The nation’s laundry industry is largely coin operated, but that may change soon thanks to a new app. The app, pioneered at a Carrollwood neighborhood laundromat in Tampa, enables laundries to ditch the quarters and rely exclusively on digital payments.
“Tampa is our first laundromat conversion,” says Washlava Founder and CEO Todd Belveal. “We do not take coins. We do not take a credit card swipe. You cannot access the store unless you download the app.”
Belveal converted the family’s Carrollwood laundry, Washlava Carrollwood, to the app this month, making it the first entirely app-enabled laundromat. It previously beta-tested the app on dorm machines at the Gainesville-based University of Florida, with students preferring the Washlava app 12 to 1 over quarters and 7 to 1 over credit cards.
It is now looking to expand into 20 markets, cities like Austin, Washington D.C., New York City, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco and Chicago. “We’re looking for urban, dense communities where there’s a heavy rental population,” he says.
Younger people also are more likely to rent and rely upon the app, which finds Washlava locations, checks for machine availability, reserves washers, accepts payment and notifies users when the laundry is done.
Belveal entered the laundry business as part of a family venture more than three years ago, when they bought a laundromat at 11819 N. Armenia Ave. for $60,000. He quickly learned laundries weren’t that easy to run. There were buckets and buckets of quarters to weigh.
He didn’t set out to make an app though, until after a burglar pried their coin machine off the wall. He decided there had to be a better way to run the business. “There has to be an app,” he thought.
Except he couldn’t find one. “I really expected to find something like Parkmobile that took a coin-based business and turned it into something digital,” he says.
Instead, he found an industry “completely untouched by modern technology,” he says.
Fortunately, Belveal was no stranger to how apps could automate a business. He’d already started Silvercar, a car rental company where customers book with a smartphone, which he later sold to Audi.
So he founded Washlava, naming it lava both for the Spanish word lava, which means wash, and the English word lava associated with heat from volcanoes.
Converting to the Washlava platform involves installing hardware into the machines for $149 each. “We simply drop our technology into their fleet of equipment, and brand it or not,” Belveal says.
Washlava keeps a percentage of gross receipts on each cycle completed. “We get paid when they get paid,” he says.
With the Carrollwood conversion behind them, the Washlava staff of 12 is making plans to convert its second and possibly third laundromat in early fall.
“After here, New York is likely second,” he says.
Plans call for hiring another 10 to 20 in the fall as the business expands into new territory, with those positions being split between Tampa and the new location. A lot of support will be provided remotely. “They don’t need to be there. They’ll be here,” he says.
Founded in 2015, Washlava has already raised some $4 million in two rounds of funding. “Our intent is to create a network of convenient locations,” he says.
Users must have a smartphone and a credit card or debit card, or alternatively a pre-paid card. “Ultimately, we’ll probably expand the number of options, but we’ll never move towards cash,” he says.
It may be a welcome change for laundromat customers who spend on average 200 quarters every month to wash and dry clothes. “There are several million vended machines that live in dorms, hotels and military bases. They’re hidden from public view, but there’s a lot of them,” he says.