No Waiting, No Quarters… No Hassle! Washlava Enables Laundry Customers to Reserve and Pay for Washers and Dryers Exclusively from Their Smartphones Washlava got its start when a rundown laundromat in Tampa, Fla., was robbed in 2014. The change machines were ripped out of the wall, and quarters strewn across the parking lot. Todd Belveal, Washlava’s founder and CEO, had just purchased the location with plans to renovate it and generate passive cash flow. Frustrated by the quarters, lack of security, no automated way to manage the business, no connection to customers, and a less than ideal customer experience, Todd turned to his phone hoping to find “an app for that.” When he didn’t find what he was looking for, Washlava was conceived. Fresh off the launch of Silvercar, a mobile-enabled car rental company that rents only Audi A4s and operates exclusively through a mobile app, Todd realized there was an opportunity to apply what he did for rental cars (another disliked consumer activity) to laundry. (Silvercar recently was purchased by Audi.) The company was funded in June 2015, and a team of four set out to create not just a payment platform, but a technology solution and digital brand that creates a connected network of laundry equipment through the mobile app, making laundry more convenient for customers, and providing a turnkey business and marketing solution for operators. Washlava began testing the minimum viable product during summer of 2016, launching a beta test at the University of Florida in conjunction with a large route operator. The results were overwhelmingly positive – even more positive than expected, ending with 90 percent of students recommending Washlava, preferring the Washlava app 7 to 1 over swiping cards, and 12 to 1 over quarters. The product was then extended to laundromats and launched at the Tampa laundromat – the original scene of the crime, on July 1, 2017, becoming the world’s first exclusively app-enabled laundromat. During the two-week customer onboarding process, the store lost 39 legacy customers to attrition, but onboarded almost 400 customers on the app. After three and a half months, the Tampa location is now approaching nearly 1,000 customers. The app and technology have been wildly popular earning more than 20 five-star reviews since the technology launched. The 24/7 location is 100 percent mobile-enabled and is attended only nine hours a week. When the team began this journey in 2015, the Carrollwood location was viewed as a poor place to launch the technology because the customer base is older and less tech-savvy, but two years later, mobile adoption has become so prolific that the store’s baby boomer customers have no issues using the technology and, in fact, they love it! Not only did much of the estimated 320 core customers stay, but the store has been pulling new customers from up to 20 miles away, because people love the convenience and the way the facility makes them feel. Clearly, there is a tremendous opportunity to improve both the customer and the operator experience. Washlava is applying mobile-first strategies to an industry it believes is in need of innovation, both from a technology perspective and a retail branding point of view. “We are being exposed to opportunities that we didn’t even think of a year ago, because there is such a need for a convenient laundry experience that fits into the digital lifestyle,” said Jamie Sewell, chief marketing officer for Washlava. “The campus market is a clear opportunity, both on and around campus. We intend to create a laundry network that spans residence halls, apartments, hotels and laundromats within campus markets – partnering with existing laundromat and equipment providers when we can.” On the laundromat side, Washlava has prioritized its top 20 markets around the country and will focus on creating usable networks in those areas, much like it is doing around campuses, but on a larger scale. “We are partnering with other operators who share our vision and are opening both ‘powered by’ Washlava locations – for stores with established, existing brands – and fully branded Washlava concept stores. We’re launching in Astoria, N.Y. in November, with other locations to follow soon.” On the route side, the company reported that it has some partnerships in the works that it believes can help those partners differentiate themselves and create more business. Washlava’s Jamie Sewell recently shared her thoughts with PlanetLaundry on the many changes taking place in the vended laundry industry: What is the most pronounced trend you’re currently seeing in the industry? I know I’m biased, but technology, without question. Las Vegas this past June was my third Clean Show, and there is no doubt the industry is evolving and adapting technology. I believe some of these technology advancements are trying to be all things to all people, which really muddles the user experience – but it’s exciting to see innovation nonetheless. I expect the laundry business to look a lot different within a few years. What are you most excited about as we head into 2018? Changing the laundry experience for businesses and their customers. Washlava is focused on creating a connected, convenient laundry experience for business owners and their customers – this is something that’s unprecedented in the industry and I expect it to help change how the business operates. Marketing is one of the most notable ways we can impact the laundry experience, and as a marketer, it’s really exciting to unlock mobile marketing strategies that were previously unavailable to the business. Our mobile marketing campaigns have been highly effective and well received by customers, which further emphasizes a big opportunity in the business. What are you most concerned about, from a business standpoint? The entrenched mindset of “this is how our business has always been done.” The digital world is moving very quickly and this industry needs to innovate rapidly to keep up. There’s a real need to elevate the industry, and to do so, we need to apply business principles from outside of laundry. Laundromats are retail businesses, just like any other, and the more we can learn from other retailers, the stronger we’ll be. Where do you see the vended laundry industry headed? Denser city living, rising rent prices and city redevelopment projects will continue to put pressure on our industry to adapt and consolidate; however, the remaining locations will adopt higher retail standards and be more productive. Utilizing technologies such as Washlava or pickup and delivery tools will become more important to help increase convenience, profitability and capacity utilization. The traditional wash-dry-fold business will continue to grow as well, as people look to offset their increasingly busy lives. What’s the biggest reason for laundromat owners to be optimistic? Scalability and a better industry profile. Because of the increasing number of technology tools, it’s getting easier to operate more profitable stores. This is going to lead to better business operations, which is also going to raise the profile of the industry and, if I do my job right, expand the category so that laundromats are an experience that customers want to partake in, much like what Starbucks did for coffee. What are the keys to successful laundry ownership today? Caring about your customers. The beauty of the business is that it’s so simple. If you approach your business from your customers’ perspective, make sure to keep the store spotless, use newer machines and pay attention to your customers’ experience – that’s really the bottom line. Branding and marketing is becoming much more important. Optimizing your business to be found online and paying attention to the message your store brand sends to customers online and in person is more important than ever. People buy brands that make them feel good – even the gas station industry has figured out how to mass market brands to appeal to the masses. There’s a lot we can learn from mass retailers and digital brands including how to avoid signage and sensory overload. Simple is actually really hard to execute. Signs like “smile, you’re on camera” do not create a comfortable, inviting atmosphere. It’s counterintuitive to use less signage, but then the most important things stand out and become more effective. Finding a good distributor/laundry partner. You need someone you can call and get advice from. Technology will grow and change, but having someone you can trust to walk you through the nuances of the business will help you avoid pitfalls and help you become more profitable.
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