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Nick Philko is a man on a mission: To remove the stain that has soiled the old-fashioned laundromat.
The Huntington Woods resident, 37, is cleaning up the image of this once-ubiquitous American staple as the owner of Tub Town Laundry in Waterford. The MSU grad, who by day also works as an assistant vice president of employee benefits for a firm in Farmington Hills, bought the business in 2005 and redesigned it earlier this year to mark its 40th anniversary.
The retro-themed redesign includes magazine ads from the 1950s, large folding tables plastered with colorful, vintage laundry advertisements and the “Take a Load Off Lounge,” which features a 1950s-era pink Speedqueen washer as well as a flat screen television playing 1,000 television commercials from the 1950s and ’60s along with current programming.
“I’ve always been interested in owning a laundry business, and Town Tub had been here since 1970. It had a great staff, loyal customers and an atmosphere like [the TV show] Cheers,” said Philko, adding that he hoped to create a place where people would enjoy coming to do their laundry.
He learned the business with help from Fred and Steve Bean of Universal Coin Laundry machinery. “It’s not a hard business, but the little things matter,” said Philko, who also relied on advice from his attorney and mentor Stuart Goldstein. “Most laundromats are not customer-service oriented, but here we want to do right by our customers.”
As Tub Town’s 40th anniversary approached, Philko said he did some informal market research with his customers by asking how he could improve their experience while ensuring them his prices wouldn’t rise. Town Tub’s retro-themed “home away from home” theme followed soon after.
Philko worked with a graphics company that specialized in retro looks to design the concern’s new logo. Then he began on the physical plant, with its less-than-inviting white vinyl floors accentuated with lots of dark paneling.
“I wanted a wow factor,” Philko said, standing on the now turquoise-green, watercolor-hued concrete floor, complete with large, etched multi-colored bubbles. The addition of the lounge, he said, was to give people a place to chill out while waiting for the towels to dry.
The lounge pays homage to the era, too, with its mod furniture and scattered classic ’50s and ’60s magazine issues. Of course, the flat screen and free Wi-Fi make the era tolerable for us 21st-century sophisticates. A retro laundry hamper is filled with children’s books for the little ones.
Debbie and Galen Caverly drive from White Lake once a week to Town Tub. They’ve been coming for 39 years because of one machine: the Extractor. They said they have never seen another laundromat that has one.
“It removes all the excess water from your clothes and lessens drying time,” said Debbie, who said the machine cuts an hour out of the time it takes her to do laundry.
In addition to Philko’s mighty Extractor, with its ability to dehydrate the most water-logged linens, the proprietor also offers weekly drawings, free pizza and various financial “savings days” for his customers. More than that, though, Philko does get that he’s in the neighborhood-people business.
“We want to give back to the community,” he said; Town Tub has held promotions to benefit Tide’s “Loads of Hope” and raised money via an “All-Free Wash Day” to provide a washer and dryer to Waterford nonprofit Christmas in Action, which rebuilds homes for low-income seniors.
Not content to just remain on the gentle cycle, Philko said he wants to build on the momentum the renovations seem to have inspired by trying to grow the commercial side of the business, too.
He’s long had an account with Camp Tamarack and last summer began soliciting to customers whose children attend other, nearby sleepover camps. He now services 200 families of campers.
With a family and a full-time job, Philko knows that being a hands-on owner comes with some inconvenience; that means bringing daughters Alexa, 6, and Lindsey, 3, with him to color while he takes care of customers.
His ultimate goal is to create more “destination Laundromats,” where people can look forward to doing the laundry. Imagine that, looking forward to laundry! RT