Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Laundry Locker

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Laundry Locker
By Andrew Dudley - Published on June 16, 2011.
If you're like us, you hate -- HATE -- your local laundromat. (Out of discretion, we won't identify ours by name, but let's just say that if you ever find yourself standing in the worst room on earth, surrounded by the worst people on earth, congratulations: you're there.) Further, if you're like us, you've passed the Laundry Locker location at 566 Haight Street countless times and wondered, "What's that about? How do I get in there? Do I want to?" Well, the L.L. seemed more than ripe for an investigation. And we were happy to oblige. What follows is an extensive account of everything Laundry Locker -- what it is, how it works, how much it costs, where your clothes go, and what happens when they get there. Our journey takes us all the way to the remote hinterlands of Bayview, where we sneak a peek into the lair of labor behind the lockers. Join us, won't you?

First, here are the nuts and bolts (and washers! get it?) of how Laundry Locker's service works. You start your Laundry Locker experience by signing up for an account on their website. It's pretty fast, and pretty painless. Then, when you want to do laundry, or have items that need to be dry-cleaned, you just truck your load down to a Laundry Locker location. They have six kiosks like the one on Haight Street (five in San Francisco, one in Berkeley), but they also have standalone lockers in 600+ apartment buildings, convenience stores, and gyms all over the city. Since they're the first dry cleaner in SF actually open 24 hours, 7 days a week, the convenience factor is high. So, you swipe into the kiosk using a credit card that you've linked to your account. You find an open locker, and put your clothes in it.
You close the door and lock it, entering a 4-digit code of your choosing for security's sake. Then, you send a text message to Laundry Locker with your locker number, letting them know your laundry's ready to be picked up.
One of Laundry Locker's drivers swings by the location at least once a day to both pick up new laundry and drop off orders that have already been processed. The driver empties out your locker's bounty, bags it, tags it, scans it, and loads it into the van. It's then whisked off to the processing facility in Bayview. This is where the magic happens. First of all, if you're dropping off dry-cleaning, every single item of yours is tagged with a tiny barcode -- often pressed onto the underside of the hemline where no one will see it.
The garment is then laid out flat on a table, and a digital photo is taken of it. Yes, they take a digital photo of every item you have dry-cleaned. (Wash-and-fold items don't get this VIP treatment.) If the photos creep you out a little, relax. Their meant to give both the customer and Laundry Locker an inventory of all the items that were received, as well as document the exact condition they were received in -- just in case there are any disputes. Once the items are scanned, you (i.e. the customer) can do something pretty cool -- log into your account on Laundry Locker's website, and you can see the photo of each individual item.
You can then add notes, like, "Please wash these pants in cold water," or, "There a stain on the left sleeve -- get at it!" You can even mark the area of the article where a stain needs to be removed.
Laundry Locker will remove stains and replace buttons for free. Then, the items are washed and/or dry cleaned, according to your preferences. You can specify things like fragrance-free detergent, starch, and low-heat drying, though some of these features cost extra. The washing machines at Laundry Locker are pretty high-tech and eco-friendly. Most high-volume washing machines use a solvent to remove the dirt and oil from your clothes, and that solvent is discarded after every use, which is not so great for the environment. Laundry Locker's machines use a silicon-based solvent which gets filtered after each cycle, meaning 85% of the solvent is re-used each week. These machines don't come cheap though -- this one here cost over $100,000, which is at least ten times the cost of the traditional kind.
Meanwhile, the dry-cleaning is (depending on your preferences) subjected to any number of garment-specific machines that look like torture devices. Rest assured, the only things they torture are wrinkles!
Laundry Locker offers labor-intensive services like spot treatments and hand-pressing of garments. Their rep Chris Moreno, who toured us around the facility, says they lose money on the services that require the most individual attention, but it's usually balanced out by the overall order. So, you could say, it's a wash. BOOM. They've got large dryers for commercial orders -- sports clubs, hotels, etc -- in which several mesh bags of laundry from different customers will be dried at the same time. And then there are smaller dryers for individual customers. The one-order-per-dryer ratio lets each customer specify items like drying temperature and fabric softener preferences -- something many other laundry services don't provide. OK, so now your laundry is finished. If it's wash-and-fold, it's folded at a folding station, and similar items (like, say, all your t-shirts) are grouped together, stacked, and wrapped in cellophane. If it's dry-cleaning, something even more magical happens. First, the items are hung on a conveyor belt and scanned again.
With many orders being processed at any given time, the conveyor belt carries a mix of lots of customers' garments. But thanks to some proprietary computer software, your clothes are automatically filtered from the conveyor belt, grouped together, and spit out to the side in clusters of five. An employee then double-checks them and bags them up (using eco-friendly compostable dry-cleaning bags, of course), scans them, and sets them aside to be put on the van for delivery.
Look, we consider ourselves pretty tech-savvy (surely you've noticed our rudimentary grasp of Wordpress, no?), but watching this stuff in action was just a little bit nerdtastic, even for us. OK, so then the driver fills up a Laundry Locker van with bags of laundry, in an order correlating to the order of stops along the route -- all very efficient-like.
Finally, the driver drops off your laundry, stowing it in an open locker at the same facility where you dropped it off. You receive a text message and an email confirming that your laundry is available, and indicating which locker contains your items, along with a 4-digit code you can use to access it. You swing by, swipe in, enter the code, and boom -- there are your clean clothes, wrapped up snug in a shiny bag, ready to be taken home.

So, that's the journey of your clothing. But how does it feel for a customer? And is it worth the price? To find out, we did two test-orders of Laundry Lockers services -- one wash-and-fold, and one dry cleaning. For the wash-and-fold, we gave them a humongous order -- maybe three or four weeks' worth of laundry. (Don't judge.) It completely filled the locker we selected, which is no small feat.
Laundry Locker doesn't explicitly guarantee next-day service, but Moreno tells us that 99% percent of their customers receive their laundry back the following day. Unfortunately, we ended up in that unlucky other 1%. To be fair, it sounds as though the hiccup occurred when the folks at Laundry Locker issued us a credit to try their service, and in doing so inadvertently froze our account. It's a glitch that the average customer wouldn't encounter, to be sure -- but still, it stretched our next-day service into next week. That having been said, once the issue was brought to Laundry Locker's attention, they pounced. No fewer than three customer service reps were on the case, and within an hour the issue had been rectified. We had our clothes, pristinely laundered and wrapped, the next morning. Lemons were officially lemonadified. And how much did it cost, you wonder? Well, Laundry Locker charges by the pound. $1.49 per pound, specifically. If you're a more frequent user, you can sign up for monthly plans which effectively bring this number down, but being new customers, we were sans-plan. So, our massive, 37-pound order cost a total of $55.13. (That's not including those extra goodies like special detergent and temperature requests, which would add a few bucks to the bill). Is this a good deal for you? Depends. If you're like us -- meaning you don't have laundry in your building, and you consider your free time to be valuable, and your local laundromat is a fluorescently-lit hellscape full of brokedown Nazi-era machines and unhinged launderthieves who would probably push you into traffic if you touched their favorite cart -- then yes, it's a good deal. But, different strokes. As for the dry-cleaning, we did a test order with a suit, two shirts, and two blazers. This time, there were zero hiccups. Everything went smoothly, and our order was ready to be picked up the day after drop-off. Shirts cost $1.99, pants were $5.79, and the jackets cost $8.29 each. Pretty much in line with what we've experienced at other dry cleaners, and with the added flexibility of letting us pick up and drop off 24 hours a day. Plus, those freebies like stain removal and button replacement. A pretty good deal, we think.
One thing that struck us about Laundry Locker is that, despite the faceless storefront and the technology behind the service, it's actually a very human company. They're local, serving just San Francisco and Berkeley, and currently have just 33 employees. They also shared some fairly extraordinary customer service stories with us, like how they once found a passport and plane tickets to Europe in the pocket of a suit jacket, then got them to the customer the morning of their flight from SFO. Just some positive P.R. spin? Possibly. But based on the rapid response they had to our little wash-and-fold snag, we're inclined to believe 'em. So, that's Laundry Locker for ya. Is it worth hanging your local laundromat, dry-cleaners, or fluff-and-fold service out to dry for? Will you tumble for it? Should you give it a spin? A pressing decision, no doubt, but it's yours to make. We just hope we've ironed out some of the mystery for you. (Sorry.)