Business Rx: Cleaning up a business model

May 8, 2011
The entrepreneur

With hundreds of students sharing a few washers and dryers in high-rise dormitories, the hassle of searching for quarters, lugging laundry to the basement and praying to find an open machine is something many would rather not have to deal with. University of Maryland student Ryan Smith saw a business opportunity in those undergraduates who don’t have the luxury of living close to home — and Mom’s laundry help. He developed his idea as a class project and has been operating Drayton Laundry Services for the past two years, expanding beyond campus.

The pitch

Smith

“Drayton Laundry Services is a laundry and dry cleaning company that was started in 2008. Our target audience is college students and young professionals living on or around college campuses and in other urban areas. With our service, we offer a two-day turnaround for laundry with free pickup and delivery. We also make all of our detergent and fabric softeners in house to ensure that they are environmentally friendly.

“Drayton Laundry Services also provides dry cleaning and basic laundry services to commercial customers in the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia areas. We have the capability to do jobs of virtually any size.

“As far as marketing goes, I make sure I’m out there on move-in days on campus to talk to students about the service I offer. I have fliers and postcards, as well as Facebook and Twitter. I know that everyone would love to never worry about doing laundry ever again, but it is not necessarily a ‘need.’ How can I go about turning my laundry service from something that people want to something they need and can’t live without?”

The advice

Asher Epstein, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“Think about the Zipcar model. First, Zipcar was a useful second car, but eventually it became so reliable that people starting using Zipcar as their only car. You need to show customers that you can handle all of their core needs and prove that you are reliable because you will eventually be the only guy they go to.

“Just remember that you can make a mistake any time of the day and lose valuable customers by doing it, so make sure you have your secret sauce just right.

“I’d also recommend giving long-term customers discounts after a certain length of time with Drayton Laundry Services. Maybe offer a bonus if they get a friend to sign up. These things can increase the value of the service you are offering to them and draw more customers to your business. You might also try reaching out to apartment units in College Park with no washing machines in them.

“The last thing I’d recommend is figuring out what the total cost of using your service is versus doing your own laundry. If you can show people that your service will save them time and money in the long run, that will be a huge selling point.

The reaction

Smith

“I will definitely try to get more customers in College Park. I am the one doing pickup and delivery right now, so it would be nice to have a concentrated group of customers. I hadn’t thought about offering discounts, but I think that is a really good idea and will definitely help keep my customers coming back to me for their laundry needs.”

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