Cathie Anderson

Owner of suburban laundromats finds success after HP layoff

Deborah Dower started her own business and opened the Paradise Laundry in March 2010. She was laid off from her job a Hewlett-Packard in 2009. August 18, 2010 in Citrus Heights, Calif.
Deborah Dower started her own business and opened the Paradise Laundry in March 2010. She was laid off from her job a Hewlett-Packard in 2009. August 18, 2010 in Citrus Heights, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Paradise Laundry is approaching its one-year anniversary in Lincoln, but owner Deborah Dower still gets customers who say, “I can’t believe they let you build a laundromat in this drought. It uses so much water.”

Dower told me that she uses the opportunity to educate consumers, explaining that her modern laundry machines actually can help them reduce water consumption.

“If you look at a home washer, like a regular top-load washer, it will use anywhere from 30 to 40 gallons of water to go through the wash and the rinse cycles,” Dower said. “It usually holds about 15 pounds of laundry, so you’re using 30 gallons of water to do 15 pounds of laundry at home. If you use a large 50-pound washer (at a Paradise facility), it will use about 30 gallons of water to do 50 pounds of laundry.”

The other plus, Dower said, is that commercial machines extract more water in the rinse cycle, so they significantly reduce the time it takes to dry clothing.

Dower got into the business of operating self-service laundries when she was laid off from Hewlett-Packard in 2009. At the time, Dower was a sales executive earning a healthy salary. She persuaded her husband to try the laundry business, and the couple will soon have five outlets, two in Roseville, one in Lincoln and two in Citrus Heights – including one they’re remodeling at 7345 Greenback Lane.

The Dowers remodeled four locations in Roseville and Citrus Heights, putting in new equipment that slashed water usage by nearly 40 percent. The same would be true for any self-service laundries that have upgraded to larger, more eco-friendly equipment, Dower said.

All those new machines can cost $100,000-plus, but fortunately, the manufacturers of commercial washing equipment will finance 100 percent of the purchase, Dower said. They figure that if anything goes wrong, Dower said, they can always repossess and resell the machines or briefly take over a laundry and resell it.

“We have been very fortunate in that all the stores we’ve done have gotten to positive cash flow by the third month,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of marketing, too.”

In Lincoln, Dower said, she’s met customers whose homes depend on well water. During the drought, their supply of groundwater has dropped a lot, so they’re coming into her laundromat to preserve their well water for showers, cooking and other uses.

The Dowers built their Lincoln store from the ground up after learning that a laundry was one of the top-five businesses that residents there requested in city surveys. The couple paid $1,500 per washer for access to the city’s sewer lines, a total of roughly $42,000 before they even put any pipes in the ground.

The investments have been worth it, Dower said, and she wishes she would have been introduced to the industry earlier.

“I wouldn’t mind having a chain of eco-friendly laundromats all throughout California and Hawaii,” Dower said, “but I don’t think I would have been ready to take this kind of risk earlier. There’s something about hitting your 50s. Priorities change and values change. Had I been laid off 10 years ago, I probably would have gone out there and found a job with Microsoft or Dell, doing the same thing with a different name on the business card. … But getting laid off at 50, it was a life-changing event. It was like, ‘Wow, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?’”

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