by Emily Landes
Arik Levy wants to change the way you do laundry. Actually, that is a bit of an understatement. Ever since Levy came up with the idea for Laundry Locker, a laundry delivery service that relies on lockers in apartment-house common areas, he says he has been “consumed with the concept” of “shifting the paradigm” for the wash-and-fold industry
It all started in December 2004. Levy was vice president of operations for a tech company in Santa Rosa and considering an investment in a laundromat. Then he began thinking about how he always had a hard time making it to the laundromat and the dry cleaners before they closed, and had an epiphany: lockers. With lockers, people can leave their laundry in any free unit at a time that is convenient for them, lock the unit and go on with their day. While they are gone, a delivery service will pick up the clothing, have it laundered or dry cleaned and return it to the locker in a timely manner. Then, busy, on-the-go San Franciscans can pick up their laundry whenever their schedules allow.
As soon as Levy figured out the locker concept, he became obsessed. Soon he was working on his business plan and quickly designed the lockers and the website where people can track their laundry’s progress and make secure credit card payments. In June 2005, he quit his job and sold his sports car to buy a delivery van. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I’ve come up with lots of crazy ideas, but none that I’ve been willing to give up a career for,” he admits. But, Laundry Locker seemed like an idea that couldn’t fail. “Everyone I talked to said they would use it. So, I said, ‘I’ll give it six months and see if it works.’ I’ve pretty much invested my life savings in this, and it’s been quite an experience. It’s been fantastic. People are using it and the business is growing like crazy.”
Just how fast is it growing? In the first six months, only eight buildings were willing to sign on. But property owners and managers started to hear positive feedback from their residents and spread the word about the service; soon more than 20 buildings were on board. Levy predicts he will be in 100 of the city’s 500 15-plus-unit buildings within 6 to 12 months.
One reason for the fast expansion is that Laundry Locker’s convenience is matched by its prices and quality. It costs about $20 per order, for the average of two weeks’ worth of laundry, and dry cleaning prices are competitive as well. Levy offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee and says that of the thousands of items his service has processed, only one has been damaged. “You mess up once, your customer is going to go somewhere else,” he declares.
The service is also a win-win for residents and landlords. Residents get an additional service and landlords get a $1 commission for each placed order. Plus, Levy believes that the residents he targets with this service—young, well-paid professionals—are exactly the type of tenants most property owners want to attract to their buildings. “They’re the high-end clients, the people who pay rent on time. They’ve got good credit and they have good clothes that need to be dry cleaned,” he claims.
The people who use his service are also not generally the same ones who use their buildings’ laundry room, so adding Laundry Locker never takes away from laundry revenues, he says. The lockers are usually placed near the laundry room, not in the middle of a lobby or another location where residents might complain that the locker unit is an eyesore. As to the concern that, once owners add this service, taking it away would be considered a reduction of service, Levy says his lawyers and even the property managers he works with don’t think that will be a problem. He calls his product an “above-and-beyond service,” more akin to having a snack machine than a laundry room. If owners do want to remove the lockers, they only need to give Levy one-month’s notice.
Right now, the lockers are concentrated primarily in apartment buildings in Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, Nob Hill and the Marina, but Levy wants to expand to the Castro, Mission and SoMa districts in the next few months. Beyond that, Levy can see a future where Laundry Lockers are found in every major, apartment-dense city and believes that the service will find its way to New York, Philadelphia and Chicago before it is in Cupertino or Walnut Creek. “For us, the denser, the better,” he says. He would like to see the company become “the Netflix of laundry,” not just because he would like Laundry Locker to be a household name but also because he believes the service is so easy to use that it will force a shift in the whole wash-and-fold industry.
Levy says, “My real passion is working with people and that’s where this has got to go pretty soon. The one thing that’s tough is working alone. It’s been the hardest part of having my own company, not having a team to work with, to feed off of and to help grow. But,” he adds, “it will get there soon.”
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the SFAA or the San Francisco Apartment Magazine. Emily Landes is the assistant editor of the San Francisco Apartment Magazine. Copyright © 2006 by the San Francisco Apartment Magazine. All rights reserved.