Dry cleaning service on the move

Mobile service thriving, expanding after five years

April 07, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Anthony Compofelice has made the dry cleaning run as simple as putting dirty laundry in an accessible place.

The Columbia resident spends his days driving around town in a blue van, picking up loads of dirty laundry and dropping off the freshly cleaned - for no more money but much less hassle than it would take his customers to do the running around personally.

His 5-year-old company, Anthony's Mobile Dry Cleaning, has grown steadily over the years, and Compofelice is hoping to expand further in Columbia this year.

"I've always wondered why people would go to a dry cleaners when they could use me," he said. "I can give better than dry cleaner's prices because I don't have all the overhead."

Delivery popular

Compofelice is part of a growing number of people providing pickup and drop-off of laundry services nationwide, according to Theodore R. Barry, vice president of operations for John Barry & Associates, a California-based consulting firm that has guided dry cleaners for 50 years.

Barry said delivery routes have grown more popular in the past 10 years, especially for cleaners who want to expand their business, but can't afford to open new stores.

There are even a few companies that are franchising dry cleaning routes nationally in several parts of the country. In Howard County, at least one national company, Zoots.com, provides delivery and pickup, but there are also a few other independent dealers who have routes here.

"Most recently, with the double-income families, the popularity of pickup and delivery route service has become more popular," Barry said. "The routes can be successful when the marketplace is oriented toward that. Suburbia can be very good."

Targeted service

Independent route operators, like Compofelice, are most successful when they target their services to neighborhoods in which the head of household makes $75,000 or more, Barry said.

"The route business goes after a relatively high-volume customer," he said. "They're going after a customer that's bringing in three to five pieces a week. The most important element is finding the target market that is going to be most worthwhile."

In five years, Compofelice's customer base has grown from 50 to about 400 people - enough to call it a full-time job - and the business has consistently seen about a 20 percent increase each year, he said.

The business is simple. Compofelice drives several routes a week, picking up dirty laundry and dropping it off at one of several local dry cleaners at the end of the day. Two to three days later, he returns with the clothes and leaves them at a customer's home or office.

At the end of the month, he sends his customers a bill for his services, but is able to charge no more than a typical dry cleaning price for garments because of the volume discounts he receives from the cleaners.

Convenience counts

He visits office buildings and homes in the area, offering dry cleaning on clothes, curtains and rugs, as well as shoe repair. He said his van, emblazoned with the company name, helps him find new customers everywhere - even at gas station.

His customers say they keep ordering the service because of the convenience.

"I love the service Tony does," said Stacia Hejeebu of Ellicott City who has used his services for five years. "I think it's incredibly convenient, especially when the kids were babies. He just comes right to your door. He picks it up and drops it off when its done. I think it's a great service."

Compofelice said most of his work is in Clarksville, but he said he is considering hiring an employee so that he can expand farther into the county. Now, he does about as much work at office buildings as in home delivery, but an additional worker would allow Compofelice to split the work and concentrate on finding new customers, he said.

With more than 95,000 people in Columbia, he said there is more than enough room to expand.

"I'll stay in Howard County," he said. "It's plenty."

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