If the owners of Lucy's LaundryMart have their way, customers like Rene Lozada and his family will never want to go home.
Lucy's, which owns 25 coin-operated laundries located primarily in inner-city L.A., is aiming to keep customers hanging around longer while their duds soak in suds.
Patrons at the brightly colored stores for the past couple years have been offered everything from TV, to fast-food, to banking services, to gourmet coffee, all under one roof.
Now they're being offered the Web. Lucy's LaundryMart has installed a computer room in its store at 2377 W. Pico Blvd. in the Pico-Union area near downtown L.A. Computers eventually will be added to other Lucy's LaundryMarts.
Company executives said it makes sense to offer computer services in this increasingly wired world, but particularly in neighborhoods where many people cannot afford a computer of their own.
"We kept hearing about the digital divide in the inner city, and we believed there was a service we could offer that would add value to the community in a relatively small amount of store space," said Robert Pardo, a co-founder of Lucy's and senior vice president of business development. "We also wanted to create loyalty to the Lucy brand."
Inside a room that buzzes with the sound of computer games and the click of equipment, customers can park themselves in front of one of six terminals and log onto iLucys.com. This is the laundry service's own portal site that allows customers to register for free e-mail and access assorted links for a maximum of 30-minute intervals if someone is waiting.
It's not quite free access to the entire Internet users have to stay in the bilingual Lucy's site, although it has a wide variety of links to other sites tailored to the Latino community. There are links to various services located within a five-mile radius, for example, such as car repair shops, churches, lawyers, doctors, dentists, health centers and recreational activities. There is also a link to the La Opinion newspaper Web site.
"Most people are here for two hours doing their laundry, (so) we wanted to be an extension of someone's home and create a friendly environment," said John Laporte, director of information technology at Lucy's.
Lucy's LaundryMart spent $25,000 to install the computer equipment. The company hopes to recoup its money by selling banner ads on its Web site. In the future, it may also sell data about the consumers using its computer system. A disclaimer indicates that information about where they are surfing may be sold to marketers.
While it's not unique for laundromats to couple washers and dryers with other services to draw in customers, it is highly unusual for a chain to create its own portal and provide more than one or two computers for free, said John Vassiliades of the Coin Laundry Association, a trade organization.
Laundry operators have tried all sorts of gimmicks to attract clientele. They've offered tanning services, beer and billiards, and exercise areas. But Lucy's is unusual in its decision to branch into the Internet.
The company has always taken a different attitude toward the laundry business. Shortly after its first store opened in 1995 in Lennox, a gang-ridden neighborhood under the flight path of Los Angeles International Airport, a mini-mart was added. As more stores sprouted in the inner city, more services were offered.
In 1996 and 1997, co-branding agreements were struck with Burger King, adding fast-food outlets to two laundromats.
Lucy's LaundryMart has since co-branded its laundries with retail partners such as Starbucks, Burger King, Wells Fargo Bank, Blockbuster Video and Subway sandwiches.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.