Kristyn Van Ostern (left) and Laura Simoes are the founders of Wash Street, a laundry service and laundromat in Manchester.
The two women already have careers, families, and partners, who also work full-time. They could outsource some stressful household tasks like landscaping or cleaning, but laundry was ever-present.
Three years ago, they realized that there had to be a better option, and they founded Wash Street. The Manchester business provides an on-site laundromat, laundry service with free drop-off and pick-up, and dry-cleaning.
The business is unique in that it serves customers from all walks of life, Simoes said.
“It’s one of the few places there’s a true intersection of poverty and privilege,” she said.
When the pandemic hit, Wash Street saw fewer people coming in for dry cleaning. However, the owners quickly realized that their business decisions were, unintentionally, perfect for a pandemic and a national coin shortage. In the laundromat, they had already installed an option that allowed customers to pay by card. The biggest part of the business — laundry drop-off and pick-up — was already conducted with no contact.
“Those things have really served us well during the pandemic,” Simoes said.
Initially, the laundry service aspect saw a decline. In addition to serving individuals, Wash Street did laundry for some small businesses, which were closed down. But as the pandemic persisted, the laundry service became busier than ever. In fact, new customers and order numbers were both up roughly 80% in August, compared to April.
“Revenues are the highest they’ve ever been,” said Van Ostern. “Our customer base, busy families, are under more stress than they have been before. Their problems are more accentuated.
Families might be spending more time than ever at home, but with remote work, remote schooling, and the day-to-day stressors of the pandemic, many people are looking for any way to eliminate a small bit of stress. Laundry service can offer that, the owners said.
“We were already built for a customer base that was overworked and stretched too thin,” she said. “I don’t see that changing for working families anytime soon, but I hope it does.
Wash Street offers laundry pickup and delivery in Manchester, Bedford, Concord, Derry, Londonderry, Windham, Salem, Amherst, Merrimack, Milford, Nashua, and Portsmouth. The business uses social media and online advertising. Recently, the owners purchased a van and had it wrapped. Now, when the van passes through an area, curious neighbors look into the laundry service, Simoes said.
Growing during a pandemic hasn’t been without its challenges. At the beginning of the pandemic, Wash Street had two employees. Now it has four, and the business is always looking for workers, the owners said. Initially, they wondered if pandemic unemployment was affecting their ability to hire, but they've seen no difference since the extra $600 a week in unemployment expired.
“I think our workforce challenges in New Hampshire are the same workforce challenges we’ve had for the last decade,” Van Ostern said. Many people don’t have access to affordable childcare, for example. In addition, Wash Street is now competing for employees with other companies that might offer the option of remote work.
Despite the challenges in finding hourly employees, the owners of Wash Street say that they have been lucky to grow during the pandemic.
“Unlike a lot of businesses, we didn’t have to pivot in quite the same way,” Simoes said. “We’ve been positioned to serve and thrive during this pandemic.
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.