Laundry-service start-up will try to clean up in D.C.

Gabriel Mandujano (right), founder of Wash Cycle Laundry, aboard one of his company's tricycles. With him was employee Jake Clark. "The blessing and the curse of laundry is that everybody has to do it," Mandujano says.
Gabriel Mandujano (right), founder of Wash Cycle Laundry, aboard one of his company's tricycles. With him was employee Jake Clark. "The blessing and the curse of laundry is that everybody has to do it," Mandujano says. (Plate 3 Photography)
Posted: May 23, 2014

Three years after giving new meaning to the word cycle in laundry terms - and turning quite a few heads on Philadelphia streets - entrepreneur Gabriel Mandujano is bringing his bicycle-based laundry service to the nation's capital.

"From the beginning, I had the idea we could make this idea work in places outside Philadelphia," Mandujano said. "The blessing and the curse of laundry is that everybody has to do it."

The choices for Wash Cycle Laundry's first expansion were Washington or New York. Washington won, in part, because of "amazing things with bike culture and bike infrastructure there. It's a super bike-friendly city," Mandujano said.

Additionally, a market-size analysis showed that although Washington is much smaller than New York, he said, "it packs quite a punch for its size" in terms of density (important when your business is dependent on maximizing the number of pickups and deliveries) and the types of people (professionals with no time to wash clothes) who would tend to use a laundry service.

The city also has a lot more federal institutions. Wash Cycle achieved federal-contractor status last year and has one U.S. government customer: the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. It will be better positioned to gain more with a physical presence in Washington, Mandujano said.

Wash Cycle's official launch there will be Tuesday, when Mandujano and about seven others – members of his management team and possibly relatives - will arrive by bicycle. You didn't think they'd drive, did you?

Their plan is to leave Philadelphia on Sunday, pedaling 50 miles that day and another 50 on Monday, before completing the all-local-roads ride with a final 20 miles Tuesday. They will debut with a new delivery vehicle - electric-assist (to help with steep hills) tricycles attached to metal storage boxes.

Wash Cycle's Philadelphia fleet of trailers, fitted with plastic storage bins and pulled by two-wheeled bikes, will be phased out and replaced by the tricycle versions in about 30 days, Mandujano said.

Having presold "a handful of salons and spas and fitness centers," he said, "on Day 1 in D.C., we should basically be where we were after month eight or nine in Philly. We're definitely getting a running start."

He credited lessons learned in Philadelphia, including determining which businesses are most likely to use Wash Cycle and which, well, have issues - such as restaurants.

Jim Starn, owner of Expertly Crafted Wellness, a massage-therapy business in Washington about to open its second location, has signed on for Wash Cycle's service. He said he was looking forward to his laundry delivery not involving a big truck that blocks traffic every Friday, and doing business with a company that provides a green service and focuses on providing jobs to the unemployed.

How Washington overall will react is a whole other matter, he said.

"D.C. is kill or be killed," Starn said. "They've got their work cut out for them."

Helping enable the expansion of Wash Cycle, which is closing in on $1 million in revenue and has 33 employees, counting the first three hires in Washington, was a round of equity financing that closed in October. It raised $330,000 from angel groups Investors' Circle and Robin Hood Ventures, Mandujano said.

"WCL is the ultimate social impact startup!" John Moore, president of Investors' Circle Philadelphia, wrote in an e-mail. "The environmental and health benefits are compelling. Also, the wash-and-fold laundry jobs created are perfect for workforce development."

Another plus is the company's scalability, Moore said. "WCL has a unique business model that eliminates the capital expenditures typically required for expansion."

For one, it does not own any laundry facilities, instead making arrangements to use existing facilities.

As for its ability to land the big get in Washington:

"We legitimately did actually search a database of federal contracts to see if we could find one for the White House, and came up empty," Mandujano said. "But we would love to do the Obamas' laundry, and we think they'd be into what we do."


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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