While Americans were recovering from their self-induced food comas Sunday, Swedish company Electrolux announced some intriguing news: It’s testing an "Uber for laundry" service. This means that idle washing machines and dryers could be transformed into money-makers for their owners—a big deal considering that more than 65% of Americans who live below the poverty line have a washer and dryer at home.
Originally reported in The Financial Times, CEO Jonas Samuelson said, "We have a few fun ideas we are testing, like: how about a laundry Uber, where people share their unused laundry time? But there are enormous complexities such as what happens if the clothes come out and are ruined?"
Samuelson has a point. There are many hurdles that shared laundry startups face, like, shrunken clothes, competitive pricing, delayed delivery times and the dreaded missing sock. Washio, an app that offered laundry pickup and dropoff (often described as "Uber for laundry"), launched with much fanfare in 2013, but shuttered earlier this year. And similarly structured Prim closed shop two years ago. Comparable companies still holding on include FlyCleaners, Laundry Locker, Rinse, Sudzee, Bizzie Box, Cleanly, DRYV, Wash Cycle and Wash Club—so competition is as stiff as a freshly starched shirt.
Electrolux, which spent nearly $9.5 million in advertising last year, is expanding beyond simple manufacturing. Samuelson said he wants to make the company’s appliances smarter. Electrolux already produces an oven that snaps pictures of food and sends it to consumers’ smartphones, eliminating the need to check if it’s done. Imagine what Electrolux can do if it makes a smart washer and dryer that will alert consumers when their favorite red shirt begins to bleed on their partner’s crisp, white pants. What’s even better is consumers could potentially rent that expensive washer/dryer from their neighbor who does all the hard work—even folding a fitted sheet—for them.
Not surprisingly, the FT interview touched off a minor flurry in the media, with The Marketplace Morning Report, MSN Money and The Memo covering the proposal. "Electrolux developing ‘smart’ washing machines that will enable neighbours to rent them out," read a Daily Mail headline.
But Electrolux Head of Media Relations Daniel Frykholm, contacted for further information, quickly threw cold water on the idea. "One shouldn’t really interpret Jonas’s comments as Electrolux having a product or solution like this in the pipeline," he said via email. The shared service laundry experiment is "an example of the concepts we're looking at but not something we can predict with any certainty that it will be launched."
That denial would seem to contradict Samuelson, whose comments to the FT indicated the company had clearly moved beyond the brainstorming stage. "You would need intelligent communication in the machines, he said, further elaborating on the idea.
Competitors, however, have been warned. Goliath-sized Electrolux is testing a model to take on the Davids. Whether it chooses to launch its "laundry Uber" is anyone’s guess.