PlanetLaundry and Supplements Midwest Supplement Spring 2016 : Page 1

Supplement to the PlanetLaundry Magazine BUSINESS PROFILE BY STEVEN GOULD Spring 2016 | planetlaundry.com | coinlaundry.org Learning on the Job Chicago Entrepreneurs Building Their Business with Large-Format Stores Michael Zoller and Jason Kromelow are the owners of two self-service laundries in the greater Chicago area. Their first was Aqua Clean Laundry, and they just recently purchased a second store called Bubbleland. Zoller’s background in finance and real estate development has been a huge asset to the store owners when it came to purchasing property. However, he wasn’t as familiar with the laundry business – and that’s where Kromelow’s experience comes in handy. “It was Jason who had the idea,” Mike said. “His family was in the business a long time ago, and he was anxious to get back into the industry. So, we looked into it and decided OK.” And, with their complementary backgrounds, they have made a rather formidable team. “We were just looking for a business and Jason suggested a coin laundry,” Mike explained. “We looked into it and liked the idea. It took us about a year to find one we really liked. Once we found one, we made the move.” The two entrepreneurs purchased Aqua Clean, located in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, in August 2013 – and they bought their second laundry facility last June. Both of the stores were existing locations; one is a stand-alone building, while the other is located in a strip mall. Although they liked the demographics at both of the locations, another key factor was size. “We tend to go for the bigger laundromats,” Mike said. “These are both 5,000-square-foot stores.” Being involved in the real estate business, they would prefer to own their laundromats; however, they lease both of their current laundry properties. continued on page 3 ADVERTISERS: All Pro Laundry Equipment Co. | 08, Coin Laundry Insurance | 11, Coin-O-Matic | Back Cover, D&M Equipment | 07, EJ Thomas Co | 08, Electrolux | 05, Great Lakes Commercial Sales | 04, John Morris Equipment Company | 09, Laundrylux | Inside Front Cover, Setomatic | 10

Business Profile

Steven Gould

Learning on the Job

Chicago Entrepreneurs Building Their Business with Large-Format Stores

Michael Zoller and Jason Kromelow are the owners of two self-service laundries in the greater Chicago area. Their first was Aqua Clean Laundry, and they just recently purchased a second store called Bubbleland.

Zoller’s background in finance and real estate development has been a huge asset to the store owners when it came to purchasing property. However, he wasn’t as familiar with the laundry business – and that’s where Kromelow’s experience comes in handy.

“It was Jason who had the idea,” Mike said. “His family was in the business a long time ago, and he was anxious to get back into the industry. So, we looked into it and decided OK.”

And, with their complementary backgrounds, they have made a rather formidable team.

“We were just looking for a business and Jason suggested a coin laundry,” Mike explained. “We looked into it and liked the idea. It took us about a year to find one we really liked. Once we found one, we made the move.”

The two entrepreneurs purchased Aqua Clean, located in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, in August 2013 – and they bought their second laundry facility last June. Both of the stores were existing locations; one is a stand-alone building, while the other is located in a strip mall.

Although they liked the demographics at both of the locations, another key factor was size.

“We tend to go for the bigger laundromats,” Mike said. “These are both 5,000-square-foot stores.”

Being involved in the real estate business, they would prefer to own their laundromats; however, they lease both of their current laundry properties.

“When we first got into the business, I think we were a little naïve,” Mike said. “We thought everything was going to be perfect, and we learned that it doesn’t always work that way. We had a lot of fixing to do. We’ve put a lot of effort into these businesses. It took us about a year to get the first store on track, and we’re probably a couple of months away from getting the second one on track.”

Mike said the neighborhoods around their stores are “gentrifying quickly.” They are mainly working-class Hispanic and African-American areas – with quickly growing Caucasian populations and a good mix of renters and home owners. Aqua Clean Laundry is located in a standalone building, directly across the street from a park. The store is on the same block as a liquor store, a bar and a sandwich shop. There also is a competing laundry business about a half-mile away.

Of course, when you take over an existing business, you want to get the word out that there is new ownership. To that end, Aqua Clean Laundry has a Facebook page and a strong presence on Yelp. And Zoller and Kromelow also are developing a website. In addition, the two have offered to sponsor a local Little League team.

And, while advertising gets their business’ name out to the public, the owners also try to set their laundromats apart by being as clean, bright and customerfriendly as possible. The stores offer free Wi-Fi and coffee, as well as free detergent on certain days during the week. In addition, each store boasts its own parking lot, which is a huge advantage in a large city like Chicago.

Mike admitted that running the stores has been an interesting learning experience.

“When we first opened Aqua Clean, it was like, ‘OK, we have the keys but no idea what to do next,’” he said. “It’s been an interesting business to learn, coming from a real estate and finance background. We have learned who most of our customers are, and they know us. We try to keep a real family atmosphere here. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is how many people use laundromats. I was shocked. Before I owned one, I admittedly never noticed them, and now it seems like there is one on every corner.”

Aqua Clean Laundry offers a wash-dryfold service for $1 per pound. While Mike and Jason don’t currently have a lot of commercial business, Mike noted that they are always looking to increase revenue – so, if they find some commercial business, they most definitely will take it.

Aqua Clean also features a small convenience store, which sell snacks and drinks, as well as a crane machine that is outsourced to a vendor.

Aqua Clean Laundry is open from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., while Bubbleland is open until 11:30 p.m. Both laundries are fully attended by a total of five employees.

Mike explained that he and Jason possess very different business strengths.

“I’m more on the finance side, while Jason is more on the machine side,” he said. “He helps with the equipment, and I help with the finances. But we’re both rather personable, so we can go out and talk with the customers and handle any issues that come up.”

Mike and Jason have grown to really enjoy being a part of the self-service laundry industry. And they’re hoping to open more stores in future.

“We have the two laundries now, and if we can, we would like to open one new store a year,” Mike explained. “It used to be rare to find somebody with more than one, but I think owning multiple stores is a growing trend.

“This business is more of a hands-on business than I ever thought. If you want to be successful, being hands-on is very important. We upgrade our stores. We’ve gone to all LED lighting. We’ve repainted and gotten a lot of compliments. People really like it.”

With their teamwork and progressive ideas, Mike and Jason seem to have a bright future in the laundry business ahead of them.

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

When we first got into the business, I think we were a little naïve. We thought everything was going to be perfect, and we learned that it doesn’t always work that way. We had a lot of fixing to do. We’ve put a lot of effort into these businesses

Read the full article at http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/article/Business+Profile/2442761/295976/article.html.

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