Joe Dan Reed represents a new generation of coin laundries, and he has $100,000 to prove it.
On Thursday, Reed, owner of Splash'em Out laundries in Lexington, Richmond and Nicholasville, received a check for that amount from Dan Bowe, national sales manager for Speed Queen, a leading maker of commercial laundry equipment. The money was Reed's prize for winning a national essay contest in which he described how he attracts and retains customers.
When he saw a Speed Queen distributor and TV cameras coming through the door of his as-yet-unopen eighth location, Reed joked that his first thought was: "Are they coming to repo my equipment already? I have paid, I promise, I paid."
Reed was among more than 50 store owners across the country who submitted essays, Bowe said.
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"His essay stood out because of what he does and what he embodies in customer service, and also the way he put it down in words," Bowe said. "He's the new generation of laundromats."
Customer service is the key. Reed's stores offer customers free pickup of laundry and delivery back to them clean and folded. The company has a web page, a Facebook page and uses Twitter to attract customers. Monday through Friday, customers who check in on the Facebook page with a store attendant receive 50 cents off the washer of their choice. Code stickers that are readable by mobile phones direct patrons to specials. A kid's play area stocked with toys in each store keeps little ones occupied.
In addition, when he started in the coin-laundry business four years ago, Reed bought 10,000 laundry bags and gave one to each customer walking through the door until none were left. Customers using the drop-off service also received a bag.
"I try to find what customers want, always," Reed, 45, said. "It's not about me. It's about what the customer wants. ...We're big on getting people in and out because people want to save time."
Area horse farms patronize the laundry "because we do a lot of horse blankets," Reed said. "We do a lot of catering companies; they drop off their tablecloths here."
Splash'em Out customer Jessica Bridges said she patronizes the Hi-Acres Shopping Center store off Bryan Station Road "because it's a clean environment."
"They have daily specials and it's a nice place," Bridges said. "It's clean and you always get a friendly lady that talks to you and helps you out."
Reed and his wife, Kelli, got into coin laundries through their janitorial company, Commonwealth Cleaning LLC, which cleans windows, carpets and homes.
"We had customers who asked us if we could do their laundry," Reed said. The idea intrigued him. As he wrote in his essay: "After all, if I cleaned their homes, why not clean clothes as well?"
So Reed did his homework. He went to coin laundries and talked with customers to find out what would make their experience "pleasurable and less burdensome," as he wrote in his essay.
Then he sought a location and found an existing laundromat in need of a facelift in Hi-Acres Shopping Center. That became his first store. A new location scheduled to open Monday at 160 E. New Circle Road in Lexington will be his eighth store.
Asked how he plans to spend the $100,000 prize money, Reed said: "It's spent. It's gone. It's going to go straight to ... pay off the loan" for the new store.