An electrical engineer by trade and baseball coach by passion, Aaron Milam knows firsthand how determination, practice and teamwork can deliver winning results. So when Aaron and his wife Andrea saw an outdated laundromat in Pasadena, California, they knew they could transform it into a successful business. In a short time the duo turned The Laundry Room into the city’s “finest full-service laundry boutique,” and it is their creativity, hard work and commitment to their customers that earned the Milams the title “Huebsch® Store Owner of the Quarter.”
The First Pitch: Purchasing a Laundromat
The Milams first realized laundry could be a good investment opportunity in 2010 when they purchased a rental property. With no laundry facility for residents, Aaron refinished the basement and installed second-hand, coin-operated top-load machines he found on the Internet.
Not only did the “new” laundry facility please the tenants, Aaron and Andrea received requests from neighbors to use the machines instead of traveling several miles to the closest laundromat. Once the couple started counting the change from the use of just one set of machines, they realized investing in a laundromat would be a very smart business venture.
It took several years for the right opportunity to present itself. The City of Pasadena put a limit on new laundromat construction, so the only way the Milams could open a store of their own was to purchase one from an existing owner. They came close in 2012, but felt the location was too far from home.
In 2014 the Milams visited a store that had just been put on the market. When he walked in, Aaron realized the owner was an acquaintance from his childhood. After they caught up, they began discussing the store and opportunity it presented.
“We learned it was a longstanding store that had been in operation since the 70s,” Aaron shares. “The store had changed ownership several times over the years, but never received a significant upgrade or remodel.”
There were several reasons the Milams found this opportunity too good to miss. The store was very close to the Milams’ home, which would be convenient for Andrea, who would help run the day-to-day operation, and Aaron as he continued his career as an engineer at St. Jude Medical Center and college baseball coach.
The location was perfect for a laundromat and there was high demand in the neighborhood. Just two blocks west of the store is Pasadena City College where more than 25,000 students enroll each semester. If that wasn’t enough, less than a mile away is the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) campus that serves roughly 2,000 students each year. With ample parking and a large storefront, the store is situated in a strip mall with other high-volume tenants including an auto parts store, liquor store, hair salon and donut shop.
Additionally, with the quota imposed by the city on the number of stores able to operate in Pasadena, the Milams knew the competition in the area would not continue to grow. There is one major competitor a mile east of the store, and two other stores in close proximity have closed since the couple took over The Laundry Room.
With the right price and a vision of a home run, the Milams acquired the laundromat at 1828 East Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena in 2014.
Covering all the Bases: Store Remodel
While the equipment in the store was dated, Aaron knew his engineering background would help him get the equipment in working order until they were ready to upgrade. What the Milams did focus on right away, however, was the store’s aesthetics and mechanics.
For the remodel, which took two months to complete, inspiration came from an unexpected place: a fast casual Mexican restaurant. Just before starting the remodel, Aaron was in line at the chain he had visited many times before, only to look at the walls and see his vision for The Laundry Room come to life.
“I really liked the corrugated metal the restaurant had on the walls,” Aaron recalls. “I said, ‘let’s do it!’ In addition to adding the metal on the walls, we opened up the ceiling for a more industrial feel.”
Aaron, who is the pitching coach at Occidental College in Los Angeles, also infused The Laundry Room with a bit of his passion for baseball by ripping up the old benches at the front of the store and replacing with seating typically seen in stadiums.
Another major improvement the Milams made to the store during the remodel was the addition of two new central air units. The store previously had a swamp cooler, which did not do much to help combat Pasadena’s high humidity.
“Central air units dry out the air a little bit when it pulls the air through the return,” Aaron says. “Swamp coolers simply pull the already humid air from the outside and wet it down with a water switch. It would get very humid in the store and was not a place guests would want to sit for long periods of time.”
With the remodel complete, The Laundry Room also opened with new ancillary profit centers including detergent vending, drink vending and a purified water station. The store also has free Wi-Fi and six large televisions for customers.
Additionally, Andrea rolled out a “Fluff and Fold” wash-dry-fold service for clientele who desire the convenience of having their laundry completed by professionals. They have also grown this service to support local businesses, including a yoga studio and nail salon.
While the first year of operation was profitable, the Milams knew that it was time to replace the equipment in the store.
A Winning Team: The Milams & ACE Commercial Laundry Equipment
When it came time to retool the store, the Milams spoke with distributors representing several manufacturers. One manufacturer was crossed off the list due to limitations with their equipment, and they ultimately chose to work with Huebsch distributor ACE Commercial Laundry Equipment due to Sales Manager Andy Wray’s commitment to delivering the most efficient equipment and best aesthetics while working within their remodel budget. Aaron and Andrea were also drawn to the Huebsch equipment warranty and both Wray and Senior Sales Representative Rudy Munoz’s overall professionalism.
“We really liked Andy when we met him, and we later found out I went to high school with his wife,” Aaron says. “Andy is very busy, so when he took the time out to come visit our store and talk with us, it meant a lot. He has always made himself available, and everything has been cordial and easy.”
The Milams and ACE Commercial worked together to evaluate the ideal equipment mix for the store. “We looked at what we had and tried to add more of the machines that were doing the best business and reduce the number of the machines that were not producing the most revenue,” explains Aaron.
The plan for the Laundry Room was a mix of 38 Huebsch washers ranging from top loaders to 30-, 40- and 60-pound washer-extractors featuring Galaxy™ 600 controls and eBoost™ technology and 17 Huebsch stacked tumble dryers.
The Milams turned to Huebsch Financial for financing assistance for the new equipment. Unlike commercial financial institutions, Huebsch Financial offers programs designed specifically for the laundry industry. As applications for up to $100,000 can be completed online via a short, one-page form, and most decisions are made within one business day, the Milams were able to get the credit they needed quickly and easily.
Since upgrading to new Huebsch equipment in June 2015, The Laundry Room has delivered its customers a first-rate experience, as well as increased revenue and utility efficiencies for the Milams, so much so that they are on track to pay off their Huebsch Financial loan earlier than expected.
The store uses social media sites Yelp and Facebook to help promote the business and attract new customers through customer reviews and images of the laundromat. The Milams even reward customers for checking in on Yelp with 20 minutes of free drying, and also use the online sales site Groupon to offer discounts to attract new customers.
“We have had success with our social media promotion, but we are also careful about our marketing efforts. We don’t want to grow too big too quickly, because we care about the quality of our products and services we offer.”
Since remodeling the store and installing new equipment, The Laundry Room customers have been very happy with the new store. Aaron continues to look for ways to improve both the customer experience and implement a “greener” design including recently installing LED lighting. He also made technical enhancements to help simplify business for his customers, such as adding a digital menu board to showcase pricing and creating a texting program to notify customers when their wash-dry-fold order is complete.
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.