Stories from the Covid-19 Front Lines: Mike Roberts, WaveMax CEO
Name: Mike Roberts
Brand: WaveMax Laundry
Segment: High-tech laundromat
Locations: 8 states
How many locations has your brand reopened? How many closed permanently?
As an essential business, we did not close any locations, but rather had to strategize and roll out protocols to keep our customers and staff safe. All 18 of our locations are open, and the technology each laundromat is equipped with, including the mobile app, is incredibly helpful in allowing us to implement social distancing and more safety procedures. The mobile app alerts customers when machines are available and when their loads are completed. It also notifies our franchise owners of any maintenance issues, so you can see how this would help reduce unnecessary foot traffic.
What are your franchisees telling you about their economic recovery?
Even though our locations stayed open, we were mindful to follow up with owners to see if there were any notable revenue changes. Fortunately, we did not see a drop in sales during the pandemic as both self-serve and drop-off business remained strong. However, we did make adjustments to our cleaning procedures to keep our customers feeling safe in our facilities. WaveMax washers have a “sanitizing” option, which became very popular over the past months, so we made sure that everyone was well-versed in how the feature works. Having the ability to sanitize the washers before use is unique to WaveMAX Laundry. The proprietary program setting is available at all of our locations and not typically offered at neighborhood laundromats.
Has business shifted to delivery/pickup? What effect has this had?
We do not offer a pickup and delivery service, but it’s something we’re working to roll out based on consumer demand. At the moment, our customers use the washers and dryers on their own. The popularity of our drop-off service remained steady. In fact, we began to see a new type of customer amid the pandemic: hospital staff. Many hospital workers drop off their laundry for us to process to avoid doing laundry at home and potentially exposing their families to Covid-19. All of our attendants wear gloves and masks while handling the laundry. We also wash those loads using 120-degree hot water (viruses cannot survive temperatures above 105 degrees). Next, we dry the clothes on our highest setting, which reaches a temperature of 150 degrees, to fully sanitize the load.
What new programs did you introduce for franchisees during Covid-19?
While the only new things we introduced to franchise owners during the pandemic were the safety protocols, we noticed a growing trend we could not ignore. The popularity of delivery skyrocketed during the pandemic, so we’re working on a way to be able to pick up and deliver laundry directly from the customer. We’re piloting the concept in Knoxville and are working on a national rollout that would be made available to franchisees as an optional investment opportunity.
How have your franchisees responded to these programs?
Our franchisees recognized the need for stringent safety procedures to keep everyone safe inside our facilities. So all owners were compliant and really went above and beyond to help our customers and employees stay healthy.
What are your franchisees doing for their customers?
We clean the washers after each use, educate customers on the “sanitize” cycle and provide a gathering space for customers to feel safe. We sell and promote “clean,” and our customers are keenly aware that they are in control of the end product.
How are customers responding to your reopening guidelines?
Our customers are mindful and respectful of our social distancing guidelines and mask requirements. They recognize that we are an essential business, and while we didn’t need to shut down, keeping our facilities safe is critical to the safety of all.
How have your suppliers supported you through the past 6 months? Do you expect any permanent changes in how you do business with them?
We’ve worked to develop strong relationships with our longstanding suppliers for years, so during the pandemic, they were incredibly communicative. For many of them, we remained their largest customer in North America. Because of this, we are working on offering an expanded equipment package with significant savings to our franchise network. This program is being developed for rollout in 2021 as a result of our strong franchise development sales in 2020. We’re always working with our vendors to get better pricing and service for our franchise owners.
How do you see the future of your brand, operations, market, etc. post–Covid-19?
In 2020, our sales were very strong and we continued to sell franchises and open facilities, even during the height of the pandemic. Looking ahead, we’re anticipating significant growth as we are a great diversification opportunity for restaurant and fitness owners. We’re also a great investment opportunity for working professionals, and offer a way to receive great returns with just around 6 to 8 hours per week of store management. With only four employees per store, 6 to 8 hours per week of store management, and providing a service that’s in demand in any circumstance, the sky is the limit for our brand.
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