Top Entrepreneurs: Ex-attorney cleans up with disruptive approach to business
From lawyer to drug sales rep and now laundromat innovator, Amy Martinez-Monfort inspires with her innovative thinking.
| 11:00 a.m. May 23, 2019
Dumpy exteriors. Uncomfortable plastic seats. Machines and soap dispensers that accept only quarters. No air conditioning, TVs or Wi-Fi.
If ever there were a business model that cried out for disruption, it’s the Laundromat.
Amy Martinez-Monfort has done just that with Tampa Laundry Co., her south Tampa laundromat that embraces modern comforts and conveniences. Things like cashless equipment that runs on preloaded cards, loyalty rewards, high-tech security and, yes, four flat-screen TVs and furniture on which you won’t mind resting for a spell while you wash your clothes and linens.
“I’m a firm believer that the smartest person in the room is the person who knows they're not the smartest person in the room. I don’t like to operate in an echo chamber.” Amy Martinez-Monfort, founder of Tampa Laundry Co.
“I’ve always wanted to own my own business,” says Martinez-Monfort, 43, who founded Tampa Laundry Co. in 2015. “I just wasn’t sure what type.”
While disruption is her model now, her original career path didn’t track toward entrepreneurship. After receiving her law degree from the University of Florida, she practiced law at Carlton Fields in Tampa for about four years. She later worked for Lilly, the drug company, as a pharmaceutical sales rep. She stayed with Lilly for 14 years.
Then, in 2016, Lilly offered Martinez-Monfort a three-year sabbatical that afforded her time and space to explore entrepreneurial opportunities. For $1.2 million, she acquired the land and assets of a shuttered Laundromat at 4520 West Gandy Blvd. and transformed it into what now, at first glance of the exterior, might be mistaken for a trendy coffee bar.
“One of the things that everybody says is, ‘Why laundry?’” she says. “And I say, ‘Everyone generates laundry every single day, no matter your socioeconomic level. It’s recession-proof. Everybody has to wear clothes and at some point in time they need to be laundered."
Adds Martinez-Monfort: "Even nudists have to put on clothes to go into town.”
You can’t be everything to everyone, the old entrepreneurial saying goes, but Martinez-Monfort has attempted to disrupt that conventional way of thinking, as well. After launching as a classy yet still traditional self-serve Laundromat, Tampa Laundry Co. has since added wash-dry-fold, dry cleaning, pressed linen and commercial laundry services to its offerings.
Martinez-Monfort was able to achieve the latter by buying a commercial laundry facility in Orlando. She needed it, too, because in 2017, much to her surprise, she beat out larger competitors for the contract to handle MacDill Air Force Base’s commercial laundry needs. Martinez-Monfort declines to disclose specific annual revenue figures.
“I thought I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting [the contract],” she says. “But we needed to diversify. We needed to find something other than just the standalone Laundromat and find ways to generate revenue outside of normal business hours.”
For nearly two years prior to the February acquisition of the commercial laundry facility, a Tampa Laundry Co. night crew, working from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., handled MacDill’s vast laundry needs. For Martinez-Monfort, it was the perfect way to fully monetize downtime at the Laundromat, which is open 24/7.
“We had done the research,” she says. “Only about 2% of our business occurred between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.”
While the MacDill contract is a coup, Martinez-Monfort’s transition into entrepreneurship hasn’t always been smooth.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” she says. “You take on a lot of things that might sound like good ideas … whatever comes through the door and see what sticks. But then you can be more comfortable passing on things that might not be the best for your business.”
As an example, she says Tampa Laundry Co., which started with two employees and now has 45, originally offered pickup service as a way to build recognition of the business. “Then you realize by the time you send a driver out there, the gas, paying the driver, bringing it back, you're not making money,” she says.
Advice for other entrepreneurs? Awareness of her limitations and shortcomings is something Martinez-Monfort says has mitigated the risks that come with entrepreneurship. Although she trusts her gut and prays about decisions, she also routinely bounces ideas off her husband, peers and mentors.
“I’m a firm believer that the smartest person in the room is the person who knows they're not the smartest person in the room,” she explains. “I don’t like to operate in an echo chamber.”
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