By Dave Soref
In Philly, DC and soon Austin, you might notice large-tricycle-driven trucks trundling down the roads alongside their big four-wheeled commercial cousins. The trikes are hauling laundry—dirty, and then clean—for the quickly growing laundry delivery service Wash Cycle Laundry.
For Wash Cycle Laundry owner Gabriel Mandujano, the idea of starting a laundry pickup and drop-off service using bicycles instead of delivery trucks wasn’t born from a passion for biking or for laundry, but from trying to solve traffic problems in one of the world’s most crowded cities.
The concept that commercial delivery doesn’t always need to be done via truck began to germinate for Mandujano while working for an NGO dedicated to sustainable transport in, of all places, Mexico City. It was there he was taught the novel idea that every job has an ideal vehicle.
When he returned to Philadelphia, Mandujano found himself eyeing commercial trucks in a whole new way—especially those big lumbering laundry trucks. After crunching the numbers, he concluded that, yes, in addition to offering a much greener form of transportation, bikes really could be more economically efficient laundry delivery vehicles than trucks in congested areas.
“Before that insight, I had the same assumption that everyone else did: that if you’re doing something greener, then it must be more expensive because if it really were both greener and cheaper, then everybody would be doing it already.”
Bike, Wash, Deliver
Since 2010 Wash Cycle Laundry has been dealing in dirty clothes, and commercial linens, to the tune of $1 million a year.
The service is straightforward: Laundry will be picked up at your door by bicycle (tricycle actually), washed, dried, folded and returned in a reusable laundry bag the next day—sometimes even the same day. It’s an identical process for their commercial clients, which include hotels and hospitals.
How can a biking laundry delivery service possibly compete with those big trucks? It’s precisely the differences from conventional laundry services that give them the edge, according to Mandujano. “We’re operating out of the downtown area and are a mile or two away from our clients, whereas other services are fifteen to twenty miles away,” he explains. “It isn’t just about cost; it’s also about responsiveness. We’re the folks who show up on short notice and provide daily deliveries instead of weekly deliveries.”
What allows for this flexibility is Wash Cycle Laundry’s second innovation: They have no permanent facilities. Instead they use laundromats during off-peak hours, or sometimes they rent facilities in places like hospitals to do their washing and drying. This means they can always look for the closest and most energy-efficient machines to do the job. They don’t have the overhead of equipment buying and upkeep either.
Mandujano also credits his employees for setting the company apart from the competition. “Over half of our staff are from what is called a vulnerable population,” he continues, “which means they have at least one of four indicators: they’re formerly homeless, formerly incarcerated, formerly on welfare or currently in addiction recovery. That’s a huge part of who we are. We’ve created opportunity for a lot of folks who are driven and motivated to turn their lives around, and we’ve had a great deal of success at retaining people here in Philadelphia. We’re about twice as effective as the system’s average. We hold on to around 85–90 percent of people over six months, which is pretty good by industry standards.”
Most of Wash Cycle Laundry’s customers are big commercial operations—a surprise, considering this requires that they must haul hundreds of pounds of laundry on a bike. But they didn’t win over these businesses easily; Wash Cycle Laundry had to prove to them that they could get the job done. “Big operations that need laundry done in a timely manner usually react to our pitch with, “How are you going to do that on a bicycle?” But they do. “We’re servicing nursing homes and a two-hundred-bed VA hospital, for example.”
In the coming year or two, Mandujano says he has plans to cover more geography and replicate the current model. Indeed, one of the advantages of Wash Cycle Laundry’s business structure is just how easy it is to reproduce anywhere, since all it really takes to get going is a few bikes—and a load of dirty laundry.
To learn more about Wash Cycle Laundry, visit WashCycleLaundry.com.