Service firms cleaning up at colleges

KRT NEWSFEATURES By Rob Kaiser Chicago Tribune (KRT) CHICAGO _ Alejandro Guzman’s laundry service woke him on a recent Wednesday just before 10 a.m. Groggy, unshaven and wearing shorts and plastic sandals with socks, the Northwestern University freshman made his way down from his third-floor room to open the dormitory’s front door. There Guzman was handed a neatly pressed button-down shirt from Banana Republic and other clean clothing, all of which had been folded, wrapped in a large plastic bundle and placed in a bright purple bag. The service, Guzman said, relieved one of his biggest concerns about going to college. “I’ve never done laundry in my life,” noted Guzman, a native of El Salvador. Similar laundry services have popped up at many colleges, serving students with excess cash who don’t want to battle for time on their dorms’ coin-operated laundry machines. The services cater to children of upper class, often East Coast families who are willing to pay $15 to $20 a week to have somebody pick up and deliver their laundry and dry cleaning. The service at Northwestern, called CollegeButler, was started in September and now boasts about 100 customers. Founder Mindy Budgor said she is planning to branch out with a cleaning service to tidy up messy dorm rooms and a textbook delivery service so students don’t have to stand in long lines at the campus bookstore. Budgor said her company will do “anything to create time in college students’ lives.” Apparently, many parents feel their children need more free time. “My mom is really happy about it,” said Alexandra Sinderbrand, a Northwestern freshman from New Jersey, who signed up for a 20-pound laundry plan, which is equivalent to two large loads weekly. Budgor recruited customers by setting up a table at the Hilton Garden Inn Evanston during Northwestern’s parents weekend in November. “Kids don’t really want to pay for anything,” Budgor said. “The parents are the ones that get the credit card out.” After Vickie Kane’s son bleached a pair of jeans and ducked her questions about how often he washes his sheets, she told him to find a laundry service in Evanston. “It’s more for my comfort zone than his,” said Kane, who lives in Miami. “With what we’re paying for tuition, this extra money isn’t going to break us.” Owners of these businesses said the service works best on campuses that attract students from wealthy families and are outside of cities, where Laundromats aren’t as common. The students complain that their dorms don’t have enough washing machines, particularly during busy stretches. “On Sunday afternoon, you can’t get in to use it,” said Will Schwarz, a freshman from New York City. The students, many of whom are laundry novices, also fret about damaging their expensive threads. Freshman Jim Goldberg, wearing a Gucci knit cap, said he uses the service to wash his fashionably faded, $80 Mavi jeans and other clothing. Dana Foley, a freshman from Tampa, uses CollegeButler to wash her $80 sweaters and $200 Laundry by Shelli Segal dress she wears to formal parties. “You just don’t want to throw it in a washing machine and ruin it,” she said. The laundry services offer plans for 10 pounds, 15 pounds and 20 pounds weekly, which are comparable to two small, medium or large loads. CollegeButler, for example, charges $205 to get its 15-pound plan for an 11-week term at Northwestern. Kazanjian, who also operates a storage business for students, said parents now call him to help with other tasks. His company will take down lofts, sometimes “while two healthy 19-year-old guys are watching,” he noted. Some parents call Kazanjian to help move their daughters from one room in a sorority house to another room in the same building. Kazanjian tells them he can send over a couple of guys, but it will cost $75 an hour for a minimum of two hours. “They just give you their credit card number and say take whatever you think is fair,” Kazanjian said. “Those are good people to do business with.” At the University of Michigan, Kazanjian estimates that many parents of out-of-state students budget $35,000 to $50,000 annually to cover tuition, living expenses and other items. “If their parents are dishing out that much a year for them, there’s a lot of discretionary spending there,” Kazanjian said. That was clear recently when Joanna Koson, manager of the CollegeButler service, picked up freshman Eric Gold’s laundry. When Koson asked him what time Friday his cleaned clothes should be delivered, Gold said, “Anytime. I don’t have any classes on Fridays.” ___ ‘copy 2003, Chicago Tribune. Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.