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Not Your Normal Commercial Laundry (Conclusion)

Recovering from wildfires to look toward the future

LOS ANGELES — On paper, Royal Quality Laundry, based here, seems like a “normal” commercial laundry operation.

It offers daily pickup and delivery. It works with big and small customers, including residential customers and commercial accounts, such as spas, salons, rehabilitation homes, hotels, motels, vacation rentals, gyms, schools, camps and special events, and more. 

The company also has expertise in disease control laundry and has a rush emergency laundry service for that.

But Royal Quality Laundry is missing something that most commercial laundries have: a laundry plant. The company uses a laundromat during its off hours.

“I don’t actually own a facility,” says Natalie Camacho, founder and president. “That took many overhead costs out of my model.”

RECOVERING FROM DISASTER

While Camacho and Royal Quality Laundry have enjoyed success since starting in Malibu in 2015, the business and its owner endured quite the challenge just three years into its existence. 

That came in the form of the Woolsey Fire of November 2018. Officials say it was the worst wildfire L.A. County has seen in modern history.

“I will never forget that day,” Camacho remembers. “We started work as early as 3 a.m. I saw these fires happening in an area close to where we were located. None of our equipment was burned, but at about 6 a.m., about 60% of our clienteles’ properties were. I still thought I should tell my clients that I wouldn’t be able to deliver that day due to the fire. They understood.”

The fire blazed on for 13 days before it was contained. The fast-moving brush fire was 14 miles wide, with a footprint of 150 square miles, and driven by gusts of up to 70 mph. 

In Malibu alone, around 700 structures were destroyed, including 400 single-family homes. This destruction not only threatened lives, but local businesses as well. Many Malibu businesses are still being very negatively affected by the fire.

“Once we saw the damage of the fires, it was a total of 80% of my clientele wiped out, burned to a crisp overnight,” shares Camacho. “The good thing is that I didn’t have a huge overhead to cover while we were on a slow recovery with our major clients.”

Of course, business came to halt, and employees came in about twice a week. 

“I felt terrible because this was going to be a sad holiday season,” she says. “Many of our accounts were not able to bounce back like some of the other commercial businesses we have. Vacation homes were out, and many other residential homes as well. We agreed when things get rebuilt, we would be there for them. Until then, my heart went to them. 

“It was at this point that we had to change the speed with the marketing to full and fast. We started to get a few calls to help with fire laundry. That helped us tremendously with work and cash flow but nothing long term.”

Unfortunately, it took this disaster for Camacho to learn the value of a disaster recovery plan. 

“As for any disaster recovery plan? There wasn’t any,” she shares. “I learned that the hard way. The only thing I had was a savings for two months’ worth and an excellent marketing firm named Vivid Candi Inc. I had to restructure how we were able to quickly find business in areas that weren’t affected by the fire.”

Camacho’s employees agreed to be on standby. They believed in the company and that it would bounce back along with its previous accounts.

After months of struggle for her and her team, they finally reached a silver lining brought to them by their dedication and strong work ethic. Camacho is in a small group of minority women who own their own business, and she has been recognized for it.

She discovered a grant program from Women’s Economic Venture (WEV), recently funded by Wells Fargo Works for Small Business: Diverse Community Capital program. 

“I was sent, through our chamber of commerce, an application from the Women’s Economic Ventures for a grant to help recover from the fire,” she says. “It pretty much targeted me exactly to a tee.”

Camacho applied in early 2019, and WEV awarded Royal Quality Laundry a $10,000 grant in May.

WEV is a nonprofit based in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. They help small business owners launch, grow and succeed with their businesses. The recent contribution from Wells Fargo allowed WEV to award 38 business recovery grants to small businesses that were economically impacted by the Woolsey Fire.

“The grant has been a tremendous help for Royal Quality Laundry,” Camacho shares. “We are so grateful that Wells Fargo and WEV have been so eager to help us recover from the fire. We are still allocating how we’d like to spend the remaining grant money as we want to be wise about how we use it.”

The grant helped her to recuperate her business this summer, using the funds for more supplies, uniforms, car repairs, maintenance and marketing costs. 

The program also offers training and consulting that Camacho and her team are excited to benefit from.

“I have joined that organization since then,” she shares. “They have been extremely helpful with information I very much needed to help run my business. They even help you understand what you would need in a recovery plan. 

“I plan to use that organization and possibly others. It never hurts to learn more for your business.”

And Camacho says she is learning, sharing that operations at Royal Quality Laundry today have changed to a more diligent process. 

“I have learned that mistakes or delayed tasks today can affect you for a month or more depending on what you did or didn’t do,” she says. “I have been running my business with lists for day-to-day, weekly and monthly. I have also been delegating tasks to outside services like bookkeeping, accounting and even other delivery services in our area. 

“I am still in the process of growth and continuing to save for our next disaster.”

FUTURE PLANS

But the future of Royal Quality Laundry goes far beyond being prepared for disasters, Camacho shares.

“I see that we will continue to grow steadily with our current area,” she says. “I hope to have a healthy savings for the business.”

Future plans even include going beyond using another business owner’s laundry facility.

“I absolutely want to look into having my own facility,” shares Camacho. “I would like to use it just for our own commercial business. If things go well, I would like to open up other laundromats in areas needing our services.

“Never be afraid of changing the model of your business. You’ll probably be challenged to do it at some point, over and over again.” 

For Camacho, the future means being willing and able to adapt and grow, to have the balance of structured plans and flexibility. 

“I also suggest looking into great insurance that covers loss of business,” she points out. “Also, it would be a great idea to join organizations like the chamber of commerce in your area. There are many other organizations that offer great and useful information, a wide variety of networking, low-interest loans and grants. 

“Good luck out there.”

Miss Part 1 on how Royal Quality Laundry got started and its business model? Click HERE to read it.