First Philadelphia, then Washington, D.C., and last month, Austin, Texas. By the end of 2015, Wash Cycle Laundry is expected to expand to somewhere between four and six more cities. Who knew a laundry service that depended on pedal power could catch on?
The sustainable laundry service has grown rapidly since its founding in Philadelphia in 2010. The concept is simple enough: do other people’s dirty laundry and dry cleaning, but use locally-made detergents, eco-friendly washing machines, and bicycle crews to pick up and drop off laundry.
The final piece of Wash Cycle’s model is a job-creation program that partners with city organizations to help people find work. Half of the startup’s roughly 40 Philly-based employees have come from vulnerable populations.
“It’s definitely a critical part of what we do,” said Director of Business Development Joel Hommes. “We’re a social enterprise from the word go.”
Today, about 100 small businesses in Philadelphia use Wash Cycle Laundry on a recurring basis, along with several hundred individual customers. Revenues are growing, Hommes said, but more than $400,000 in venture money—some of which has come from local groups Robin Hood Ventures and Investors’ Circle Philadelphia—supports the operating costs. It also had a boost in 2012 when it graduated from Philly-based GoodCompany Ventures’ social entrepreneurship accelerator.
The company estimates that its pedal-powered crews have hauled more than 2.5 million pounds of . Bigger contracts with institutions also provide some financial cushion: Wash Cycle Laundry is a federal government contractor serving the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. It also works with local institutions such as Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania, and several city housing shelters.
“We’re serving a dozen or so ‘big fish’ customers,” said Hommes about Wash Cycle’s Philly operations. In Philadelphia, Wash Cycle operates seven of its brightly-colored laundry trikes—picture an elongated, large tricycle with a sizable square box bolted to a platform between the rear wheels. In D.C. and Austin, Wash Cycle operates two trikes each.
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Of course, there are some elements that have worked against Wash Cycle Laundry’s growth; namely, snow. But Hommes said Wash Cycle’s crews are a resilient bunch; the startup suspended operations just one day last winter. It helps that a friendly relationship with Zipcar means Wash Cycle, from time to time, can implement a “Zipcar contingency” if riding a trike in inclement weather is impossible.
But in the four years Wash Cycle has been around, said Hommes, they’ve operated on each of the four occasions Philadelphia International Airport has closed. A wider, national launch is what’s next.
“I could see us going from our three markets to seven to nine markets by the end of 2015,” Hommes said. “That’s what we’re planning for now. We probably won’t enter our next market until March or April 2015.”-30-
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