PlanetLaundry and Supplements West Supplement Spring 2013 : Page 1

Supplement to the PlanetLaundry Magazine B U SINESS PROFILE S TEV EN G OU L D Spring 2013 | planetlaundry.com | coinlaundry.org ‘A Place You Want To Go To’ Washington Laundry Owner Leans on His Extensive Customer Service Background There are many financial aspects to take into account when one considers becoming a laundry owner. However, there also is another critical point to consider – are you ready to deal with the public on a day-to-day basis? For Michael Bekele, owner of Darcie's Laundry in Lynnwood, Wash., that was of no concern. “I’ve been in a retail type environment practically my whole adult life,” he said. “I spent 20 years providing customer service. I owned a small grocery store and then a restaurant. After I sold the restaurant, I spent a year working for Darcie’s Laundry before I became the owner of this location.” Darcie’s has two other locations, in addition to the one owned by Bekele. “The other owners, Tom Levitt and Patrick Kane, had done a lot of research and taught me quite a bit about running this type of business, so I felt I was prepared,” he said “It was less complicated than my previous businesses, and one thing I liked was that I didn’t have to deal with perishables.” Becoming a laundry owner wasn’t necessarily part of Bekele’s ADVERTISERS Clean Show | 08 Coin Laundry Insurance | Back Cover Continental Girbau West | 07 Wascomat | 02 continued on page 5

BUSINESS PROFILE

Steven Gould


‘A Place You Want To Go To’

Washington Laundry Owner Leans on His Extensive Customer Service Background

There are many financial aspects to take into account when one considers becoming a laundry owner. However, there also is another critical point to consider – are you ready to deal with the public on a day-to-day basis?

For Michael Bekele, owner of Darcie's Laundry in Lynnwood, Wash., that was of no concern.

“I’ve been in a retail type environment practically my whole adult life,” he said. “I spent 20 years providing customer service. I owned a small grocery store and then a restaurant. After I sold the restaurant, I spent a year working for Darcie’s Laundry before I became the owner of this location.”

Darcie’s has two other locations, in addition to the one owned by Bekele.

“The other owners, Tom Levitt and Patrick Kane, had done a lot of research and taught me quite a bit about running this type of business, so I felt I was prepared,” he said “It was less complicated than my previous businesses, and one thing I liked was that I didn’t have to deal with perishables.”

Becoming a laundry owner wasn’t necessarily part of Bekele’s plan, it just came about. After working at the store for approximately a year and learning all of the ins and outs of the business, the owners offered Michael the chance to purchase one of the stores.

“I looked at one of the other stores, but I couldn’t get that one because of the lease,” he explained. “However, this is a great location, and I was very fortunate to be offered this store.”

The entire process of taking ownership of the Lynnwood store went smoothly and quickly.

“Because I was hands on and involved with the store, I had a good relationship with the previous owner,” Bekele said. “They made the transition very easy.”

It all took about a month, with an investment of approximately $300,000. And, in late 2004, Bekele became a laundry owner.

Unlike many self-service laundries located in strip malls or stand-alone buildings, Darcie’s Laundry is based in a larger, upscale shopping center, which is in a popular suburban area that draws customers from more than 10 miles away. The center features is a big box store that sells everything from groceries and clothing to garden supplies and hardware. In addition, there are barber shops and beauty salons, a number of restaurants and fast-food locations, a computer store and more.

Of course, this busy shopping center generates a lot of foot traffic for all of its businesses. And Darcie’s has been a significant asset to the center, as its customers generate a lot of business for the other stores.

“Many of our customers with either drop off or start their laundry here and then shop or eat at the other businesses,” Bekele explained.

The shopping center is like a small community, and all of the businesses work together to generate traffic for each other, according to Bekele. As well as drawing customers from miles around, the center is located in a residential area with a number of large, single-family homes and upscale apartment complexes. It is a good mix of blue-collar and white-collar families.

While the popularity of the shopping center and all of its thriving businesses drive traffic to the laundromat, Darcie’s Laundry also advertises heavily and is strongly involved in the community to help promote the business.

“We sponsor a local baseball team; we advertise in the guest books of hotels in the area; and we do advertise in the local newspapers, although not on a regular basis,” Bekele noted.

Darcie’s also has its own website and can be easily found online, as well on local shopping message boards such as Yelp.

Darcie’s Laundry is not the only laundromat in the marketplace. There are three other stores in the area, with the closest being within two miles and the others about three to five miles away.

“There are some areas where there are stores back to back, but that’s not the case with us,” Bekele explained. “Our competitors are actually somewhat out of the way.”

Darcie’s differentiates itself from the others by being extremely customer-oriented. “We've always paid attention to our customer’s needs,” Bekele said. “We really understand that it is their choice, and they can go anywhere they want. Not only do we provide a clean and bright atmosphere, but we also offer a lot of extras as well. And, of course, being in this shopping center offers our customers the opportunity to do other things while their laundry is being done; that is something our competitors simply cannot offer.”

Darcie’s Laundry offers wash-dry-fold services and also handles some commercial accounts. The store’s drop-off laundry business combined accounts for nearly 30 percent of its total business. For wash-dry-fold, Bekele charges $1.25 per pound, with a 10- pound minimum. And he added that he is looking to grow the commercial segment of his business.

“We currently have a number of hotels, beauty salons, massage parlors and hospitals,” Bekele said. “Believe it or not, we also have gone to a lot of businesses that you wouldn’t typically think of as needing a laundry service. For example, we’ve gone to plumbers, gas companies and auto detail shops – and we’ve been able to get their commercial laundry business.”

These commercial accounts include uniforms, rags, towels and just about any other item that can be cleaned and reused, according to Bekele.

While providing a pleasant atmosphere, Darcie’s offers other amenities as well. It features soda and snack vending machines, WiFi for customers with their own devices and even an in-store computer so customers can surf the web and check their email;the WiFi access is free, but the computer costs $1 for 10 minutes. The store also has lounge chairs and video games, along with a number of televisions, which are located at the folding tables so that customers can change channels to watch what they want while they fold and sort their laundry.

Darcie’s Laundry, which is 3,400 square feet, is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and is fully attended. The laundry employs three full-time attendants and two part-timers.

With his first laundry running smoothly, Bekele said that, if he were to find the right location, he definitely would be interested in owning more stores. He just hasn’t found the right one yet.

“There are other communities that could use a coin laundry, but startup costs are very high,” he explained. “Washington has an impact/hookup fee for new laundries, and this fee can be as high, or higher, than the cost of the building and equipment for a new store.”

For the time being, Bekele will continue to focus on his one location, while also promoting the self-service laundry industry in general.

“One of my goals,” he explained, “is to continue to try to change the perception of the laundromat from a dingy little place you have to go to – to one of a bright, fun place you want to go to.”

Read the full article at http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/article/BUSINESS+PROFILE/1351385/151858/article.html.

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