How to Perform a Laundromat Site Visit
Have you watched any of those house-hunting shows where they parade a buyer through several homes before deciding which one to buy?
Then I’m sure you’ve seen those annoying people who dismiss a house completely because the color of the bathroom is atrocious. “Oh Marvin, I can’t stand this bright orange bathroom. Let’s move on.”
My wife always yells at the TV when this happens: “C’mon people,it’s a $30 can of paint!” [Note from Laura: Yes, that statement is 100% true.]
When you’re looking at a potential laundromat for sale, you need to conduct the site visit logically and in an objective manner. Don’t be short-sighted. A can or two of paint and a little elbow grease can do wonders for an older laundromat that has seen better days, so don’t let that distract you from the job at hand.
The Initial Visit
Once you’ve got the address of a potential laundry, bring some paper, a pen, and some dirty laundry. You’re going undercover.
When you arrive, start a load of laundry. While you wait, you’re going to take a look around and make some notes. (If you’d like a complete step-by-step site visit walkthrough that you can print out, we offer one for FREE in our Online Store.)
- Floors – Make notes on the condition, color and type.
- Walls / Decor – Write down the condition of the walls and any type of paneling used.
- Machines – Note the types of washers/dryers, the change machine and any vending you see. Make notes on the condition and the current vend prices being charged. (We go into more detail on this one later.)
- Ceilings – Write down the ceiling materials used; acoustic panels, stucco, etc. Make notes on the condition and check for evidence of leaks around any air conditioning units in the ceiling.
- Amenities – Check for free WiFi, a restroom, a sink, televisions, a kids play area, vending machines, wash-dry-fold service, video games, etc and makes notes on them.
- Seating / Folding Tables – Count the number of available seats and folding stations. Make notes on their condition.
- Additional Items – Check for things like security cameras, laundry carts, signage, etc.
A reminder…perform your site visit very discreetly; do not take pictures if customers or employees are around, and do not mention to anyone that the laundry is for sale. Act like a customer.
When we purchased our first store we did a load of laundry every week from the day we got the address to the close of escrow. On our first visit, we made notes following the simple list above. However, the follow-up visits we made were more focused on the improvements we could make.
Look at the store like a customer. What about the store would bring you back? What would keep you away? If the store hasn’t been well cared for, you need to look past the grime and see what it can be.
As you conduct your site visits, take lots of notes with remodeling in mind. Are the walls an ugly color? Paint is cheap. Is paneling falling off the wall? That can be easily replaced. One store we looked at had an enormous mural of a mountain scene that covered a 15 foot by 10 foot space on the wall. It was peeling in every corner, and we’re sure it’s been there since the seventies.
Make special notes on items that may be more expensive. Not to rule them out, but to be realistic. One such item is the floor. If the material is vinyl tiles, and they are in decent condition, you can hire a company that will epoxy over them and create a beautiful, new seamless floor. If the floor is tile, are there a lot of cracked tiles? You can often easily pop out cracked tiles and replace with a similar color.
Covert Customer Interviews
Next, spend some time discreetly talking to a few customers. You can gain a lot of insight into how the store is currently managed. Does the manager/owner respond to problems quickly? Do customers have to fight to get refunds?
Just last night, I stopped by my store to check on things on the way home. A customer was just leaving and stopped me to say she had a problem with a machine and wanted a refund. She actually took pictures to prove she had the problem. I told her it wasn’t necessary and promptly gave her the refund.
As she left she said: “I heard you guys didn’t have a problem giving refunds”. You see, customers talk to each other. They share the good and the bad. Strike up a conversation and you will know how the store is managed in just a few visits.
A Big One…Machines
The equipment in the store deserves it’s very own section. As you can probably guess, the age and condition of the washers and dryers in the store are critical and are a large factor in the valuation of a laundry.
- First…how many out of order signs do you see?
- Are the machines clean?
- Do they work as they should? Use a different set of washers/dryers each time you visit so you can check many different ones. Pay close attention to how they work. Is it only spinning one direction? Does the fabric softener tray empty at the last rinse? Are the soap compartments clean or caked with years of build up?
The above items will give you a good indication of how well the equipment is maintained. Personally, when it comes to equipment, I like to see groups of equipment at different ages.
For example, these five machines are three years old, these eight are twelve years old. When planning for future improvements and machine upgrades, I can plan in stages as opposed to replacing the whole store at once.
These visits along with the rest of your due diligence will help you determine your initial offer and if your offer needs to be adjusted down the road.
Most important, keep an open mind and “see” the possibilities. Look for potential, but don’t pay for potential. A store that is poorly run, ugly and dirty, with equipment under ten years old is a potential gold mine. A store like this can be turned around quickly with just a little work and fantastic customer service.
About Randy Dobbins
Randy is co-creator of Laundromats101.com, and owner of two laundromats in the Sacramento area. In his former life, he spent 25+ years in management across several industries, including commercial laundry. He’s a professed gadget geek and DIY wizard.
For more in-depth information, we’ve created The Laundromats 101 Complete Guide to Purchasing a Laundromat, which includes an entire chapter devoted to conducting a thorough site visit. A FREE checklist is also available.
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