When multi-store owner, Steve Mendez, looks out over the well-appointed Wascomat commercial laundry equipment in his latest Senor Bubbles Laundromat, located in Ocala, Florida, his first thought is “home.”
“The Wascomat brand has always reminded me of my home– the south side of Chicago,” shared Steve. “I might have been born and raised in the grocery store business, but I was so intrigued by my friend’s Laundromat, which of course had all Wascomat equipment. I remember really liking the name ‘Wascomat’ and the look of the machines. It made a big impression on me.”
But before taking the plunge into the laundry business, Steve spent his time learning the family business. “My father opened his first grocery store in 1971 and he taught me everything he knew,” shared Steve. “He’s the kind of guy that would take matters into his own hands. If the floor was a mess, he’d get down on his hands and knees to clean it. Then it would be my turn.”
In 1996 after leaving Chicago for Clearwater, Florida, Steve opened his very own grocery/eatery, called Pepe’s Grocery and Mexican Restaurant. “The space was originally a beauty salon of all things,” said Steve. “Yet I had no problem envisioning it as something entirely different.”
Flanking Pepe’s was another unique storefront – an antique mall. When it came on the market in 2005, Steve had another vision and quickly purchased it. “The entire front of the building is glass,” said Steve. “I thought to myself this would make a great Laundromat. I imagined myself taking down the old green canopy and shining up the enormous window to reveal rows and rows of washers and a whole back wall of dryers.”
A year later, Steve’s fantasy became reality. However after the build and the installation of his brand new Wascomat equipment was completed, Steve suddenly got cold feet. “It was silly really,” he chuckled. “I knew so many people in the community because of Pepe’s, plus my only competitor in town was a rundown Laundromat. Yet, still, I was scared to open my doors.”
Finally Steve’s dad stepped in. “He said, ‘Give me the keys, I’ll open it.’ Six hours later I had my first customer. Two months later I had to hire staff.”
All it takes is one…
What started as a Laundromat dream quickly grew into a full-blown Laundromat addiction. Over the next several years, Steve opened a total of four Laundromats located in Clearwater, Live Oak, Gainsville, and Ocala. His father’s tutelage was paying off. “Everything I learned from my dad about the grocery business holds true for the laundry business,” shared Steve. “’You’ll get out of it what you put into it’ that’s what my dad always said.”
In 2014, Steve set his sights on opening Laundromat number five, also located in Ocala, by purchasing a 6,500-square-foot space. He turned to his longtime distributor, Marlon Reese, of Alabama Laundry Equipment, to help him once again on his latest build. “I first met Marlon in 2005, as part of my due diligence on the laundry business,” recalled Steve. “I was looking for my Wascomat equipment, and Marlon was the local Wascomat representative. He came to my restaurant; we sat and talked. I really liked what he had to say and decided he would make a great partner. That’s how we began working together.”
Over the years, Marlon’s honesty and expertise has proven invaluable to Steve. “He’s patient, knowledgeable, and always reachable,” said Steve. “I can call him on a Sunday and can get him on the phone. It’s so important to be able to get answers, especially if there’s any troubleshooting needed. He’s always there for me.”
Wascomat Generation 7 – a tradition of excellence
The latest Senor Bubbles is Steve and Marlon’s biggest build to date, with 68 washers and 68 dryers – all Wascomat. As a teenager, Steve might have been smitten by the equipment’s cool-sounding moniker and sleek look. However as a laundry owner, Steve is head over heels with Wascomat’s efficiency and durability.
“I have found that Wascomats truly are built to last and take the abuse of a coin laundry,” explained Steve. “Both washers and dryers have heavy-duty construction. And if there is a problem, they are easy to service.”
The Gen 7 washing machines are designed to lower water and energy usage. “The laundry environment is a very demanding one,” said Steve. “But thankfully year after year my Wascomat washers perform, giving my customers a superior wash experience – and saving me money on my utility bills.”
Senor Bubbles patrons are gravitating to the Quick Wash feature, according to Steve. “That’s where the wash cycle is cut in half; only 15 minutes instead of 30. It’s less money too – $1.75 vs. $2.50. And it’s proving to be a big hit with my customers.”
Not to be outdone, the sturdy Gen 7 Wascomat Dryers greatly improved dryer time and reduced energy consumption by 25 percent. “The dryers get so hot and clothes dry incredibly quick,” shared Steve. “My customers really appreciate saving money and time. I can’t tell you how many have shared their old-dryer horror stories; how other machines would ‘eat up all their quarters’ just to get their clothes dry.”
Big, bright, and clean
The massive laundry boasts a play area for the kids with games, flat-screen televisions, and ample seating. It also has all the latest technology features, including no less than 32 security cameras. The laundry’s high ceilings give the space a bright, open feel.
Like its predecessors, the newest Senor Bubbles, has a design element of cascading bubbles down its walls. It even has a little store that sells soap, fabric softener, snacks, and drinks, which makes perfect sense given Steve’s grocery background. The fully attended laundry offers wash-and-fold services and, above all else, is spotless. “I’m a neat freak,” said Steve, “I like my ducks in order. But seriously customers want their Laundromats to be clean, well-lit, and safe. After these three conditions are met, then they look at prices believe it or not. ”
Grand Opening Day
The new Senor Bubbles opened its doors on April 2, 2015 to much excitement and fanfare. “The Chamber of Commerce was there as well as some banks,” shared Steve. “There was also a wonderful turnout of potential new customers. The Ocala Township has a great mix of ‘snow birds’ as well as a large rental community.”
In addition to offering wash and dry specials, Steve offered up something truly unique – the chance to win a brand new bicycle. “Every time I open a new laundry I raffle off a new bike,” he exclaimed. “The customers love it and so do I. I’ll raffle off a bike each month for the whole year. I just announced the March winner in my other Ocala laundry. It’s always a fun thing to do and very gratifying.”
Steve relies on conventional marketing techniques as well, such as placing ads in the Ocala Coupon, a local paper; papering apartment complexes within in a three-to-four-mile radius with flyers, and word of mouth. “A recommendation from a customer is truly the best advertisement of all,” said Steve.
Now that his most recent store has taking off, Steve is already scouting locations for the next Senor Bubbles Laundromat. “I have to keep moving,” joked Steve, “it’s in my blood.” And as you might imagine, being a hands-on store owner of multiple stores, in multiple cities, Steve is constantly on the road. So how does he successfully manage his businesses and grow his empire? It’s a combination of high tech and human touch.
“Today’s technology is incredible,” explained Steve. “Thanks to all the security cameras, at the click of an app, I have eyes everywhere. The Wascomat equipment is amazing.”
Of course technology is wonderful, but only goes so far without a team of trusted people. “I certainly wouldn’t be able to maintain or grow the business without the support of my staff at each Senor Bubbles,” said Steve. “I’m forever grateful to them as well as Alabama Laundry Equipment distributor, Marlon Reese, who reconnected me with the Wascomat brand, and is always there if I need his guidance.”
But most of all Steve would like to thank his dad for modeling a strong work ethic and having nerves of steel. “I can’t thank him enough for all he has done for me,” shared Steve, “especially opening the doors to my very first store when I couldn’t do it myself.”