Solar System

Michael Pfister doesn’t sit around waiting for things to happen. He makes them happen. Pfister, president of the Coin Laundry Association’s Delaware Valley affiliate, recently installed solar panels at his Family Laundromat in West Chester, Pa. As a single-store owner for 15 years now, Pfister has focused on innovative technology to improve his bottom line, all while going green.

Pfister turned to Skyline Innovations, based in Washington D.C., to outfit the store with solar-powered water heating. The system is owned and maintained by Skyline, and the laundromat is charged only for the solar energy it consumes. It’s the only system of its kind in the entire state.

Interestingly, Pfister had been considering purchasing his own solar-energy system but found the technology to be too expensive. Skyline, in turn, offered a process that guarantees energy savings, with no upfront cost and minimal disruption to day-to-day business. Pfister now runs a significant portion of the store’s year-round water heating on solar power, which provides nearly 100 percent of the summer demand. The solar water heating system does not fully replace the existing system, but rather augments it. So, on days with heavy cloud cover, the 2,600-square-foot Laundromat operates as usual.

Pfister recently took some time away from his schedule to share his industry insights.

How did you get involved in the coin laundry industry?
I was involved with commercial real estate for most of my life. I owned and managed a commercial real estate business. Through my real estate venture, I ended up with a vacant store that just wouldn’t rent, so I looked into operating a business in that spot, and I discovered the coin laundry industry. The space had previously been a kitchen supply store, and it had just gone out of business. It was in the very back of a strip center, and it just wouldn’t rent.

Fortunately, we have the largest concentration of apartments in the state of Pennsylvania in the West Chester area, so a laundry worked demographically.

Did you consider opening any other business in that spot?
I had been in retail for 25 years, and I came to find out that this is the only business that rewarded a minimum amount of management with a high return on investment. I owned a 200-seat pizza restaurant, and that was a dismal failure; I needed 17 employees per shift.

What attracted you to this business?
There are no accounts receivable. I liked the cash aspect, as well as the controlled and predictable expenses. What are the keys to a successful self-service laundry business? Having a super clean store and providing a comfortable environment for your customers and your employees. We’re attended with five part-time employees.