STURGIS, S.D (KELO) — A lot of dirty laundry passes through the laundromats owned by James “Clark” Sowers during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Sowers said the week of the rally and the days before and after are his “13th month” meaning that the amount of laundry and receipts during the rally is similar to a month’s work. The locations in Belle Fourche, Spearfish, Rapid City and Sturgis are busy with laundry from rally vendors and rally attendees, he said. The businesses will wash the laundry for the customer or customers will come in and do their own laundry.

Even members of biker gangs want clean laundry, Sowers said.

“Gangs come in and they will wash, dry and fold their clothes. They care about clean clothes,” Sowers said.

As of Aug. 10, Sowers said operations are up 12% to 15% during the first week of the rally, which started on Friday, Aug. 6 and ends on Aug. 15. “The next two weeks will be quite telling,” Sowers said of how busy the laundromats are.

The Sturgis store was busy over the weekend but slower on Monday, Sowers said. Today, “Slammed is the word,” Sowers said. Walk-in numbers were significant, he said.

Sowers tracks the laundry done each rally in measurements of cash in, cash out, number of bags washed and number of pounds washed.

The coronavirus caused fewer people to attend the 2020 rally but the numbers were still decent, Sowers said. He’s grateful there was a rally.

The Sturgis Laundry and Dry Cleaning is at 2014 Main St. in Sturgis is in the thick of rally activity.

Sturgis, Belle Fourche and Spearfish are part of the northern Black Hills operations for Sowers and Son Dirty Laundry, Sowers said.

The Sturgis store offers the wash, dry and fold (WDF), dry cleaning and do-it-yourself laundry.

“If we are able to get to the location, we will deliver it,” Sowers said. They’ve learned the “secret paths” to get to certain rally locations, he said.

The rally brings repeat customers, “especially in Sturgis,” Sowers said.

Two stages of rally laundry

“A big portion of our (rally) customer base is vendors,” Sowers said. “We don’t see vendors the week of the rally but see them the week before and the week after.”

For example, representatives of a national insurance company bring in their personal laundry.

A customer doing laundry at the Sturgis Laundry and Dry Cleaning. Photo courtesy of Clark Sowers.

“Food vendors bring in their personal clothing. Some have brought in cleaning rags,” Sowers said. “They don’t have time to do it and they generally want it done (by the laundry for WDF).”

Sowers also described the laundry demand as in two waves.

“The first half of the rally is the first wave in the first week,” he said. “People want their clothes cleaned when they get here or cleaned for the trip home.”

The second wave happens later in the rally when new arrivals come to Sturgis. It’s the same process of clothes cleaned when they arrive or clothes cleaned before the trip home, Sowers said.

“Generally Tuesday or Wednesday are our peak days,” Sowers said.

He does have a rule. Customers can’t bring in wet laundry to dry, they must wash the laundry on site.

“Some people think we are ripping them off,” Sowers said. The wash requirement is not so he can make more money it is to protect all customers.

Customers need to be assured that the clothes previously in the dryer were clean and not tossed in because they were wet, muddy and still dirty, Sowers said.

Doing laundry by the pound

The businesses will charge a minimum rate for a bag of laundry. A bag of laundry could be three pounds or even 15 pounds.

Through Aug. 8, the Sturgis site did 1,100 pounds of bag wash, Sowers said. It did 357 pounds on Monday, Aug. 9. Another 438 pounds were cleaned on Tuesday.

Rates are also based on the turnaround for clean laundry.

Bags of laundry ready for pickup or delivery from the Sturgis Laundry and Dry Cleaning. Photo courtesy of Clark Sowers.

“There is a different rate if you need it the same day,” Sowers said.

“I would say if you brought it in at 7 a.m. and needed it by 10, we could probably do it,” Sowers said. “But we do ask for a 24-hour turnaround.”

Sowers said he doesn’t want too many rush orders because the priority is to consistently provide good service each day.

In Sturgis, “We use the machines that are available to our customers,” Sowers said. “We try to reserve some of our machines for ourselves.”

“What I have noticed is the past two years the Sturgis laundromat has remained pretty busy with self-service all through the day,” Sowers said. “Previous to that it would be busy in the morning and slack off in the afternoon so we could catch up with WDF (wash, dry and fold) in the afternoon.”

Staffing is key

Sowers said he’s had a request to take more VIP orders from a large rally venue but he’s reluctant.

The locations have been busy and “This year trying to get help (is tougher),” Sowers said. “I don’t want to extend to the point where customers get poor service.”

As it now, Sowers said he has a very good staff from top to bottom. The staff understands that the business is there to serve people and the common good, he said.

Sowers said the business is interesting. “I love meeting the people,” he said.

He said he doesn’t know the repeat rally customers by name but is certain his manager in Sturgis knows lots of them.

2015 and rally is part of a busy summer

The 2015 rally was the 75th anniversary and it set a record attendance of nearly 750,000.

Customers use the Sturgis Laundry and Dry Cleaning this week. Photo courtesy of Clark Sowers.

Sowers recalled a Monday night thunderstorm that drenched the area.

“The rain was good for business,” he said. People came to wash and dry clothes.

All that laundry created a three-hour wait for the dryers.

The rally is a boon for business but the summer also includes rodeos, general tourism and other events.

The summer activity means something will need to get washed, Sowers said.

“The entire summer has been very good in laundromats and dry cleaning as people want to come to South Dakota and rodeo cowboys and pipeliners in the northern hills have returned,” Sowers said.