A laundry and dry cleaning service based in New York wants to clean up two things: the environment and the deplorable reputation that the laundry and dry cleaning industry currently has.
To help with the environmental aspect of it, The Eco Laundry Company has been certified as a B Corporation, CEO Phillipe Christodoulou, 38, said during a recent interview from the company’s shared office space in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.
B Corporations are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, meaning the B Lab organization independently audits companies and gives them certification if they are found to be environmentally friendly and socially just.
It’s this certification (akin to Fair Trade Coffee or USDA organic certification) that marks the difference between the company and its competitors, Christodoulou said, as The Eco Laundry Company is the world’s first and only B Corporation certified laundry and dry cleaning service.
Slow and Steady Growth Plan
The business launched in 2010 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in New York City in 2012. Thus far, the full-service laundry and dry cleaning business only has the two corporate locations, but plans on opening another two corporate stores in New York soon.
It formally launched the franchising process in April 2015 and has a goal of signing up five franchisees by the end of this year and an additional 10 by the end of next year.
Currently, the company is only looking for franchisees in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but those three states are wide open.
“We’re very selective about the kind of people we want on board,” Christodoulou said. “We’re getting requests from all over the place, but people that don’t understand our business philosophy and who are not into learning about sustainability are not going to be able to make this fly, so we’re really taking our time to find people who really understand what we’re doing.”
While the parent company itself has B Corporation certification, franchisees will also need to individually get B Corporation certification within two years of purchasing their franchise. It’s because of this requirement that franchisees will need to embrace the sustainability business model wholeheartedly, the CEO said.
Christodoulou said the decision to only open a relatively small area to franchises to begin with comes from his own research on the best way to grow a franchise. The CEO said he spent two years travelling around the world talking with various franchise consultants and the general consensus was to start slowly and grow gradually so that the business can support all franchisees equally as it grows.
Growing too fast without the proper infrastructure in place can spell disaster for a franchise, he noted.
If the company grows slowly and builds from New York and surrounding area outwardly, Christodoulou said, The Eco Laundry Company can build the infrastructure as it grows without having to borrow money or bring in a third party to help with expansion.
This measured and steady growth is part of a business plan to grow slowly and make sure they know what they’re doing before they go national, which the CEO foresees as happening probably in year three or four. However, it may happen sooner than that, as the company has just recently received an inquiry to start a master franchise in Ireland and has received franchise requests from 20 different countries.
“It’s getting hard to say no all the time, but growing slowly is the plan and we’re trying to stick to it,” he said.
People Want Eco Friendly
The Eco Laundry Company is finding its niche because people are becoming more conscious about what they put into their bodies and onto their skin, Christodoulou said. The EPA has determined the main substance used for dry cleaning is a likely human carcinogen, which is leading people to look for healthier alternatives to traditional dry cleaning, both for themselves and for the environment.
And The Eco Laundry Company gives customers just that, using biodegradable, phosphate-free laundry soap, low-powerconsuming lighting, biodegradable plastics and buildings that have been designed and outfitted to meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification, an environmental certification for buildings.
Every part of the business has been designed to be sustainable to meet consumers’ growing demands for sustainable businesses, a demand that is being pushed by Millenials, who want the businesses they interact with to have a positive social and environmental impact.
“These are the businesses that will survive in the next 10 years and 20 years,” Christodoulou predicted.
Cleaning Up the Industry
Apart from helping to clean up the environment, Christodoulou wants The Eco Laundry Company to start cleaning up the actual laundry and dry cleaning industry, which has a deplorable reputation at the moment.
Many laundromats and dry cleaners who claim to be environmentally friendly are simply lying to customers, Christodoulou said, something he found during his own research of the industry.
This gives The Eco Laundry Company a distinct advantage over laundry and dry cleaning services that merely claim to be sustainable, as the company has its B Corporation status, meaning it’s independently audited to ensure it is as environmentally friendly as it claims.
“There’s this level of authenticity to our business model,” Christodoulou said.
On the other hand, the laundry and dry cleaning industry is infamous for having horrible service, from language barriers to businesses not caring about lost or damaged items. Christodoulou wants to change people’s perception of the industry.
“Our aim is to change people’s perceptions from the inside out by offering quality service and giving our customers the attention they deserve,” the CEO said.
More than just a place to have clothing laundered, Christodoulou wants The Eco Laundry Company to also help promote environmental stewardship. To this end, The Eco Laundry Company offers customers a device they can put in their toilets that saves between one and three litres of water per flush. This offsets the water The Eco Laundry Company uses to wash their clothes while at the same time teaches customers about offsetting and sustainability and creating an ongoing dialogue about sustainability with customers.
The Eco Laundry Company will eventually be able to recycle water once it starts getting its own plants in place, but the company needs to grow as a franchise first, the CEO said.
For training and support of its franchisees, The Eco Laundry Company plans to provide all the standard on- and off-site training that any franchise would offer, meaning two weeks of training in a classroom setting and one week of on-site training in a franchise unit. It also plans to offer plenty of ongoing support to franchisees, plus mentoring through the complicated and daunting B Corporation certification process.
Although its goals are lofty, with its slow and steady plan for growth, The Eco Laundry Company is on its way to cleaning up both the environment and people’s perception of the laundry service industry.