The Future of On-Demand Laundry Services (Part 1)

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(Photo: ©iStockphoto/Ridofranz & Alex Belomlinsky)

Bruce Beggs |

App-based businesses capitalize on consumer desire for convenience

CHICAGO — Need to get somewhere but don’t have a car? Schedule a ride through Uber.

Don’t feel like going out to eat? Use GrubHub to order from a nearby restaurant and have your meal delivered.

Looking for a birthday gift for a friend? Go shopping on Amazon to find that perfect item and have it shipped right to your door or theirs.

The ease with which consumers can connect with businesses through the apps on their smartphones or the websites accessible from their personal computers has never been greater.

A January 2014 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 87% of American adults use the Internet. Add to this the proliferation of smartphones—Pew reports that, as of October 2014, 64% of American adults have such a phone—and their increasing functionality places unparalleled tools at a consumer’s fingertips to easily order and customize service experiences.

The idea of wash/dry/fold isn’t new—60% of store owners offer the service, according to the 2014 Coin Laundry Association Industry Survey. Neither is the concept of pickup and delivery. But developing an app through which a customer can order laundry service, share preferences and request delivery is a relatively new trend. A number of players have entered the market in hopes of capturing the do-it-for-me crowd.

In metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, or in commuter-heavy areas like Bakersfield, Calif., these businesses will gladly pick up one’s dirty laundry, have it cleaned, and then return their clothes to them for a price.

The companies behind these laundry service mobile apps either process the laundry in their own facility or they partner with a Laundromat or Laundromats in the service area to do the cleaning.

Writing in a Coin-Op 101 column for American Coin-Op last year, Dan Bowe, national sales manager for Speed Queen’s Commercial division, offered this: While some may see these laundry service providers as negative because they decrease foot traffic, these companies can actually benefit a store owner by increasing overall machine utilization.

Chris Balestracci, president of Super Wash Laundry, a Laundromat in East Haven, Conn., told Bowe, “I believe these apps lend the greatest opportunities for growth when it comes to extra-profit centers, especially as the services expand to include more metro areas.”

American Coin-Op spoke to developers of three such mobile apps to get a sense of what they offer and where they see on-demand laundry services going in the future.

WASHCLUB

Rick Rome is the CEO and founder of WashClub, an on-demand laundry, drycleaning and tailoring service that is now available in 12 states and four New York City boroughs. Last month, the company announced the opening of its newest branch in Lehigh Valley, Pa.

WashClub licenses its exclusive, customizable software to brick-and-mortar laundry and drycleaning operators across the United States. Licensees are able to offer services to customers via WashClub or their own branded concept.

“Our software is built by an operator for operators,” says Rome, who owns WashClub NYC and offers laundry services to New Yorkers in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

WashClub charges a one-time fee, then receives 5% of all business generated by the software. “Our interest is aligned with yours,” Rome says. “There is no competition. If you kill, we get to eat, too. If you don’t kill, we’re starving with you.”

It can be difficult for a traditional laundry business to grow organically without acquiring another laundry, he says, and the growth of the Internet is “all about extending your storefront virtually.”

In many cases, the laundries that become WashClub licensees already have the necessary laundry equipment and facility in place, and the software enables them to utilize their excess capacity, according to Rome.

He doesn’t agree with the assertion that on-demand services like his may simply be an “urban phenomenon.”

“That’s not true at all. I don’t know anybody in the suburbs who likes doing laundry anymore than someone likes doing laundry or dry cleaning in the city. It’s just about service and convenience.”

Check back Tuesday for the conclusion!

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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