PlanetLaundry and Supplements Northeast Supplement Spring 2015 : Page 1

Supplement to the PlanetLaundry Magazine B USINESS PROFILE S TEV EN G OU L D Spring 2015 | planetlaundry.com | coinlaundry.org On the Money Banking Executive Finds Self-Service Laundry to be a Solid Investment Anybody involved in a small business quickly realizes that there is more to being successful than merely understanding your marketplace. Of course, one key factor that many new owners often overlook is the financial aspect of running a business. Fortunately, this is a strong point for Erwin Albines, who owns Yellowstone Wash in Forest Hills, N.Y. Albines has worked in finance for a number of years and currently still puts in a full day with Morgan Chase. However, life in corporate America can be somewhat demanding and, after a number of workdays that didn’t end until 3 a.m., Albines and his wife, Milety, decided it was time to look at other options. Neither of them had ever been involved in operating their own business, but as they looked around, a self-service laundry seemed like a great option. However, like many first-time laundry owners, running a store wasn’t exactly what they thought it would be. “Ultimately, it was a misconception,” Albines explained. “We thought it was a business where you could be absent and have the business generate revenue. We quickly found out that’s one manner of operating – but it isn’t profitable.” So, as they have become more “hands on” in running Yellowstone Wash on a daily basis, the business has provided them with many of the opportunities they were looking for when they bought the store. ADVERTISERS Aristo Craft | 15 Coin Laundry Insurance | 13 Daniels Equipment | Back Cover Gold Coin Laundry Equipment | 05 HK Laundry Equipment | 07 Laundrylux | Inside Front Cover Metropolitan Laundry Machinery Company, Inc | 09 Northeast Laundry Equipment | 10 Statewide Machinery | 11 Yankee Equipment Systems, Inc | 04 continued on page 3

BUSINESS PROFILE

Steven Gould


On the Money
Banking Executive Finds Self-Service Laundry to be a Solid Investment

Anybody involved in a small business quickly realizes that there is more to being successful than merely understanding your marketplace.

Of course, one key factor that many new owners often overlook is the financial aspect of running a business. Fortunately, this is a strong point for Erwin Albines, who owns Yellowstone Wash in Forest Hills, N.Y.

Albines has worked in finance for a number of years and currently still puts in a full day with Morgan Chase. However, life in corporate America can be somewhat demanding and, after a number of workdays that didn’t end until 3 a.m., Albines and his wife, Milety, decided it was time to look at other options.

Neither of them had ever been involved in operating their own business, but as they looked around, a self-service laundry seemed like a great option. However, like many first-time laundry owners, running a store wasn’t exactly what they thought it would be.

“Ultimately, it was a misconception,” Albines explained. “We thought it was a business where you could be absent and have the business generate revenue. We quickly found out that’s one manner of operating – but it isn’t profitable.”

So, as they have become more “hands on” in running Yellowstone Wash on a daily basis, the business has provided them with many of the opportunities they were looking for when they bought the store.

“It still gave us the option to hire a manager and to allow my wife to come and go,” Albines said. “She’s not tied to the store; she has the flexibility to pick up the kids from school, run errands and, if somebody has to make a sacrifice to their time, it's not both of us.”

Clearly, a laundry also is the type of business where the entire family can be involved. The Albines have four children – ages 24, 13, 11 and 6 – and Erwin said with a smile that their youngest will probably inherit the store someday.

“She’s really learned the business because she’s spent so much time there with her mom,” he noted. “When she comes into the store, she gathers the carts and puts them in the right place, she goes around and checks the machines to be sure nobody forgot their socks, and just really knows what is going on.”

The couple bought Yellowstone Wash in September 2008 for an investment of about $120,000. The facility was an established laundry in a good location that they felt had a lot of potential. But it required some upgrades.

In fact, it took the Albineses nearly two months from the time they decided to buy the business to then renovate the store to make it feel like it was theirs.

“When you walked in the store, it felt like you walked in to a time warp,” Erwin said. “It had a totally ’70s decor with the ugliest wallpaper you have ever seen. But – with a little elbow grease, some fresh paint and the addition of a few TVs – it was a transformation the neighborhood really appreciated. It’s conveniently located near a lot of the neighboring houses and apartment buildings and, because of our decorating, it started to generate a buzz in the neighborhood, and we started increasing our customer flow.”

Yellowstone Wash is located in a predominantly residential neighborhood with a good mix of apartment complexes and singlefamily homes. Essentially, it’s a middle- to upper-class area with few commercial/industrial businesses; the block on which Yellowstone Wash is located is one of the few in the immediate area with any businesses on it. This block also features a drycleaners, a barber shop and a restaurant – all within stand-alone commercial storefronts that evoke an old-style “Americana” feel.

Although the number of commercial businesses in the area is relatively small, Yellowstone Wash has four competing laundries within one-mile radius of the store. So, to promote his facility, Albines runs weekly instore specials, along with some seasonal promotions. He also uses targeted direct mail campaigns to announce his specials and to let those living in his market know what’s coming next.

All in all, the Albineses mainly concern themselves with their own business, rather than to worry too much about specific ways to differentiate themselves from the other nearby stores.

“We concentrate on keeping our store very clean, bright and a pleasant place to come,” Albines said. “My wife enjoys decorating for the season and holidays. For Christmas, she will decorate with poinsettias and other seasonal flowers and plants; in November, she’ll put up Thanksgiving decorations; and, in the spring, she’ll place stuffed bunnies on top of the washing machines… and other things like that. Our customers always commend us on the cleanliness and the decor.”

Yellowstone Wash offers a wash-dry-fold service for 75 cents a pound, with a six-pound minimum. In addition, a more unique service the store offers is residential cleaning.

Albines explained that a number of customers asked him and his wife if they knew of any cleaning services, so they thought, “Why can’t we do it, rather than sending the business elsewhere?” And, in fact, it has become a growing segment of the business – also providing growth to the couple’s wash-dry-fold business.

“We can do the residential cleaning and bring the laundry back with us,” Albines said.

Yellowstone Wash is open seven days a week – Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The laundry is fully attended with one full-time employee and three part-time attendants, not including Milety.

In addition to his financial background, Albines considers his approach to customer service a key business strength.

“I think it's tied in to our financial background,” he explained. “When you work in the banking industry, you go through these training seminars on how to pick up the phone and smile through the phone and, as crazy as that sounds, it really comes through. I think a lot of the training you get in corporate America really applies to our business, or any business for that matter.

“Just focusing on customer service, making sure the customer experience is always excellent, will have them coming back. It’s the simple things like making eye contact, saying ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you for coming’ when they leave – these things go a long way when customers enter the store. We emphasize to all of our attendants the importance of making eye contact and greeting people when they come into the store.”

Erwin and Milety Albines enjoy owning Yellowstone Wash and being members of the self-service laundry family. And, according to Erwin, they would like to purchase a second store within the next couple of years but currently are focusing on growing their fledgling residential cleaning service, as well as their wash-dry-fold service.

Steven Gould is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area.

Read the full article at http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/article/BUSINESS+PROFILE/1937387/247487/article.html.

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