PlanetLaundry and Supplements West Supplement Spring 2014 : Page 1
Supplement to the PlanetLaundry Magazine B USINESS PROFILE S TEV EN G OU L D Spring 2014 | planetlaundry.com | coinlaundry.org Warming Up to the Laundry Business Arizona Owner Operates Two Successful Stores in Sunny Tucson There are many different factors to be considered and paths taken on the way to owning a coin laundry. For Mark Shields, the owner of two University Laundry locations in Tucson, Ariz., one factor was weather. That put him on a path from the cold, snowy winters of Iowa to the sunny warmth of Arizona. “I grew up in Kansas,” Mark said. “And my job was in Iowa. Over the years, I've worked continued on page 3 in the accounting/finance department for various companies. I started in the agriculture business and worked there for a number of years, spent some time in a manufacturing business; I'm currently in the healthcare sector. In all of those businesses, I was in a controller-type function. The company I was working for got bought by a larger company, and my position was going to be eliminated. I thought ADVERTISERS Coin Laundry Association | Back Cover Coin Laundry Insurance | 10 Continental Girbau West | 07 Sunshine Sales | 05 Wascomat | 02
<br /> Warming Up to the Laundry Business<br /> <br /> Arizona Owner Operates Two Successful Stores in Sunny Tucson<br /> <br /> There are many different factors to be considered and paths taken on the way to owning a coin laundry. For Mark Shields, the owner of two University Laundry locations in Tucson, Ariz., one factor was weather. That put him on a path from the cold, snowy winters of Iowa to the sunny warmth of Arizona.<br /> <br /> “I grew up in Kansas,” Mark said. “And my job was in Iowa. Over the years, I've worked in the accounting/finance department for various companies. I started in the agriculture business and worked there for a number of years, spent some time in a manufacturing business; I'm currently in the healthcare sector. In all of those businesses, I was in a controller type function. The company I was working for got bought by a larger company, and my position was going to be eliminated. I thought that I could look for a new job in Arizona as easily as Iowa. I did find a job – so, about 12 years ago, we packed up and moved to Tucson.”<br /> <br /> Although Mark enjoys what he does, he realized that he didn't want his financial future in someone else's hands. So, he began to look for a business to buy that would allow him to keep working while growing his new venture – something that not only would protect his financial future should he lose his job again, but something for his retirement. He wanted a business that offered stability, even in a slow economy. A self-service laundry met all of those needs.<br /> <br /> “I'd been looking at ‘business for sale’ websites and I'd seen coin laundries,” Mark explained. “I like what I do in my day job and I wanted to keep that. I thought I could work my day job and own a laundromat at the same time. The long-term plan is to be fully self-employed, but it takes a while to get there. I didn't have a lot for a down payment, so the first few years were paying down debt.”<br /> <br /> Mark bought his first laundromat, an existing store, in December 2002. It was a small store and did well – he owned it for about seven years. Then a new laundromat opened up right around the corner and Mark thought it might be time to move on.<br /> <br /> “I was looking for a bigger store anyway,” he admitted. “So, I sold that small store and, about six years ago, I bought a larger one. Then about three and a half years ago I bought a second store – so now I have two locations.”<br /> <br /> Since all of Mark's stores were existing laundries, he focused more on the store's financial history rather than location and demographics. It has turned out to be an accurate predictor, and there haven't been a lot of surprises. However, he has come about owning his stores in a different manner.<br /> <br /> Mark works with a broker when looking for an existing store to purchase. They have worked together for a while and have developed a good relationship. In fact, when Mark was looking for his second store to purchase, the broker contacted him and told him of a store owner who that had to sell quickly due to financial issues.<br /> <br /> “The guy actually had not been paying his utilities,” Mark explained. “The day I was closing, the utility company was calling to say they were going to shut off the electric. I was begging them to wait until I could get this closing done and get down there and pay them. That whole process took about three weeks.”<br /> <br /> Mark's third store – and current second location – came about when his broker contacted him about a landlord who had to lock out a tenant because the person wasn't paying his rent. The landlord came to Mark's broker looking for someone who would be a good laundry operator.<br /> <br /> “He wanted someone who would run a good business and pay his rent on time,” Mark said. “He told me that, if I was interested, I could get it pretty easily. I didn't have the financial records available to me, but I thought it was a good location and there was no nearby competition. The whole process took about three weeks. In the end, that store has turned out to be pretty good.”<br /> <br /> The first University Laundry is located near downtown Tucson, while the second store is based on the west edge of town. Both stores are located in strip malls with fast-food restaurants and grocery stores nearby. The clientele ranges from working class to upper-middle class and is mainly Hispanic. The downtown store has a competing laundry on nearly every block, while Mark’s other laundromat is the only game in town for a three-mile radius.<br /> <br /> University Laundry doesn't do much advertising. Mark said he tried radio spots, but he couldn't accurately judge their effectiveness. He does run some ion-house promotions, such as Discount Tuesdays and Thursdays, where customers can save money using the toploaders.<br /> <br /> “My number-one priority has always been to make sure the facility is clean, that the machines work well and that we’re keeping the customers happy,” he explained. “Word of mouth is by far the biggest and best advertising. You have to do everything you can to keep your current customers happy. If they have any problems, you need to rectify them in a no-hassle way. Give a refund if there is a problem. An equipment problem is my problem – it’s not the customer's problem.”<br /> <br /> University Laundry is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to midnight. The stores are staffed by two full-time employees and two part-time attendants. Although Mark currently does not seek out commercial accounts, his stores offer a wash-dry-fold service for $1 per pound, with a $13 minimum. While the drop-off service is offered, it is not heavily promoted.<br /> <br /> “I've noticed that, when this service gets busy, it takes my attendants away from keeping the place clean, and I don't like to see that,” Mark noted. “You're doing something for two or three people, and you've got half a dozen people in the laundromat that you're ignoring.”<br /> <br /> Mark enjoys being a business owner in general – and a coin laundry owner in particular.<br /> <br /> “I've always got my eyes open.” he said. “I'm looking to buy another laundromat, or keeping my eyes open for another business as well.”<br /> <br /> Steven Gould is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area.
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