When it comes to business expansion, Curtis Berger, owner of Earlybird Laundromats based in New Jersey, knows the secrets to success. Berger has experienced tremendous growth from the time he opened his first laundromat in 2000. Since then, he has acquired six additional stores and is currently constructing his seventh.
With no background in the laundry business initially, Berger relied heavily on expert distributors and supportive manufacturers to get his locations up and running. These laundry industry experts have the resources and knowledge to help both new and seasoned business owners through the laundromat building process and beyond. Without these partners, Berger’s businesses would not stand as they are today.
Small Business Venture
After earning his Certified Public Accountant (CPA) accreditation from Villanova University, Berger began his career in mortgage-backed securities in New York City. Following a few years of banking, he decided he wanted to follow in his great grandfather’s footsteps and invest in a small business. Dry cleaning seemed like the right investment because his family had been in the business since 1896. Berger left New York City and returned to his home state of New Jersey to pursue a new business venture.
In 1996, 100 years after his great grandfather opened the doors to his first dry cleaning business, Berger opened one of his own. Shortly after opening the business, he realized that in order to provide superior customer service and take his entrepreneurial dreams to the next level, he preferred to be on site and involved in all aspects of production at all times. Berger’s desire to be ever-present made it challenging for him to expand and replicate the business.
Laundromats began to appeal to Berger because he recognized an opportunity to manage his stores remotely, which would allow him to open more stores and yield more revenue. He quickly found that management was made easy with his equipment brand of choice: Huebsch® machines featuring innovative Galaxy™ 600 controls. With Galaxy, Berger has the ability to program and monitor his laundry equipment from a PC or laptop for ultimate convenience. This control system is complemented by remote management capabilities offered by the card payment system Berger opted to install on each of his machines. The system allows Berger to adjust vend prices and analyze performance data from any Internet-connected device. All data and reports are sent directly to his laptop or smartphone, and can be reviewed and managed from anywhere in the world. These two systems have ultimately eliminated the need for Berger to be physically present, while giving him peace of mind that stores are running efficiently and profitably. These were the capabilities he was searching for.
Berger says that his switch from dry cleaning to vended laundry, and thanks in part to the advanced control and payment system capabilities, allows him to focus on the aspects of the business that he enjoys most, “the marketing of the business, the growth of the business and providing better customer service.”
Selecting an Experienced Laundry Distribution Partner
When shopping for laundry equipment for his first laundromat, Berger went directly to his dry cleaning distributor, Metropolitan Machinery, and trusted sales manager Cliff Ross. As his mentor, Ross advised Berger about the appropriate quantity and capacity of machines to purchase. Ross’s experience in the industry also qualified him to advise Berger on a viable location for his stores, based on extensive knowledge of the area and its demographics.
“Cliff is familiar with the demographics of specific regions I’m interested in. He is able to help me make location decisions by reviewing variables including percentage of renters, people per household, and income levels of the local population,” says Berger. “He can also give appropriate advice on important business decisions, such as vend price points based on his knowledge of the area.”
Berger adds that this invaluable industry knowledge has made him a loyal Metropolitan customer for life, as well as a successful businessman, as he continues to grow and expand Earlybird locations.
Manufacturer Relationship Instills Confidence
Because of their strong relationship, Ross invited Berger to the manufacturer’s headquarters in Ripon, Wis. to learn more about the extensive engineering, testing and manufacturing processes behind each and every piece of Huebsch equipment. While there, Berger and another operator met with each department and were able to witness Huebsch’s rigorous five-stage product development process including the digital design and modification, assembly, life cycle testing and extensive field-testing.
Berger noted, “I was really impressed with how knowledgeable everyone was and how serious they were about the equipment they built.”
From viewing robotic welding of the frame to assembly of the inner drum, Berger gained a better understanding of the strength and commercial quality of the machines. As a result, he is now able to share that knowledge with his customers back in New Jersey.
Berger was not only impressed with the intelligent staff, but also with their interest in his opinion and feedback. He says Alliance is committed to continuously improving Huebsch equipment, and takes initiative to improve their machines as the industry continues to progress.
Berger adds, “It’s hard to find quality manufacturers that are committed to the United States. I was so proud to see that Alliance team members truly wanted to make great machines – from the employees on the factory floor to the CEO.”
Alongside his own business growth, Berger has also witnessed Huebsch improve and expand its technological advances available on equipment. The intuitive Galaxy 600 control system is a prime example of this technological growth, he says.
“The capabilities Galaxy 600 controls afford me, my employees and customers are impressive,” Berger explains, “I like to see advances in technology that help improve my bottom line and optimize efficiency.”
For example, thanks to easy-to-use Galaxy 600 controls, Berger has 30 programmable water levels at his fingertips. These levels can be adjusted based on costs and customer feedback, to ultimately provide the best wash results at the lowest expense – and highest profit – to a store owner. Additionally, multi-level pricing options allow customers to customize their wash based on the load in question and their preferences. For example, customers can use cycle modifiers to adjust the number of rinses, while Berger enjoys the added revenue that accompanies this choice. Time-of-day pricing is another feature of Galaxy 600, which allows Berger to adjust vend prices during slow and peak traffic times.
With such positive feedback from customers about these features, it’s no surprise Berger plans to install brand new Huebsch machines with Galaxy 600 controls in his seventh store. It’s set to open in 2016.
He says, “The latest washer that we have now is fantastic, and I don’t use that word lightly.”
Berger’s journey to success did not always come easy, but today can be attributed to his savvy business skills and the strong support system he found in his distributor and manufacturer. With six successful stores, and more on the way, Curt Berger is an exemplary Huebsch Store Owner of the Quarter.
Whether you are already a business owner, or have only dreamed about being your own boss, Huebsch can be your guide – from start to finish – for investing in laundry. To find a knowledgeable laundry expert in your area who is ready, willing and able to help maximize your return on investment, visit the Huebsch distributor locator or call 1.800.553.5120.