This equipment just doesnt break down.
Jose Almonte is a champion of the laundry business. As owner of Lavanderia Express, a growing chain of laundromats in New York City, he believes that laundry ownership can provide a meaningful, productive and well-balanced life.
Jose started his career in the grocery business working at his family’s bodega in Brooklyn, East New York. He didn’t get into the laundry business until 1992 when he purchased a property with a grocery store. Since there was another grocer only a few buildings away, Jose thought that his new building would be better utilized by providing the neighborhood with a different service. After attending a seminar on the laundry business, Jose decided to gut the grocery and convert the building into a coin laundry.
Since that first store opened, Jose’s enterprise has expanded to five laundries. A sixth store is under construction and a lease for the seventh is currently in negotiation. Jose’s business model is grounded in real estate. Acquiring the right property is critical to a store’s success and to an eventual exit strategy. Jose selects properties based on potential, competition and convenience.
He currently has three coin stores and two card stores, but moving forward, all of his stores will be cashless. “As people become accustomed to using the cards, they actually prefer them to coins,” he said. “And there are definite advantages for the store owner, who has fewer security and vandalism issues with a cashless store.” Jose also staffs each of his stores with two attendants. He believes that attended stores are more desirable to customers, especially in densely populated urban areas like New York. The attendants are there to look after the business, maintain the property, clean, provide security and explain the card system to customers unfamiliar with cashless stores. Jose offsets the cost of his employees by offering drop-off service, dry-cleaning and selling detergents and other laundry products.
Jose uses Huebsch machines in his stores because of their durability and reliability. “This equipment just doesn’t break down,” he asserts. “The dryers are indestructible and the new Galaxy 600 washers are amazing.” He also likes how uncomplicated the equipment is. The machines are easy for him to diagnose on those rare occasions where there is an issue. Additionally, Huebsch operating instructions are available in both English and Spanish, making it easier for his Spanish-speaking customers to operate the equipment and receive the wash results they desire.
Jose’s newest laundry, Lavanderia Express Vl, is outfitted exclusively with Huebsch machines. The store is located in Jackson Heights, N.Y., and was originally an appliance store. The 3,000 square foot store, which opened March 15, offers drop-off and dry-cleaning services and amenities such as an ATM and free WiFi. The equipment mix for Lavanderia Express Vl includes 20 20-lb, 18 30-lb, eight 40-lb and five 60-lb Huebsch Galaxy 600 washer-extractors and 22 30-lb and four 45-lb TwinStar™ stack dryers with stainless steel front panels and cylinders.
Jose recently started construction on a store in East New York that is scheduled to open in October, 2011. He has already ordered Huebsch equipment for this store and is once again going with the stainless steel, which in addition to durability, features an elegant, modern look. He is also currently negotiating the lease for a massive new store, over 6,000 square feet, in the Bronx.
Jose has become somewhat of a laundry guru to other small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs, particularly those from his native Dominican Republic. Many of the people he helps are transitioning from the grocery business. “Running a grocery store is extremely demanding and time intensive,” says Jose. “It is not unusual to spend 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week at work. Running a laundry is a much more flexible proposition.” Even with multiple stores, Jose has the luxury of deciding how to allocate his time. As a result, he can spend more time with his family while still generating a healthy income. He has already helped five other businessmen change from the grocery business to the laundry business – advising them, sharing his expertise, referring them to distributors and recommending them for financing. “I have changed their lives,” he says. “They are making a good living and enjoying a better quality of life.”
When asked how long he planned to stay in the laundry business and how big his business might become, Jose laughed. “I keep saying that I am done, but then I get bored and start looking for a new location.”