Cleaned out

So you wanna be a laundromat operator?

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click to enlarge MAN VS. MACHINES: Richert of Tampa's Laundromat Express - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
MAN VS. MACHINES: Richert of Tampa's Laundromat Express

It seems like the easiest job in the world — come in, sweep the floors and collect your quarters. Everybody needs to do laundry, right?

Well, Russ Richert thought so, too. But you might be surprised how fickle the washing business is. As the six-year owner and operator of Laundromat Express — with two locations in Tampa — he has learned that you can lose more than socks at the laundromat.

"It's funny, when I first got in the business I thought all you had to do was collect your quarters," the college-educated accountant and former TECO employee says. "But it's just not that simple. People have to know what their costs are."

Maintenance, he says, is where people go wrong.

"If you want to save money, you need to know how to repair your own machines," he suggests.

Richert says two things have hit laundromat owners hard in the past few years: rising utility costs and a greater percentage of homeowners.

Hot water and the dryers are normally run on natural gas, he says, and those prices have nearly tripled in the last three years. Interesting fact: the utilities increase has forced many laundromats to raise prices, but since most machines take quarters, owners tend to lower the number of minutes on the dryer rather than require more quarters.

"Ten minutes used to be the standard," he says, but now he only gives six minutes for a quarter.

And he's noticed there are fewer renters.

"You see it all the time — apartments have huge vacancies," he laments. "Well, those are our customers."

If you're still interested and think you can do better than the 'mats you've seen around town, there's several for sale right now. The latest one in Tampa (according to an ad in the St. Pete Times) was going for $359,000.

That's a lot of quarters.

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