Gabriel poses on one of the Wash Cycle trikes while his coworker looks on. Photo by Plate 3 Photography
If ever two words were crying out to become a bike-based business, “wash cycle” would top the list. Gabriel Mandujano saw this potential when he created Wash Cycle Laundry in Philadelphia, where he has leveraged the common phrase into an uncommon, pedal-powered, business success. We caught up with Gabriel between loads and asked him what it’s been like to haul more than three million pounds of laundry by bike in just five years.
First, kudos on the name. I imagine the double entendre’s a real attention-getter? It’s definitely working for us. About 40% of new clients see our delivery bikes, remember our name, and contact us. It’s our only customer acquisition effort on the consumer side right now.
So why does a guy with an MBA from Wharton open a bike-based laundry business? The challenge probably. I was hoping to prove two things: that an entry-level service job could become a stepping stone to a productive career – particularly for vulnerable adults. And that bikes could be a commercially viable alternative to trucks in the inner city.
Loading hundreds of pounds of laundry a day is no easy business. Photo by Plate 3 Photography.
Did you prove it? It’s ever evolving, but since making our start in 2010, Wash Cycle has hired extensively from the welfare-to-work populations and the prisoner re-entry system. Our six month retention rate is 83%. That’s very high. So we’re having a positive social impact, certainly. And since Philly is densely populated and flat, with our main hotel, hospital, and restaurant clients so closely packed, a pedal-powered operation makes total business sense.
Hauling tons of laundry by bike every week, you’d think that a truck would be necessary. But you’re demonstrating otherwise. On so many levels, cargo bikes work better. Truck delivery in cities is very expensive. Parking tickets, gas, traffic delays … they all add up. Bike delivery solves most inner city delivery problems and our start-up costs were very low.
What does a typical day look like at Wash Cycle? We get started around 6am at the industrial laundry facility and the bikes are loaded and ready to hit their routes at 9am. Another delivery shift overlaps at 4 and goes till 8pm. Each of our eight bikes makes three to four runs each day.
Is there anything special about your bikes? They’re electric assist – that’s absolutely necessary when you’re hauling hundreds of pounds at once. But our bikes are evolving as the cargo bike industry does. We still haven’t found an e-assist kit that we consider commercial grade – able to reliably pull hundreds of pounds for 40 or 50 miles a day.
How did you land high-profile clients like the Philadelphia Eagles and University of Pennsylvania? A lot of companies and organizations have sustainability procurement goals today so our environmental and social missions definitely open doors and get us visibility. But in the end it comes down to quality, reliability, and price. On those variables we are also competitive.
Sounds like you’re ready to scale up to other cities. We’re operating in Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston with other major cities lining up. We’re just waiting to land a few major commercial clients in each of those cities and then we’ll be rolling.
What’s on your wish list for 2016? Business processes that are focused on fleet maintenance for a bike-based operation. That doesn’t exist yet.
Allan Ishac writes the Cyclepreneurs column and also created cyclepreneurs.com, the only pedal-powered business website, as well as That Bike Show with Simon Spokes (thatbikeshow.com), a web series celebrating all things cycling.
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