A laundromat can be much more than a place to wash and dry clothes. A laundromat can empower a community and better the lives of its customers. This is the case of South Memphis Alliance (SMA) and the laundromat it operates.
Investment in Laundry
Born and raised in the Home of the Blues, SMA Executive Director Reginald Milton knows firsthand about the hardships of the community. Milton’s desire to make a positive impact on Memphis residents led him to found SMA in 2000 with the mission of improving the health, knowledge and stability of young people, families and communities through social services, advocacy and mentoring.
The organization grew, and as a result moved into a larger location at 1048 S. Bellevue Blvd. in 2005. Adjacent to SMA’s new facility was a run-down laundromat. A few years later when the laundromat’s owner was ready to retire, Milton saw it as an opportunity to improve his community and generate funding for his organization.
“We noticed that many of the people who needed our support were also customers of the laundromat,” Milton noted. “Although the facility was very run-down, I could see the value in taking ownership and making it into a place where community members could do more than just laundry.”
And so SMA took ownership of the store and began its relationship with Huebsch® distributor L&M Laundry Services. While the existing machines were 20-plus years old and not properly maintained by the previous owner, Milton still made the best of the situation and turned to Mike Leake, owner of L&M Laundry Services, for advice.
As SMA had no budget to support repairs, Leake informed Milton about service schools held at Huebsch’s world-class manufacturing facility in Ripon, Wisconsin where he could learn how to service and extend the equipment’s life.
“When I came back from taking service classes in Ripon, we got the machines up and working. We painted the building, cleaned and did everything we could to make it accessible to the community. We managed it that way for two years, but realized we needed to update the facility to provide a better experience for our customers and increase our ability to generate revenue for the organization.”
Replacing for Success
The process took two years to secure the necessary funding to bring the SMA Laundromat and Resource Center to life. During the extensive year-long equipment search process, SMA looked at all the manufacturers and went to several laundry trade shows and conferences to see the models available and learn as much as possible.
“We wanted equipment that was user-friendly and easy for our customers to operate. As we are in a high-density, low-income environment, the equipment needed to be rugged and up to handling the demands of our customers. Finally, we had to have something that would reduce our utility costs, but at the same time give our customers the quality of service they wanted and deserved.”
At the end of the day, it was an easy decision to replace with Huebsch. “Huebsch had everything we were looking for; they turned out to offer the best machines out there.”
Leake worked with SMA to select the right equipment mix for its unique needs. Twenty washer-extractors with eBoost™ technology and four 20-pound top load washers provide SMA customers with a quality wash, while a combination of 12 30- and 45-pound stack tumble dryers and two 75-pound tumble dryers produce consistent drying results.
The washer-extractors and tumble dryers equipped with the intuitive Galaxy™ 600 controls make for incredibly easy customer operation. Understanding customers are strapped for time, it was important for SMA to select washer-extractors that could provide a quality wash, quickly.
With 30 programmable water levels, Galaxy controls enabled SMA to make adjustments by segment and customer feedback for the most economical water setting, while the system’s 24 cycle combinations give customers options and ensure the best possible wash per load.
“We found the Huebsch machines did the best job of cleaning in a timely manner,” Milton says.
Improving the Community
Milton wanted to do more than just update the equipment; he wanted to create a place that would enrich the lives of his customers whose average income is just $15,000 a year.
Roughly a quarter of the 3,000 square foot facility was designed as a place for community and professional organizations to provide customers with free social services – literacy training, job search support, eye exams and HIV testing – in between washing and drying loads of laundry.
“When people are waiting 20 minutes for their clothes to be washed, 20 minutes for their clothes to be dried, it’s a perfect opportunity to provide these services,” Milton adds.
SMA invested in providing amenities that no other laundromat in a two-mile radius offered, such as security, air conditioning and heating, free Wi-Fi and vending. Word of SMA’s offerings quickly spread in the community and as a result, three other laundromats nearby closed due to lack of business.
In just the first year of operation SMA Laundromat and Resource Center has made a bigger splash in the community than originally expected. When it opened, SMA forecasted the laundromat would generate $75,000 annually for the organization after deducting operating costs. More traffic than expected means the laundromat is now on course to generate nearly double that.
A recent survey by the Coin Laundry Association noted that 50 percent of laundromat owners who experienced business growth attribute it to their new equipment. By outfitting the store with efficient and state-of-the-art equipment SMA showed its customers that it cares about their business.
“As humans, we will adapt to almost anything. When we are in an environment where we are offered less, our expectations lower. But when we are given more, our expectations grow and we become better people.”
By partnering with Huebsch, SMA Laundromat and Resource Center was able to provide the best experience for its customers and still generate the revenue needed to support the community.
“The staffs of L&M Laundry Services and Huebsch are so knowledgeable and I do not think the success of this project could have happened without them both.”