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This Former Hedge Fund Analyst Wants to Launder Your Clothes

DashLocker spreads in NYC

Photo: Ben Shaul

Robert Hennessy has an unusual talent. If you tell this ex-analyst entrepreneur where you live in New York, he can name every laundry and dry cleaner within a stone’s throw. “Seventy-eighth between First and Second? There’s four dry cleaners on that block,” he reports, reeling them off one by one before sniffing, “They’re all 7-to-7 places.”

The term 7-to-7 refers to the typical operating hours of drop-off laundries and dry cleaners—and for Hennessy, it translates to a huge business opportunity.

A year ago, Hennessy launched DashLocker, premised around the idea that New Yorkers—perhaps millions of them—have fast-paced, complicated lives that the business hours of the average dry cleaners simply don’t take into account. For them, DashLocker offers a simple alternative: Dump your dirties in a locker and about a day later, everything comes back fresh, clean and folded. A text or e-mail notifies the customer when his clothes are ready for pickup. The biggest selling point: DashLocker, which operates several freestanding stores and is aggressively partnering with Manhattan landlords to add lockers inside apartment buildings, is accessible 24/7. “We’re always here and we’re always open,” says Hennessy. “If you’re working late, have a social life and value your sleep, there is no other proposition.”

There are a million bags of dirty clothes in the naked city, and DashLocker wants to wash every last one of them.

Hennessy seems an unlikely figure for this line of work. In an industry dominated by mom-and-pops (where mom does the wash, pop takes the cash and English often happens to be the first language of neither), Hennessy is 28, boy-next-door handsome and cut his teeth as a hedge-fund analyst. In fact, it was his research into a large commercial laundry company that turned him on to the business.

As Hennessy sees it, dirty clothes are the common denominator in a city of rich, poor and everything in between. “You can live in Carnegie Hill or East New York, but you’re still doing laundry,” he says. “I thought it was a fantastic business model and one that, even in a sideways economy, didn’t suffer.”

Yet muscling into the business isn’t so simple. For one thing, New York already has an ample load of laundries. A quick search of Yellowpages.com reveals 1,283 coin laundries in the city. In the entire metro area, the number of facilities grows to 3,500. But there’s a catch: DashLocker doesn’t actually do the wash. Rather, its business is all about logistics. All DashLocker’s services—wash and fold, dry cleaning, shoe shining—are handled by outside vendors. What Hennessy brings to the equation are convenience and accountability.

Most New Yorkers who entrust their wash and fold and dry cleaning to storefront vendors—“drop stores,” in industry parlance—have at one time or another found themselves at the mercy of the mom-and-pop. Not able to make pickup before closing time? Then your clothes are stuck for the night behind a roll-down gate—a topic once addressed in an episode of Sex and the City. Or what if, say, a favorite item comes back ruined and that somehow becomes your own fault? (As seen in a Seinfeld episode.) “The traditional cleaner is never open at convenient hours and they hold your laundry hostage,” says DashLocker vp, marketing Caitlin Garzi. “You can’t contact them. You have a receipt, but really have no idea what you’re paying for.”

While automation and transparency have transformed other industries, Hennessy points out that the laundry trade occupies the same dark corner of customer service it did decades ago.

But thanks to proprietary software Hennessy licensed from a San Francisco company called Laundry Locker (which, with a presence in 801 buildings, has already done in the Bay Area what Hennessy hopes to do in New York), DashLocker’s customers are freed from the separation anxiety that can accompany handing over one’s cherished garments to the washerwoman.

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