Ed. Note: This is the next installment of our Bicycles Are Business series. We are profiling businesses which incorporate bicycles into their services, or cater to their customers or employees arriving by bicycle. Our summer communications intern Max Hayes will be profiling these businesses and why, for them, bicycles are good business. If bicycles are integral to your business, let us know by contacting Max.
The positives of large city living are many, but the proximity that makes city life convenient also has downsides. In the interests of efficiency, cutting costs, or conserving that most precious of commodities – space – smaller apartments often lack a washer and dryer. Some buildings have no laundry room on site at all. Apartment dwellers are all too familiar with the hunched trundle to a laundromat, bent by the weight of a procrastinated-upon dirty laundry pile. That’s where help rides in – on two wheels, no less.
Founded by Gabriel Mandujano in 2010, Wash Cycle Laundry began with one bike and one trailer. Mandujano set out to build a business providing laundry services, dry cleaning, and linen rentals to Philadelphia residents, all by bicycle. He sought to prove that two-wheeled pedal power is a “commercially-scalable, economically-preferable, ultra-sustainable [alternative] to trucks for intra-urban freight.” Four years later, not only has the enterprise been a resounding success, it has recently expanded into the Washington, D.C. area. With over 30 employees, five facilities and two main markets, the pace won’t be slowing down anytime soon. The company is looking to expand into other markets, including New York, Baltimore and Boston.
Marketing Director Leigh Goldenberg explains that the motivations behind Wash Cycle’s exclusive use of bicycles are many: convenience, sustainability, efficiency, low costs, and keeping it local. “Not only do we do right by the environment, we save money by not maintaining a fleet of trucks,” she says. “We also found that in the laundry business, large companies set up shop outside of the city limits, many miles from the businesses they serve. We do our laundry at existing facilities, making use of their under-utilized capacity. This means that our laundry is never more than 3 miles from where it needs to go – a great distance for a bike, plus we are able to turn laundry around in 24 hours.”
Such quick turnaround is one of Wash Cycle’s main competitive advantages. Customers schedule their orders via a website or by calling 1-888-611-WASH. A Wash Cyclist picks up the order (an in-person hand-off or customers can stipulate a secret hiding spot), cycles to a facility where it is washed (using locally-made detergents, high-efficiency machines and an all-green process), then returns the clean laundry in re-usable plastic bags 24 hours later. They recently launched same-day service options.
Wash Cycle Laundry’s environmental impact is impressive. According to Goldenberg, moving freight within cities is responsible for close to a quarter of all carbon emissions generated by vehicles. With its fleet of fourteen cargo bikes and trikes – picking up and delivering daily thousands of pounds of laundry in the Philadelphia and D.C. metro areas – Wash Cycle is not contributing one iota to that number. In addition, the money that would have gone into maintenance, gas, and insurance for those emissions-spewing trucks is free to go toward improving the business in tangible ways, ultimately resulting in a better experience for customers. For example, the company has just introduced a small fleet of electric-assisted tricycles that can carry up to 500 pounds, as opposed to the usual 300 recommended when their cyclists are using pure pedal power.
Which is not to say that the Wash Cyclists are slouches – anything but. For most of the employees, bicycles are more than just workplace machines. The majority bike to work every day, and some have done touring. Those skills came in handy during Wash Cycle’s late-May kickoff for its D.C. presence. “Our management team, plus one awesome intern, rode from Philly to DC with our trailer-equipped delivery bike to launch our service,” recounts Goldenberg of the 3-day trip. “It was quite the adventure. I drove the giant delivery truck packed with all our gear and it was an exercise in concentration to go 8 miles per hour in a 14-foot vehicle.”
When they aren’t biking 160 miles down the Eastern seaboard, most Wash Cycle employees are thinking about cycling. “By virtue of working at a bike-focused company, cycling issues are very close to us. And many of us have bicycle-collection issues or treat our bikes like our babies. We show off our recent upgrades to each other with pride,” says Goldenberg.
She is quick to voice support for other businesses incorporating bicycles into their business models. “We think that bikes are smart and practical for business and couldn’t recommend them more highly.” In her estimation, the city should be a bit less modest and a little more self-promoting about its bike-friendliness. “More than anything, I think we need to tell the story of biking in Philadelphia to the outside world more. We’ve been to lots of cities that have more buzz and some flashy ‘bike infrastructure,’ but still aren’t as great as Philadelphia is for biking.”
Wash Cycle Laundry is a shining example of the viability – and sensibility – of utilizing bicycles as part of a business model, and the company’s success and expansion is evidence that customers are increasingly choosing to patronize companies offering sustainable, local, and economical choices.
For a limited time (through 09/01/14), Wash Cycle is offering $5 off first orders from Bicycle Coalition blog readers! Use the coupon code BCGP5 when you order online or over the phone!