PlanetLaundry and Supplements Northeast Supplement to September 2012 : Page 1

Northeast Fall 2012 | planetlaundry.com | coinlaundry.org BUS I NES S PROFI L E ST E VE N GO ULD Finding Their ‘American’ Dream Pennsylvania Couple Discovers Its Niche with Coin Laundry Business Dave and Marianna Heberle bring a wealth of knowledge and business acumen to their American Coin Laundry in Erie, Pa. Dave holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in writing and literature from Penn State and Gannon University, and was a supervisor at International Paper for 23 years. He also has written several articles, columns and a number of books since 1973. Marianna has owned and operated her own janitorial service, which targeted large office buildings. And, in addition to Dave’s “day job” and his writing projects, he ran a short-lived safety training consultancy. But despite the couple’s vast and varied backgrounds, nothing they had done in the past was quite like overseeing their self-service laundry. continued on page 8 ADVERTISERS AC Power | 3 AristoCraft | 16 Caldwell & Gregory | 2 CILS, Inc. | 11 Coin Laundry Insurance | 15 Daniels Equipment Company, Inc. | Back Cover Gold Coin Laundry Equipment | 7 MetroChem Inc | 15 Metropolitan Laundry Machinery Company, Inc. | 6 Mountain Electronics | 17 National Clothesline | 9 New England Coin Laundry | 5 Northeast Laundry Equipment LLC | 14 PAC Industries Inc | 10 Professional Laundry Systems, Inc | 15 Qual Clean Equipment, LLC | 17 Setomatic Systems | 12 Yankee Equipment Systems, Inc | 13

BUSINESS PROFILE

Steven Gould


Finding Their ‘American’ Dream

Pennsylvania Couple Discovers Its Niche with Coin Laundry Business

Dave and Marianna Heberle bring a wealth of knowledge and business acumen to their American Coin Laundry in Erie, Pa.

Dave holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in writing and literature from Penn State and Gannon University, and was a supervisor at International Paper for 23 years. He also has written several articles, columns and a number of books since 1973.

Marianna has owned and operated her own janitorial service, which targeted large office buildings. And, in addition to Dave’s “day job” and his writing projects, he ran a short-lived safety training consultancy.

But despite the couple’s vast and varied backgrounds, nothing they had done in the past was quite like overseeing their self-service laundry.

What made American Coin Laundry attractive to Dave in the first place was the simple fact that it was available.

“After the local paper/pulp mill I was working at closed its doors, I went on unemployment and took computer and business skills training for almost two years,” he said. “Toward the end of that time, I started applying for job openings – most of which I had little interest in.

“One day, I called on a classified ad in the business opportunity section of the local paper for a self-service coin laundry,” he continued. “A few days later, I met the owner at the laundry. It was probably the first time I was ever even in a laundromat. He was selling because he felt he needed a break from the business. The laundry was small, neat and clean – and very simple. The owner had purchased the long-standing business about six years earlier, and completely remodeled it – outfitting some pieces of equipment from a previous location he had left because a landlord had pushed him out by demanding too much rent.

“The owner – in a low-key, believable way – said the business was steady, and showed me how things worked. He was selling through a commercial department of a well-respected realtor, and the selling agent went over the supporting numbers.”

Heberle liked the fact that a coin laundry is a cash business, and he thought it would be relatively simple. It was all self-service, so he reasoned he could run the business by himself without having to hire employees. He also felt there would be a number of ways to increase revenue, since the previous owner had not done any formal marketing. And, best of all, Heberle could stop applying for jobs in which he really had no interest.

So, on January 1, 2006, the Heberles became the owners of the 1,400-square-foot American Coin Laundry.

“It didn’t require a huge initial investment,” Dave noted. “In fact, the owner took a note for about a third of the sale price for five years. Simply put, about $120,000, including the sale price of about $82,000 plus, less than a year later, the addition of $40,000 worth of washers, along with the electrical and plumbing upgrades for them.”

Although the whole process went quite smoothly, there were a couple of surprises after Dave and Marianna took over.

“One of the first evenings I walked into the store as the new owner, I noticed nine or 10 teenagers – all boys, mostly from the neighborhood – were lounging in a booth arrangement toward the back of the store, largely out of sight from the stores front windows,” Dave explained. “As it turned out, the kids had been using the laundry for years as a kind of clubhouse – making and taking phone calls, eating snacks, drinking pop, smoking, roughhousing, pestering the woman who had been cleaning up during the closing hours for the previous owner, and just making a mess – which must have been discouraging to customers.

“They were nice enough kids, but could get a little out of control at times. Little by little, we devised a plan to ‘encourage’ them to leave by gradually relocating seating and vending machines, and installing large mirrors to eliminate the out-of- sight nooks they had always enjoyed.With the laundry not being continuously attended, we tried to avoid developing an openly adversarial relationship with individuals who had all the free time in the world and who lived only minutes away from the store. Plus, at that time, there were no security recording cameras. We also increased our presence during the times they had been used to having the run of the laundry, and eventually they stopped coming.”

There was also a rather large issue with the restroom.

“The previous owner apparently, because he had experienced some minor vandalism, kept the restroom locked, even while he was in the store, and customers had to ask for the key,” Heberle said. “When he wasn’t in the store, and they needed to use the restroom, they’d have to go to a nearby restaurant or gas station, and it became a major annoyance that customers continually complained about. So, we finally decided to stop locking the restroom door – and with only occasional problems with ‘drifters’ using it, minor messes being made, and a toilet paper roll or two being stolen. At first, the small bottles of soap disappeared, but then we switched to a wall dispenser with foam soap, and we haven’t had any issues since.”

According to Heberle, the clientele for the store is all over the map – from people who live in the neighborhood to college students and professors to vacationers to those from the rural outskirts with wells running dry during summer. Mostly, though, the store’s customer base is comprised of working people – or, at the very least, people looking for work.

Heberle added that a number of his customers have been coming to this store since they were kids and remember a number of different owners and how the laundry was run way back when.

Over the years, Dave and Marianna have tried a number of advertising and marketing initiatives. Some worked, while others didn’t. Some were just too expensive, and others were inexpensive but it was difficult to gauge their effectiveness. And, because the laundry isn’t staffed all the time, it’s difficult to run promotions. Thus far, the largest advertising draw has been the addition of an electronic sign installed near the heavily traveled main street in front of the store.

The Heberles also tried offering free WiFi to their customers, but the couple recently eliminated that feature.

“That just led to people clogging up the store and taking up parking spaces, as they sat there for hours using the WiFi with a pair of socks spinning in the dryer,” Dave explained.

As with many self-service laundries, the best advertising has come mainly in the form of position word-of-mouth from happy repeat customers.

American Coin Laundry is surrounded by just about every type of business one can imagine. There are restaurants, barber shops, banks, schools, grocery stores, convenience stores, florists, video rentals, car washes, a U.S. Post Office, a cell phone store, pharmacies and so on. If you can think of it, it is probably close by.

And, because the store’s market is located in a hub of activity, there also are six other laundromats within a 10- to 20-minute drive of Dave and Marianna’s store. However, the couple attempts to differentiate its business from the others by being cleaner and brighter, with a very straight forward layout. As Dave said, the store exudes his wife’s personality, as “she has become the business.”

Other than Marianna, who spends about eight to 10 hours a day at the store, there are no attendants. As a result, the store does not offer wash-dry-fold or commercial laundry services.

The store is open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and by appointment on occasions for large-quantity users.

American Coin Laundry never closes, even on holidays, because, according to Heberle, it’s actually more trouble to be closed than open; the doors open and lock on timers, and some customers seem to have developed traditions on being at the laundry on certain holidays when most other laundries are closed.

Dave and Marianna have been pleased with the success of American Coin Laundry that they recently purchased a second, existing store about a mile away. They hope to repeat their success by following the same plan and again imprinting Marianna’s personality on this business as well.

Read the full article at http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/article/BUSINESS+PROFILE/1150932/123429/article.html.

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