Revolutionary Laundry Rooms Convenience, Safety and Ecology Are Considered

Forget the dark, dingy room with uncomfortable chairs and crummy machines. Never mind running down

to the laundry room with an armload of clothes to find that all the machines are in use. Those days are over. Imagine a laundry room that is well lit, has a library, couches to lounge on and even exercise equipment. There is no need to scrounge around for quarters thanks to the development of debit cards, and you can find out if any machines are available or if your laundry is done simply by dialing the phone.

Laundry rooms are not what they used to be, according to Mitch Blatt of Coinmach, a laundry service provider based in Roslyn, New York. I've seen a transformation from cement block walls to beautiful rooms. The laundry environment has been made more comfortable. There are laundry rooms that have a library and a television set to watch. Your typical laundry room is turning into a social center. Because of the nice environment, people want to use the machines in the building, which can help bring in revenue, Blatt says.

It makes the boards happy because they can negotiate what they want in a laundry room and it can make money for them, states Denise Savino, vice president of Automatic Industries, a professional laundry company based on Long Island. People want to be in an attractive environment, even if it is doing laundry. It will make people want to use the equipment.

A nice laundry room is a great amenity, says Stuart Litwin, president of Gordon & Thomas, a laundry company based in New Jersey. At one building we took an existing laundry facility and combined it with the health facility. Now people like coming down there. It's a great social setting and people like using the machines.

The Laundry Contract

The best way to guarantee that a laundry room can make a profit for the building is to bring in an outside company that specializes in laundry rooms. A professional laundry company can advise the building on what facilities and plumbing need to be installed. Such a specialist can redesign an existing room or create one from scratch with amenities that will add value to the building.

We always do a custom designed job, says Ron Garfunkel of Service Directions, a laundry company in Mt. Vernon, New York, that serves the tri-state area. We work with the co-op to find out exactly what they want and what they need. There is a lot of thought that has to be put into this and the laundry company should help as much as possible. Garfunkel suggests that in addition to getting references about the laundry company, a building should also get references from other buildings about the equipment that is being used. You want to make sure that people like the machines and that they work the way they are supposed to. Not every machine is for every building, Garfunkel states.

One way to generate revenue is by having the laundry company pay a rental fee to the co-op or condo. This fee is based on the number of units in the building, the type of residents (whether or not there are a lot of families in the building) and the cost of washing and drying. A second method is for the building to take a percentage of the revenue generated by the machines, usually 50 to 70 percent.

The third way to profit from a laundry room is to use both methods by negotiating a guaranteed fixed rent over a ffb percentage of the revenue into the contract. This is the most popular choice for boards because they know they are never going to get less than a certain amount, and if the laundry room is doing well, they will get more, says Savino. An example of how this works is when the laundry company pays $200 a month in rent with the revenue from the machines never going below that amount. When the revenue is higher than $200, the building will get a percentage of the income.

Debit and Smart Cards

The future of laundry rooms is very exciting. With technology like the debit and smart cards there will be a time when you don't need to bring any cash with you, says Steven Breitman, president of SEBCO Laundry Systems, a laundry company that specializes in co-ops and condos in the tri-state area. The nice thing about this is that you will remove all money and vandalism that goes on, making the laundry room a safe place.

Gordon & Thomas was one of the first laundry companies to use the card system. We really innovated this debits card system, says Litwin. We've been using them the longest and are really happy with them. Two years ago people were saying the card system would work and now almost every company is using it.

Service Directions co-developed a machine called Smart Track that works the same way as a debit or smart card. We've been using it for over a year and a half and have them in six or seven substantial locations, explains Garfunkel.

Many companies currently use the Debit Card or Smart Card system. There is an add value station located in the laundry room or in the building manager's office where a resident can insert a card and add up to $50 in credit value to it by feeding cash into the machine. Then the card is inserted into the washing machine or dryer to activate it and the cost of the cycle is automatically deducted from the card. The add value machine can also let the user know how much money is left on the card.

According to Breitman, the technology is available to turn the Smart Card into an all-purpose card that can open doors to specific areas of the building. It would be possible to keep all of your personal information on the card including medical history and even your library card. In the immediate future, however, you will see it as a way to gain entrance into the laundry room at designated times and even to get in and out of the building.

The debit card can evolve into an ATM card where the money is deducted from a checking account and eventually it may evolve into a credit card system that will allow you to use your Visa or Mastercard, says Dick Casey, national sales manager for Speed Queen, a laundry machine manufacturer located in Wisconsin that supplies washers and dryers to companies such as Coinmach and Automatic Industries. We've started our first installations of credit card machines and are on our way to becoming truly cashless, explains Litwin. On a credit card machine, instead of inserting a debit card into the slot, a credit card would be used instead. The cycle will then be invoiced on the card-user's monthly statement.

Electronic Display Control

There are now some models of washers and dryers that have an Electronic Display Control (EDC) that displays the vending price and the cycle countdown. The EDC can also inform the user when to add fabric softener or bleach to the cycle. These machines can help building management cut down on operating costs by offering different prices for different types of washes. For example, a cycle of hot water would cost $1.50, a warm water cycle $1.25 and cold water $1.00. You can also program the machine to charge different rates for different times of the day. By charging a lower rate during low volume usage and a higher rate during peak hours, the building can create an incentive to do laundry at off peak times, explains Casey.

According to Casey, the EDC will allow for the purchase of extra wash or dry time. Instead of having to pay for a complete cycle, you can pay a small amount for a few more minutes and ad ffb d it on the current cycle. This not only saves water and electricity, but money as well, and makes the customer happy.

Dial 1-800-LAUNDRY

Most of the new technology available for washers and dryers is designed to make the laundry experience more convenient for the customer. Coinmach has developed a new service that will save people the hassle of lugging a load of laundry down to the basement only to discover that none of the machines are available. LaundriMate is a telephone operated system that allows the resident of a building to make a local phone call to the laundry room. LaundriMate will state how many machines are available by saying something like, Hello. Welcome to the LaundriMate Service. There are currently two washers and one dryer available. Or if there are no available machines it will say, Hello. Welcome to LaundriMate Service. There are currently no washers or dryers available.

Each machine has a number that corresponds to the telephone system. LaundriMate will let you know the status of wash by telling you that the machine you are using, number 7, is still in use. You can also have the system call you to let you know when your cycle is finished. When you go back to your apartment you can call that local number and input your machine number and your phone number. When the cycle is completed, LaundriMate will call you and say, Hello. This is the LaundriMate Service. Washer number 7 is finished.

It takes the aggravation out of doing laundry. You don't have to make repeated trips to the laundry room and you don't have to worry about neighbors taking your clothes out. This is the most innovative piece of equipment to come to the laundry industry. We have been developing this technology for three years and people are now using it, says Blatt.

New Technology Reduces

Service Calls

As the number of card-operated laundry machines has increased, the number of service calls for laundry rooms has decreased. According to Breitman, 40 percent of service calls were due to the coin-operated machines' slide mechanism getting jammed. Today, If someone was not properly credited or something happened during their cycle, the customer can easily be credited. The new technology also makes it easier to monitor the machines and do regular maintenance. Whenever you retrieve or calculate the revenue you can do a service check simultaneously, says Breitman.

Green Laundry

While much of the new technology in washers and dryers is geared toward convenience, steps have also been taken to ensure that the machines don't damage the environment. Last year, Gordon & Thomas introduced the Eco-Clean washer, a machine that uses half the water and half the electricity of regular washers and even cleans clothes better. Typically, with any washing machine, residue is left in the clothing from multiple rinses because the residue stays in with the moisture. What the Eco-Clean washer does is that it takes out more moisture and thus gets out more residue. The result is cutting utility costs, helping the environment and getting cleaner clothes, says Litwin.

Garfunkel feels that there will be a big market for these environmentally-conscious machines. Some companies are bringing in a European model that reduces the amount of water used and has an increased spin speed. We should be seeing an American version of this type of machine by the end of the year, Garfunkel explains.

With the new technology and aesthetics that are being created for laundry rooms, this boring chore is much more palatable and user-friendly. So sit back, watch some TV and do your laundry.

Ms. Cooper is Editorial/Internet Coordinator of The New York Cooperator.

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