Technology Changes Self-Serve Laundry Business

By Rick Barrett
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Sean O’Byrne runs an executive search firm and a laundry.

While the businesses might seem like an odd pair, it makes sense for O’Byrne, whose family has been in the laundry business since the 1980s.

Also, a laundry is a fairly recession-proof business that offers about a 30 percent annual return on the investment, according to industry figures.

O’Byrne converted a former car wash in Milwaukee into a 2,400-square-foot self-serve laundry with more than 50 Speed Queen machines.

The Suds Your Duds laundry has a wireless control system that allows O’Byrne to monitor the machines’ usage and cash flow via the Internet.

He also can keep an eye on the premises with a video camera and his laptop computer.

“Generally speaking, the problems are small, like a coin jam or a water heater not firing … but every once in a while you’re going to get some knuckleheads who aren’t there for the right reasons,” O’Byrne said of running a laundry.

He is the type of owner that Speed Queen, based in Ripon, Wis., wants to attract: an experienced businessperson who pays attention to the day-to-day operations of the laundry, even if it’s not staffed much of the week and the business isn’t his primary occupation.

“You can’t just turn the lights on, go away and expect to make money,” said Dan Bowe, national sales manager for Speed Queen.

The industry has changed a lot in recent years, with new laundry owners seeking multiple locations and energy-efficient equipment.

They’re also more apt to set up laundries with amenities such as coffee shops and lounge areas with comfortable seating and wireless Internet access.

Some laundries have reading programs and coloring contests for children. Much of what goes on is aimed at the typical customer: a woman in her 30s with two children.

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