A stay-at-home mom sees a need, creates a brand

Anat Cohen (right) got advice from sister-in-law Lainee Beigel when she decided to start I Hate Camp Laundry.
Anat Cohen (right) got advice from sister-in-law Lainee Beigel when she decided to start I Hate Camp Laundry. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 04, 2014

Each summer for the last few years, Anat Cohen hunted for a laundry company that would come to her kids' sleepaway camp at the end of their stay, pick up their belongings, and clean them. But, with no such luck, the Voorhees resident eventually gave up.

"It was disgusting," said Cohen, 41, cringing at the memory of jam-packed trunks returning home full of seven weeks' worth of mildewing clothes and sandy bedding - not to mention a few creepy-crawler stowaways. "I'd keep everything in the garage until it was time to wash, which would take me hours to get done."

So, Cohen, identifying a potential need in the marketplace, as well as a desire to reenter the workforce, decided last summer to launch I Hate Camp Laundry, (Ihatecamplaundry.com) a wash-and-fold service that scoops up your kids' possessions at the end of camp, returning them to your home within five days, wrapped and ready to store for next year.

With the help of her attorney sister-in-law Lainee Beigel, 34 - also a workforce coach and assistant vice president for a global corporation - Cohen went from a stay-at-home mom of 14 years to brand creator, financial structurer, advertising agent, and Internet guru. And she's come a long way, to say the least. When Cohen was a physical therapist in the late '90s, social media, e-mail, and Googling weren't the buzzwords and linchpins they are now.

"The first thing I told Anat was you need a website. So make one using GoDaddy," Beigel said. "And she looked at me and said, 'You want me to use Go who?'"

Now, partnering with Lawrenceville-based Bridge Cleaners and Tailors, which also steam-cleans soiled sporting equipment, duffel bags, and trunks, Cohen's start-up serves kids attending camps in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs, charging $169 for one camper and $149 for each additional child to give parents peace of mind against lice, bedbugs, MRSA, and any other bloodsuckers or bacteria carted home.

At first, Cohen wasn't sure she could manage or lay the groundwork to start a business. But at one of the regular Sunday dinners she and her brother's family share, she mentioned her idea to Beigel.

"I thought, this is great and could really work," said Beigel, of Cherry Hill.

Lucky for Cohen, Beigel teaches networking and interviewing skills through her company, Career Esquire. Although she mainly coaches lawyers seeking alternate legal careers, she also has advised those reentering the workplace after suffering job losses - or mothers who, like Cohen, took a break to raise their kids and are now trying to relaunch a career.

Cohen, who holds a master's degree in physical therapy, elected to leave her job after the birth of her first child. Child-care costs had been gobbling up her salary, and her husband, Adam, was traveling a lot, building his own business, Phillips & Cohen Associates Ltd., a global financial recovery company.

She continued to enjoy being the caretaker for her kids, even though she says her own mother worked as a teacher when Cohen was growing up.

But as each of her children (two daughters, and one son, now 14, 8, and 11, respectively) have gotten older, Cohen said, they "don't need me as much anymore," and she began yearning for more personal fulfillment. "A lot of my friends who have been home with their kids are feeling like I did, and at a stage of what to do next."

She thought about going back to physical therapy, but admits that she didn't want a 9-to-5 commitment.

"This business gives me more flexibility. The other night after the kids went to bed, I worked on the computer until around 11."

Although Cohen initially wasn't savvy about building websites or raising her profile on LinkedIn, Beigel says she brought other solid, transferable skills to the table. In her roles on the boards of local nonprofits, Cohen learned to communicate effectively and organize well. Plus, raising three children (critical thinking, scheduling) requires the management of endless, yet vital tasks.

Beigel thinks that a lot of women getting back into the workforce are fearful. "I try to encourage them to get over any negative thoughts and feelings. Show off your talents."

So far, interest has been encouraging (she had four clients last year; 28 have signed on for this summer), but it's not booming yet. Cohen's not worried, since it's a niche market. She said the pace has enabled her to concentrate on product development and customer satisfaction. With increased marketing efforts, like distributing more fliers and developing stronger relationships with camps, as well as generating referrals from happy customers, she hopes more will sign up as the camp season continues.

Then, if things go well, her next goal will be to expand into Manhattan and its neighboring boroughs, where there are "a ton of camp kids - and very small washers." And, maybe, as her kids start to leave the nest, she'll spin out a collaborative biz: I Hate College Laundry.

"Someone told me that this could even be a good franchise operation - which I'd love to see happen," she says. "My son made me a banner the other day for the company, which really made me proud. I love having my kids see me do something that's important to me."

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