If Uber can transport Dan Miller when he travels, and Instacart delivers his groceries, why not a mobile app to pick up dry cleaning in an hour?
Miller, who started Minneapolis-based Mulberrys Garment Care in 2009, decided to do traditional home pickup and delivery one better. “I love ordering groceries from my couch,” he said. “Why can’t we be the Uber of dry cleaning?”
In April, Mulberrys e-mailed all of its customers to promote its new app for Minneapolis pickup and delivery.
Unlike its traditional pickup and delivery services, which are generally on a two-day-a-week truck route, the firm picks up dirty garments within one to four hours of an order being placed on its app. It returns them clean the next day.
Although Mulberrys may be the first dry cleaner to use the app in the Twin Cities, the concept isn’t entirely new. FlyCleaners, Washio, and Dryv have already developed app-based dry cleaning delivery in major markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Detroit.
St. Louis Park-based Gopher Laundry, which was founded to provide online service, does not yet have an app, but customers can place an order on their computer or smartphone for pickup within as little as 30 minutes and have it delivered the same day for an extra fee. “Customers can check the progress of their order online and view and pay bills there too,” said co-owner Yaniv Ribon.
The Twin Cities has loads of cleaners who do pickup and delivery, some even offering same-day service. Mulberrys is offering the app-based service only in Minneapolis for now. Miller said he hopes to expand it to other cities and offer same-day delivery. The company has locations in St. Paul, Edina, Eagan, St. Louis Park, Roseville and Minneapolis.
Until the app release, marketing for Mulberrys has been focused on environmental sustainability. It uses toxin-free cleaning, biodegradable bags and sustainably sourced reusable wooden hangers. But what makes its on-demand service somewhat unique is that Mulberrys employs its own drivers. Similar services in other markets usually handle only the pickup and delivery, but they rely on others to do the dry cleaning.
Miller wanted to use his own employees to handle all the pickup, order tracking, clean-press-fold and delivery. “It’s so important to have control of the entire customer service experience,” he said.
Among his 52 employees, he currently uses eight staffed drivers and a few on-demand drivers for the regular daily routes and the on demand app business.
After signing up for the free app from the Apple App or Google Play stores, customers can choose the one-time service or twice-a-week pickup and delivery service. Pickup service in an hour is $2.99 plus cleaning costs, but pickup service later in the day is free. Clothes are delivered the next day.
By the end of the year, Miller expects the app-based orders to account for 10 percent of Mulberrys’ business and to grow from there. This year the company expects more than $5 million in overall revenue run rate. The app seems tailor-made for millennials, but so far it’s the business person on-the-go who’s clicking. “But we’d really like to do people’s laundry, not just their dry cleaning,” Miller said.
“Dry cleaners who have an app are really trying to appeal to millennials, the wash-and-fold laundry customer,” said Mary Scalco, chief executive of the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute in Laurel, Md.
Laundry Doctor in St. Paul, for example, appeals to college students and condo residents with a cloud-based app from DropLocker. Customers place their bagged dirty clothes in a drop box in their mailroom or lobby and get a text when it’s clean and placed back in the locker.
On the University of St. Thomas campus in St. Paul, Laundry Doctor has about 200 student customers, and an additional 20 law students on the Minneapolis campus. But Laundry Doctor President Jeff Gardner expects a big boost in the fall when parents are notified of the laundry program during student orientation. “We can get about 10 to 15 percent of the student body as customers,” he said.
Miller said he thinks the dry cleaning business is as badly in need of a refresh as coffee shops were pre-Starbucks. “I want it to feel like a place you look forward to going,” he said.
Miller and other cleaners are hoping that younger consumers with little or no dry cleaning needs will get hooked on a laundry service. While the app holds obvious appeal to younger customers, the dry cleaning business as a whole is becoming more convenient for all with apps, office or home pickup and delivery, drive-through service and 24-hour lockers.
Bonnie Engler, president of Pilgrim Cleaners with 25 Twin Cities locations, has made a major investment with new equipment for wet and dry cleaning, as well as automation of assembly and bagging of orders. In addition to offering same-day service at no extra charge, Pilgrim also offers drive-throughs, express bags and drop-off boxes. Engler has no plans to add an app, saying that Pilgrim’s customers rarely need items to be picked up within an hour or so. “They appreciate not paying extra for one-hour pickup, lint removal, same-day service or upcharges for ladies shirts,” she said.