they can save themselves a trip to the laundromat until a machine is open.
Bricks and Mortar
While a website will help your laundromat stand out amongst some pre-internet stalwarts in the neighborhood, it’s not enough to keep the customers coming.
You’ll have to also consider your market, and make the actual laundromat experience as pleasant as you promise.
Most laundromat customers are renters with no access to laundry services at their residence. Some may use laundromats for convenience, especially if the laundromat offers a wash-and-fold service. Your laundromat could also offer dry cleaning, which will expand your customer base to pretty much everyone who has at least a few items with dry cleaning needs.
Laundromats, on the other hand, are part of a “mature market.” Unless you live in an area with high population growth.
Most neighborhoods with laundromat needs already have one – and some may have too many.
Many of these laundromats are well-established. As they provide a service for which there are few local alternatives, are unlikely to be put out of business.
But perhaps you like a bit of a challenge, and you see your local laundromats aren’t providing services that customers want, or aren’t as clean as they should be. Even in a mature market, you can find opportunities.
Laundromats are also rather expensive to start up. Whether you purchase an existing laundromat or build up a new one in a retail space, you could find yourself between $200,000 and $500,000 in the hole right from the start.
Of course with such large up-front costs, starting a laundromat is not for the faint of heart. Even your rich uncle may want to see a detailed business plan for how you’re going to succeed in this mature market.
What revenue streams are you looking to pursue? What are your projected earnings for the first year or so?
Services like Kabbage won’t necessarily require all these statistics, but you’ll have to already be in business for a year before you can request a loan.
Of course, starting out, you may prefer to purchasing an existing, defunct laundry, rather than installing a laundromat in a new space.
While the costs are not that much different you’ll save yourself a lot of logistical problems such as installing plumbing and electricity for laundromat use.
Of course, you’ll still need to potentially go through permitting processes and budget for maintenance and utility costs.
Keep it Clean
Cleanliness is extremely important when it comes to a laundromat, and it can also be one of the most difficult aspects of the business to maintain.
A lot of people come in and out of a laundromat, so a busy laundromat will get dirty quickly.
You should probably mop the floors and clean machines at least once a day.
Maintaining the machines is essential to keeping your laundromat running. If you’re not experienced with repairs, you can either hire a repairman as needed or even keep one on staff.
Even if the machines appear to be running smoothly, hiring an inspector to make sure that everything still works fine may be advisable, or in some cases, required by law.
Hours of Operation
You should also consider your hours of operation. Most laundromats remain open for long hours and on weekends.
Some even provide 24-hour service. Consider the hours of surrounding businesses, or even, if possible, the employment characteristics of your neighborhood.
After all, most customers will just be using the laundromat located in their local area. Matching your hours to local businesses’ hours may make it more convenient for some customers to use your services.
If it makes business sense, a 24-hour laundry may provide more revenue than it would cost to keep it open.
Cards or Coins?
As fewer and fewer customers are likely to carry around a lot of pocket change, the idea of a coin laundry is becoming more quaint.
Some laundromat owners set up a card system, so that customers can use and load credit on cards with bills or possibly their own debit or credit cards.
This sort of system has grown to be more convenient in an increasingly cash-free world. While a card system may seem more complicated on the business side, it may attract even more customers.
You can more easily integrate a card system on your website, allowing customers to load credit on their card at their convenience.
While annual revenue for a laundromat can be up to $1 million, it’s not easy to make much profit with all of the overhead costs associated with the business.
Some laundromats have diversified their services, including a minimart, providing free internet access, or opening up a kids’ play center.
As a laundromat, you’re first and foremost providing a service. That service may be essential, but that gives you no excuse to treat customers badly.
If you’re friendly and courteous to customers, they’ll be more likely to return to your location.
If you decide to provide wash-and-fold service, you’ll need to take extra care not to lose or mishandle laundry that your customers give you. If your budget allows, it may be wise to hire someone with domestic cleaning experience to handle this service.
Policies and Disclaimers
Once you’ve got all your machines and equipment up and running, you’re pretty much ready for business.
But there is one more important step you’ll have to take before finally opening your laundromat.
You’ll have to consider what your store policy will be. Even the cleanest laundromat in the best neighborhood can be prone to theft.
Posting a disclaimer in public view stating that you are not responsible for lost clothing, cell phones or other items will protect you from potential liability issues. You may want to consult a lawyer regarding other policies, such as in the case of damaged clothing.
Most laundromat owners have never owned a laundromat before. As early as possible, you should talk to people who have owned a laundromat.
Laundromat owners also have their own trade association and magazine, so you can have plenty of resources at your disposal.
On the Coin Laundry Association’s website, for example, you can find events, classifieds, and industry webinars. The website even has an open forum for members to discuss industry topics amongst themselves.
Wanna Start a Laundromat? Get Started Today!
Running a laundromat isn’t the most glamorous gig there is, but it provides an essential service to some communities.
Nor is the laundromat business easy: it takes a lot of time and money to run such a business. But with the right tools, and an online presence, you can ensure that your new laundromat venture will be a success.
The WiseSmallBusiness Team is full of industry experts and successful business owners willing to contribute important business articles.