My path to a second career as the owner of a high-end laundromat was one that wound full-circle.

Seeking better promotional opportunities outside of busy NYC hospital laboratories I went back to school for an MBA envisioning a career in pharmaceutical or hospital administration.

Though not on the required reading list, I bought a pocket book about how to make a million dollars from an initial $100 investment. Being single, I anticipated the need for extra income in case a fully employed mate or corporate career did not materialize. Two of the “crown jewels” mentioned in the book were car washes and real estate because they are thought to be recession-proof.

Time to start saving lots of money.

Degree in hand, breaking into pharmaceutical companies proved hard for me and other women without nursing or sales experience. To address the gap I took a second job in management for Frito-Lay and drove a delivery truck.

It worked.

I began a long career in pharmaceutical marketing and sales with increasing levels of responsibility. However, disillusionment with internal politics spurred me to try entrepreneurship via a home-based sporting-goods company and someday leave corporate life.

As a brand manager for Johnson & Johnson, I was responsible for marketing car-sized diagnostic equipment for sale to the labs of my past. The advanced technology and environmentally friendly platform of those machines left an impression on me that would express itself in the eventual Spin Doctor brand.

A separation package, savings, and a consulting job was the combination that got the laundromat project off the ground; albeit with a few hiccups:

• Location search: Many landlords aspired to have “upscale” lessees and perceived laundromats as a magnet for the “wrong crowd.” Truth is, just about every socio-economic group uses a laundromat at some point.

• A rosy forecast: New to the industry, it was hard not to yield to pressure from banks to show an early break-even point. But it led to cash shortages when construction costs spiked.

Based on my experience, here are some tips for a successful “second spin”:

1. Do the math: Determine if and when you are going to break even. In other words, when will sales meet expenses? It’s possible that it could happen in a few years or never. Don’t avoid reality. There are a myriad of free financial statement templates online that can give you that answer.

2. Assess your support system: Just because you want to start your own business, doesn’t mean your family does. You’re going to be “married” to your new enterprise, thereby impacting the family lifestyle and dynamic.

3. Close skill gaps: Recognize that your current employer has surrounded you with skilled, functional area professionals who are not coming with you should you decide to leave and start your own business. Consider taking free or low-cost business courses offered by local chambers, libraries, and community colleges. And be sufficiently funded to pay for critical services such as legal and accounting.

4. Accumulate cash: Accept that nothing will go as planned and prepare. Most businesses fail due to insurmountable cash-flow problems.

5. Seek advisors: Having a sounding board to gain insight and find solutions is valuable even if included with a franchise. Free mentoring is available through organizations like S.C.O.R.E (

Good Luck!

Cathy Neilley is the principal owner of Spin Doctor Laundromat located at 1070 Whitehorse-Mercerville Road, Hamilton. Hours 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. 609-981-SPIN (7746).

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