Few businesses have quite the same relationship with their equipment as laundromats. Essentially, your equipment is almost the entire draw of your business. Customers will be regularly paying you to directly utilize your equipment, so it goes without saying that you want to spend a lot of time thinking about your equipment purchases.
If you’re thinking about starting your own laundromat and want to get a sense of how much the equipment will cost, where to buy it, and how to finance it, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for more information.
The Equipment You Need To Start A Laundromat (& How Much It Costs)
If you’ve been to a laundromat, you probably have a general idea of what types of equipment you’ll need to get your laundromat up and running. Nevertheless, let’s lay them all out to make sure we’re on the same page. You’ll need, at a minimum:
- Commercial washers ($700 – $25,000 each)
- Commercial dryers ($1,000 – $20,000 each)
- A payment system
- Coin-based ($100 – $200 per machine, $700-$1,200 per bill-to-coin changer)
- Card-reader system ($40,000 – $80,000)
- Water heating system ($15,000 – $40,000)
You’ll probably want:
- Tables for folding ($60 – $600/each)
- Seating ($30 and up/each)
- Laundry carts ($50 – $80/each)
- Vending machines for snacks/detergent ($1,000 – $5,000/each)
- Entertainment (variable)
This is the reason your customers will come! Commercial washers come in a number of different sizes, with capacity ranging from 1.7 cubic feet to over 4.5 cubic feet. Many laundromats provide different sizes for different loads, charging more for use of the larger machines. In general, top-loaders are cheaper than side-loaders but are less energy and water-efficient. Even so, there’s a pretty enormous range of prices for washing units. For any given model, you want to take into account the long-term costs of the machine in terms of both utilities and maintenance. If you’re aren’t hunting for the absolute cheapest or most expensive models, you can probably expect to pay somewhere between $1,000 and $3,000 per unit.
Most customers who use laundromats will also want to dry their clothes on site. Dryers can be heated by electricity or gas, but the majority of new laundromats will probably opt for electric (typically 240 volts) unless they already have a convenient infrastructure for gas. If you’re short on floor space, you may want to consider stackable dryers, which allow you to double the number of units you can fit within your shop. Expect to pay a bit more for the privilege, however.
Dryers generally have a larger capacity than washers, ranging from 5.5 to over 9 cubic feet, as more space is needed to effectively dry the same amount of clothes. Like washers, you can probably find decent units for between $1,000 to $3,000 each.
A Payment System
The once-ubiquitous coin-operated laundry is a rarer sight than it used to be, but it’s still a viable option for laundromats looking to minimize startup costs. The coin boxes, feeder slides, and wiring add a small amount of expense to each machine. You’ll also need to spring for a bill-to-coin changer or two to ensure that your customers have quarters to feed your machines.
The downsides of a coin-based system come into play down the road. While you won’t exactly be a bank, you’ll have a lot more cash onsite, which means you’ll have more security risks than you would with a card-based system. Those risks can add expense–collecting the coins, transporting them, etc.
A card-based system, on the other hand, offers a lot of long-term conveniences. You won’t have to worry about collecting or keeping track of coins, and your customers won’t have to worry about having cash on hand when they walk in. Even better, these systems make it easier to track your sales. Additionally, they can function a bit like loyalty cards, encouraging customers to come back and spend down the value on their cards. Some systems also allow you to offer perks like dryer credits.
The downside, of course, is that these systems are pricey to install, adding upwards of $40K to your startup expenses. If you can afford it, though, the general consensus seems to be that they’re worth it.
Water Heating System
If you’re offering warm and hot wash cycles, you’ll need a heating system for all that water you’ll be using. These systems come with or without a storage tank. The advantage of the former is that it keeps hot water at the ready for use, but utilizes more energy to do so. Either way, you’ll want to make sure your system is powerful enough to produce enough hot water for all your machines should they run at once. With a tank storage system, you’ll want to consider its recovery rate to make sure it can meet peak demand, whereas with a tankless system your concern should be with the amount of hot water it can produce on demand.
While not necessary per se, there are some other items that will improve your customers’ laundromat experience and help you stand out from the competition.
First, there’s the stuff that helps customers take care of their laundry. I’m talking about carts that make it easier to move wet laundry to dryers, and dry laundry to tables for folding. And speaking of tables, you’ll probably want those too. How about seating for customers who are waiting for their laundry to finish? And maybe a way to buy detergent, fabric softener, or dryer sheets if they didn’t bring their own?
Vending machines are a common sight in laundromats, and for good reason. Your busy, captive clientele are likely to get thirsty or peckish. It’s not unusual for such machines to be a significant source of revenue for laundromats. Vending machine prices vary quite a bit depending on the model and whether you buy new or used, but you’re probably looking at an outlay between $1,000 and $5,000 each.
The final consideration is entertainment. Let’s face it, doing your laundry isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. Sure, many customers have smartphones, but maybe they’d be more comfortable watching TV! How about some toys to occupy kids? And who doesn’t associate laundromats with old-fashioned coin-operated arcade games? While none of these are necessary, they can be difference-makers when people are choosing where to do their laundry.
Where To Purchase Laundromat Equipment
You can purchase laundromat equipment through a number of different sources. The option that’s best for you will likely depend on your budget, your location, and your business plan.
Laundromats are such a common business there are actually quite a few companies that exist primarily to service them. These distributors specialize in selling, servicing, and installing laundry equipment. They also usually deal in parts, which can be useful if you’re trying to keep older machines running. If you decide to use a distributor, make sure they have a good reputation and work with the brands you want to use. If you’re looking to keep costs really low, many distributors also deal in used equipment.
You can also try to buy your equipment directly from the manufacturer. While many brands still work with local distributors to sell their products, some also offer their own financing programs to help customers buy their products. Coincidentally, if you know the brand of equipment you want, you can often use a manufacturer’s website to find distributors in your area.
While they aren’t nationally known like some other industries, there are a number of laundromat franchises operating in the US. Plugging into a franchise usually raises your starting costs. You’ll have to pay a franchise fee upfront, conform to franchise standards, and may have to pay royalties every month. In exchange, you benefit from the franchise’s advertising and supply chains. Keep in mind, a franchise will most likely lock you into specific brands and layouts.
You can, of course, buy equipment from retailers, but unless you’re taking advantage of a great sale or can come to some kind of bulk buying/financing agreement, this probably won’t be the best way to purchase the majority of your laundromat equipment. It may, however, make sense to buy some of your smaller one-off purchases this way.
Laundromat Equipment Financing Options
By now, you’re probably realizing that equipment makes up a lot of the cost of starting a laundromat, with total costs for an average-sized laundromat ranging between $200K – $500K. If you don’t have that much money lying around under your mattress, you’ll need to seek other sources of financing.
If you have decent credit (620+) and would rather have monthly payments rather than a large initial expense, you can lease your laundromat equipment. Leases come in two general forms: capital leases and operating leases. Capital leases are effectively loan substitutes, meaning you’re financing equipment with the intent to own. Operating leases, on the other hand, are rental agreements that allow you to utilize equipment that is technically owned by the leasing company. This can be a useful arrangement if you want to frequently upgrade your machinery. If you’re buying from a manufacturer, see if they offer captive leasing, or are partnered with any equipment leasing companies.
Keep in mind, however, that leasing is almost always more expensive over time than buying.
If you’re looking to buy and can afford a downpayment, a slightly cheaper option than leasing is to get an equipment loan. Equipment loans are secured loans that use the equipment being purchased as collateral. This tends to result in better term lengths and rates than you’d see with a similar unsecured working capital loan.
The Small Business Administration can help new businesses that may not otherwise qualify for competitive loan rates and terms to get them. The two most popular programs, 7(a) and 504, can both be used to purchase equipment. The term lengths offered by these programs can spread the cost of your equipment out over a long period and give your business time to mature. Just be aware that applying for SBA loans is an involved, time-consuming process.
Start Your Laundromat Business Off With The Right Equipment
Remember, a laundromat is itself something of an equipment rental business, with the customer “borrowing” your machines for short intervals to clean your clothes. That means your equipment should be one of the top priorities of your business.
Ready to do some purchasing? Check out our favorite equipment financers. Confused about some of the terminology? Take a look at our breakdown of the differences between equipment loans and leases.
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