Michigan's own laundry barons Wayne Wudyka and Jeffrey Snyder want to
place rows of high-tech lockers inside every downtown Detroit apartment building
and office complex.
These computerized and smartphone-enabled lockers -- call them Bizzie boxes -- are the pick-up and drop-off sites for the longtime business partners' latest venture in dry cleaning and laundry services. The target user: tech-savvy urban dwellers and busy office professionals.
"Our plan is to locate the Bizzie box in every apartment complex in the downtown area and then work our way out into the suburbs," Wudyka said in a recent interview.
Customers are to throw their clothes for dry cleaning or even regular wash into any open locker. A text message then summons a Bizzie driver to swing during his daily route. The customers then get an emailed photo of each clothing article as it arrives at the central cleaning site. The driver drops off the cleaned clothes the following day, sending customers a notification message by pressing a smartphone up against the ready locker.
Pricing is based on per-article charges.
Wudyka and Snyder have 50/50 ownership in four laundry and cleaning service companies, all of them based in Michigan under the umbrella of Clean Brands International. Their largest two businesses, 1-800-DryClean and CRDN, both based in Berkley, do a combined $120 million in sales among all franchise locations, company officials said.
Wudyka and Snyder purchased the 1-800-DryClean business last July to extend their reach into the suburban market's pickup and delivery service. But the brand needed an update. So thee businessmen are presently rebranding all 106 1-800-DryClean franchise locations as "Bizzie, powered by 1-800-DryClean."
"The 1-800 number doesn't really mean anything to anyone anymore. Today, everyone's worried about their minute plan," Wudyka explained.
The laundry locker concept is also about keeping current with technology. In the future, a visit to the dry cleaners might feel as old-fashioned as returning a DVD to a store.
"There's only two businesses in the service industry that require you to go to their location twice to use the service one time: video stores and dry cleaners," Wudyka said. "We're the only ones that require customers to go that far out of their way."
Wudyka said he got the idea for Bizzie boxes two years ago during a trip to San Francisco. There he learned about fast-growing Laundry Locker, a 2005 start-up that pioneered the smart locker laundry service concept.
"They became the largest dry cleaners in San Francisco in four years," he said. "But they never really scaled outside of their market."
Arik Levy, Laundry Locker's founder and CEO, said his company now has lockers in 250 San Francisco buildings. Its primary competition has been small "mom and pop" laundry operations.
Laundry Locker is licensing its locker technology and patents to Wudyka and Snyder. The San Francisco firm's other licensee is a New York City start-up called Dash Locker, which currently has lockers in 30 buildings.
"Wayne has been in the laundry industry for some time and he works with some of the largest dry cleaners in the country," Levy said. "As far as our strategy to roll the lockers out through dry cleaners, he was one of the best partners we could find."
Wudyka and Snyder were both working in commercial real estate in Michigan when they decided to go into business for themselves. They settled on dry cleaning, Wudyka said, as it is a service industry business with untapped opportunities at the time for growth. In 1992 they bought Huntington Cleaners in Huntington Woods.
They added home and office delivery to Huntington's traditional counter business and launched a textile restoration service for homeowners who suffered floods or fires. In 2001 the restoration service became its own franchise -- Certified Restoration DryCleaning Network -- and now has 160 locations in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom.
In 2009 they added Wesch Cleaners in downtown Birmingham to their portfolio.
So far this year they've installed Bizzie boxes at four suburban office sites and the residential Lofts @ Woodward Center in downtown Detroit. The plan is a dozen more by summer.
(c)2013 the Detroit Free Press
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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