PlanetLaundry and Supplements Midwest Regional Supp to April 2011 JRNL : Page 1
Spring 2011 | planetlaundry.com | coinlaundry.org Midwest BUSINESS P R O F I L E DAVE MCMAHON It All Started with One Refrigerator Former College Entrepreneur Now Owns Five Iowa Laundries When Brian DeCoster decided to open his ﬁfth coin laundry – Laundromania – customers in Iowa were likely blown away at the high-end concept. Consider the top-of-the-line accoutrements with which DeCoster outﬁtted Laundromania: • Free Internet. • 16-camera digital security, with remote viewing. • Occupancy sensors to turn on re-circulating pumps. • Two geothermal systems. • Machines that take smart cards, credit cards and coins. • Nine ﬂat-screen televisions, each with individual volume controls. • A built-in commercial vac system. • Electric louvers for makeup air staged to open varying amounts, depending on the electric load. If that’s not enough, DeCoster treated himself to some bottom-line savings by constructing two separate water meters. The wash meter allows for a sales tax deduction, as Iowa still charges sales tax on laundries. continued on page 10 ADVERTISERS Century Laundry | 9 CLA Insurance | 16 Continental Girbau Inc | 7 D&M Equipment | 2 Great Lakes Commercial Sales Inc | 11 Haiges Machinery Inc | 7 Lakeside Laundry Equipment Co | 8 Laundry Concepts | 7 MC Squared Energy Services LLC | 5 Machinex | 7 MidAmerica Equipment Co | 7 Midwest Laundries Inc | 13 Ross Chemical Systems Inc | 7 Tanning Supplies Unlimited | 8
It All Started with One Refrigerator
Former College Entrepreneur Now Owns Five Iowa Laundries
When Brian DeCoster decided to open his fifth coin laundry – Laundromania – customers in Iowa were likely blown away at the high-end concept.
Consider the top-of-the-line accoutrements with which DeCoster outfitted Laundromania:
• Free Internet.
• 16-camera digital security, with remote viewing.
• Occupancy sensors to turn on re-circulating pumps.
• Two geothermal systems.
• Machines that take smart cards, credit cards and coins.
• Nine flat-screen televisions, each with individual volume controls.
• A built-in commercial vac system.
• Electric louvers for makeup air staged to open varying amounts, depending on the electric load.
If that’s not enough, DeCoster treated himself to some bottom-line savings by constructing two separatewatermeters. The wash meter allows for a sales tax deduction, as Iowa still charges sales tax on laundries.
DeCoster brings a classic entrepreneurial background to his coin laundries. As a student at the University of Iowa, he rented small, dorm-sized refrigerators to fellow students fromhis own apartment. That successful venture eventually led to an inventory that includedmicrowaves and, of course, washers and dryers.
“At the peak, I was renting out about 400 refrigerators, 40 washers and dryers, 100microwaves and 100 Tvs,” he said. “That was before spreadsheets. I had a lot of journals and would just write down everything. I pretty much had the University of Iowa locked up from a rental standpoint. My original intent was to use the income to pay back my student loans. I didn’t consider it to be a career for me.”
Alas, DeCoster remains in the rental business to this day. His Big Ten Rentals company in Iowa City is a party store that rents items such as tents, beer trailers, bleachers, inflatables and awide array of appliances for festivals and special events.
“The Quad City Air Show is one of our customers every year,” he said. “We do a lot of jazz festivals and art festivals. We travel quite a ways with our bleachers to political events, rodeos, national soccer and gymnastics events, high school football, college football.”
And to think it all started with one refrigerator.
“I had an extra refrigerator and didn’t want to sell it because I didn’t know what my roommate situation was going to be like the next year,” he said. “I rented the first one for $39 for the year I think. I had a storage rental unit where I kept all my rental equipment during college, and I delivered for free. As I learned more and more about the machines, it got me interested in the laundry business.”
DeCoster opened his first Laundromania coin laundry in
1999. In addition to his three Laundromania stores in Iowa City, he has stores in North Liberty and Davenport. Two of the stores in Iowa City were new construction operations.
Big Ten Rentals gave DeCoster the business background that has helped him remain successful as a coin laundry operator.
“I still do like the appliance part of the coin laundry business,” he said. “I knowa lot about themachines. Iwould repair themmyself. You know how any college kid can get a Sears credit card? I bought my first washers and dryers on a Sears credit card andmade sure I paid downmy bill.”
These days, DeCoster turns to Century Laundry for his equipment. And he likes the idea of the equipment being his main asset.
“I liked the thought of having few employees,” he said. “These stores are easier to manage than the rental store. That’s not to say they’re without their share of problems, but you can do it with fewer human resource issues.”
Along those same lines,DeCoster has enjoyed the relatively panic-free days provided by the coin laundries.
“The scheduling is more flexible for me,” he said. “The typical emergencies are not as pressing as they are in the rental business. I fit those things in. It’s a side job for me during the day. I likemanagingmy own schedule, and that’s a huge advantage. My stores are beautiful, my customers love them and I’m proud to say I own them because they look so nice. No accounts receivable, too.”
Despite the time that DeCoster has put underneath and behind hismachines, he often loses the battle against the clock.
“I’ll figure out what the issue is, and I like doing the repairs, but I don’t have any time,” he said. “I can figure out what parts are needed and turn it over to a crew of our mechanically inclined people.”
DeCoster didn’t hold back when he decided to enter the business. After he opened his first store in 1999, he opened three stores within a six-month span two years later.He later sold one of them and then went on a hiatus of sorts before he bought another existing store in 2009.His Laundromania store in Davenport opened in April and was the first tenant in a new strip mall.
“I lease the space and it was an empty box when I got it,” DeCoster said. “My brother Jeff is a partner in the store and his wife is the store manager. I’m originally from the Quad Cities and Jeff had identified the location a couple of years ago.”
Building the store from an empty space gave DeCoster a range of options.
“There was no floor in it, which was nice. I could do the drain workwithout busting any concrete,” he said. “We used a white industrial epoxy and had it professionally installed. But it shows scuffs, and I wish I had stayed with the porcelain tile or the concrete polishing like the other stores.”
DeCoster has been satisfied so far with the credit card option on his machines.
“They seem to be doing OK,” he said. “It’s a long-term investment. That’s all there is to it.”
Even though his stores thus far are all unattended and open 24 hours, DeCoster is considering adding wash-dryfold services to all of his stores.
“I’ve never done that at any of my stores,” he said. “But I have a demand for it at all of my stores, and I’m getting ready to tackle that.”
DeCoster believes his commercial accounts would rise by implementing a wash-dry-fold service.
“It makes sense to do it with the credit card system,” he said. “Businesses can then track their expenses instead of using petty cash. You send somebody to one of our stores with the laundry and a credit card. It should be something we’re addressing.”
DeCoster isn’t afraid to tout his stores and their services. The grand opening of hismost recent store was a textbook version of how to generate publicity.
“For our grand opening, we put an inflatable balloon on the street to draw attention and had free cotton candy and popcorn,” he said. “We also had a money machine cash cube. There was a DJ fromthe local radio station doing live remotes.We had a lot of giveaways all day.We did a drawing every 15 minutes. For the cash cube, we did the drawing every hour. It was enough to create some excitement.
“I put some of my promotional background to use. For people who might not be inclined to check us out, it gave them some incentive. And business did increase after that day, too.” DeCoster turned to his neighboring businesses – a grocery store, an ice cream shop, a car wash and a sandwich shop – to donate prizes for the drawings.
DeCoster’s ability to make the laundry experience as comfortable as possible for customers keeps themcoming back.
“My stores are all very bright,” he said. “I use 4100K or 5000K light bulbs. I use red, blue, yellow and green color schemes to add a fun flavor to it.We have a ‘MorningMania’ promotion that offers a 20 percent discount on frontload washers that are used frommidnight to noon on weekdays.” DeCoster’s future plans include possibly opening additional laundromats. His experience with the machines began when he was in college, and has provided him with a lifetime business.
“I’m an entrepreneur with good vision,” he said. “I understand demographics and I run a tight ship. I understand the business side, the finance side of it. And I’mmechanical. I know what needs to be done and how long it should take to be completed. I think you have to be mechanical to be in the laundromat business.”
There’s no doubt that he fits his own description.
Read the full article at http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/article/Business+Profile/674153/64708/article.html.