In the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains resides the little French town of Perpignan. As a traveler to this quaint Ville,
founded around the 10th Century, it might surprise you to find, nestled amongst meandering lanes and stately old-world mansions, a store that’s thoroughly modern with a decidedly American twist. It’s a laundromat called Mr. Bubble’s Laverie.
Mr. Bubble’s Laverie is the brainchild of husband and wife team, Kurt and Kiki Drimmel. Kurt, a United States citizen, and Kiki, who originally hails from France, had previously called San Diego, California their home. Yet as they began discussing their semi-retirement options, and how best to enjoy a slower pace of life, Kiki and Kurt kept circling back to the same conclusion – returning to France to open a laundromat that offered American amenities.
“We’ve been returning to France every year, since 2004,” Kurt shared. “It’s hard not to fall in love with the people, food, and the beautiful places this country offers. It was our dream come true to make this move happen as soon as we did. And, we never looked back.”
Newly transplanted yet not new to the laundry business
The couple arrived in Perpignan, located in the South of France, in April 2014, and after five months their search for the ideal laundromat location was underway. While Kurt might have been newly transplanted, he wasn’t new to the laundry business. Back in the States, Kurt worked for one of the premier Electrolux professional brand distributors in Southern California – Mike Hurrell at Golden State Laundry Systems.
“Mike has an obvious passion for the business, said Kurt. “He taught me a lot about the coin laundry and on-premise market, and about the Electrolux brand of professional laundry equipment.”
Kurt spent several years with Mike at Golden State and then went on to work as an independent consultant for his own company, San Diego Coin Laundry & Equipment Sales, under the Golden State Laundry Systems umbrella. “I’ve been in this business for over a decade and must have visited every store in San Diego County many time over,” mused Kurt. “It was the best way to know my local market and learn the intricacies of the industry.”
Putting his extensive knowledge to work for Mr. Bubbles Laverie
Having assisted several of his Californian clients with the process of opening a new store, retooling an existing store, or just purchasing equipment, Kurt was confident he’d be able to secure the right location for his store in his new hometown. With a little help from a great broker, he and Kiki did just that. “The area is called Las Cobas, a neighborhood of Perpignan, and it’s steeped in history and culture,” shared Kurt. “The store is in a small strip center surrounded by apartments as well as small shops and restaurants that offer prime storefronts and steady traffic flow.”
What’s more, the closest laundromat to their location is about two miles away and is in need of a retool and some tender loving care. From day one, the couple knew that this Las Cobas locale had all the makings of a premier laundry spot.
Keeping this in mind, Kurt wanted to act quickly and begin formal lease negotiations, even though he wasn’t fluent in French. “I’m currently in school twice a week to fine tune my language skills,” said Kurt. “I may not be fluent—yet. But I do fairly well.”
However, Kiki is fluent and was very much on board. She was also a fast study, learning all she could about the business from Kurt as well as from her own due diligence. Ready to step in, Kiki lead the negotiation with great success. “She was amazing to watch!” exclaimed Kurt. “So poised, so knowledgeable… I am truly grateful to have Kiki as my business partner.”
Yet in light of their industry acumen, the pair still recognized the importance of having a reputable local distributor by their side. “As a longtime laundry professional, I know what a tremendous job it is to launch a laundromat,” he shared, “so many details to consider, from construction, to purchasing equipment, to creating a marketing plan. I knew we needed guidance; a trusted advisor who lived here and knew the ropes.”
Not knowing exactly who that would be, Kurt called someone a world away – John Sabino, the president of New York-based Laundrylux, the sales and marketing arm for Electrolux Professional Laundry systems in North America.
“I can’t think of anyone more well-informed than John,” stated Kurt. “And we can’t thank him enough for putting us in touch with Isabelle Lefevre, the regional Electrolux representative. We found Isabelle to be knowledgeable and professional. She really listened to what my wife and I wanted to accomplish with our store.”
The obvious equipment choice for Mr. Bubbles – Electrolux
Naturally when it came time to purchase equipment for their Laverie, Kurt and Kiki chose Electrolux. “Having sold Electrolux and competitive products for years, I already knew—from its energy efficiency to its durability, Electrolux was the highest quality equipment out there,” shared Kurt.
Another significant detail about Electrolux equipment is its ability to handle larger-size loads quickly. “The key for us is to cater to the people who wash their bulky bedding and comforters,” assessed Kurt. “Very few people have the capacity in their home units to wash large items, and only 15 to 20 percent actually have dryers in their apartments.”
French consumers are also keenly aware of the Electrolux brand. “When we’ve mentioned in passing that we’re installing Electrolux equipment, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” said Kurt. “People instantly recognize the brand and that it’s synonymous with quality.”
Electrolux is a global leader in developing sustainable “green” commercial laundry equipment. The washers and dryers are designed to increase productivity while lowering water and energy consumption.
For instance, Electrolux washers come standard with features such as Automatic Water Savings, which determines the weight of the load and adds precisely the right amount of water. The results can be seen in lower utility costs and a superior wash experience.
“The washer’s High Spin 450 G-force extraction is another fantastic and unique Electrolux innovation,” said Kurt.
Electrolux washers, as well as its dryers, come with the Compass Pro microprocessor for easy programming and more than 20 languages. Compass Pro also makes the equipment extremely user friendly. “My wife and I are available to help our customers, but the machines are very easy to operate,” said Kurt, “very intuitive.” Custom programs such as “comforters” or “uniforms” can easily be added to meet your customers’ needs – and there’s a real-time clock for promotional and time of day pricing.
Electrolux dryers are also built with time and energy savings in mind. “EcoPower technology automatically lowers the heat when the laundry is dry,” explained Kurt. “I think that’s remarkable. It keeps turning so the laundry does not wrinkle, saves clothing and linens from over-drying, and saves us money on our utility bill.”
“Time does seem to move more slowly in France,” Kurt continued, “however, I know our customers appreciate the faster dry time. And we can’t say enough about the significant cost savings. ”
Small by American standards, yet above average in France
With Mr. Bubble’s equipment choice firmly in place, Kurt and Kiki hired Mr. Bouzakri, an expert in building Electrolux-equipped laundries throughout Europe. “Mr. Bouzakri and his company Blue Concept have been instrumental in optimizing the layout for the store,” shared Kurt. “He and his employees drove an hour and a half each way to build our store. Their attention to detail and dedication to our project has been stellar.”
With the square footage coming in at right around 800, Mr. Bubble’s Laverie is small by American laundromat standards, yet above average in size for France. “The biggest changes we’ve made were removing several walls to give the space an open feel and paying attention to the lighting creating a bright, welcoming environment,” said Kurt.
Mr. Bubble’s now boasts a simple layout that is highly functional – washers in one row, dryers in the back section of the store, and a payment system that’s centrally located. A tidy gathering of table and chairs create a comfortable and inviting space for patrons to relax as they wait for their laundry. Other amenities include soap and candy vending machines, free Wifi, and a full video security system.
Mr. Bubble’s Laverie is attended at all times by either Kurt or Kiki or both. “It’s always nice to see the friendly face of an owner on site,” said Kurt. “We want our customers to feel welcome and offer any suggestions they might have for additional services.”
Not your typical French laundromat
With its larger-sized Electrolux equipment, being fully attended, and offering special services like Fluff & Fold, Mr. Bubble’s is making its mark as “the laundry with the American twist.”
“Our customers are excited by our American wash-dry-fold services,” said Kurt. “It’s a concept they know nothing about here and it’s really taking off.”
As for marketing, in addition to a more traditional advertising campaign such as distributing flyers with a coupon for a free dry and giving away Mr. Bubble’s tee-shirts and pens, Kurt and Kiki is putting some new ideas to work. “We are partnering with the local bakeries to do coupons for a wash and baguette special,” shared Kurt. “Plus a local news station is interested in sharing our unique ‘Americans open a new laundromat in France” story.
Kurt and Kiki’s mission is to be the laundry that other laundromats aspire to be. “Our keys for success are simple,” stated Kurt. “Keep our laundry clean, be open on days that the others are closed, offer innovative services, and provide exceptional customer service.”
Looking forward to the New Year ahead and some words of advice
Kurt and Kiki have accomplished quite a lot in the eight short months they have lived in France. Their best advice to anyone opening a laundromat here or in the United States is: Do your homework about the industry and your location; and while you might get some equipment cheaper up front, don’t discount the fact that you get what you pay for.
“We were presented with several brand choices,” said Kurt. “Yet we knew with the Electrolux products, the equipment would suit our customers’ needs and give us the benefits of long-term utility savings and durability. Plus time is very important to customers and to us. When doing wash-dry-fold with Electrolux machines, we can get the laundry washed AND dried in 45 minutes… ready to serve the next customer!”
The couple is very excited to provide Mr. Bubble’s customers with a much needed state-of-the-art laundromat with many conveniences. “We want our customers to come and enjoy their time at Mr. Bubble’s doing something they really don’t like doing,” said Kurt. “Our store is quite special. It’s unlike anything else in town.”
Kurt and Kiki believe in their store so much that already they are thinking of opening additional Mr. Bubble’s locations. “Our last piece of advice is never be afraid of taking risks,” Kurt summed up. “You just never know what you can accomplish.”
Click here to learn more about Mr. Bubble’s Laverie.