Sorting solved

It started as a classroom assignment: start your own business with $40 and run it for three days.

The result: Wake Wash, launched by seniors Scott Graber, Julie Musgrave and Eleanor Smith, has lasted far more than three days and has liberated fellow students from late-night laundry room duty.

“We had the idea for this service because we didn’t want to do our own laundry and figured other students probably felt the same way,” says Musgrave, who is from Severna Park, Md.

After doing the initial marketing research and planning under the guidance of Bren Varner (’99), program director of the University Center for Entrepreneurship, the company launched with 15 student customers. Today, Wake Wash has 76 student customers who pay a flat fee for weekly or bimonthly service.

Every Tuesday morning, independent student contractors hired by Wake Wash pick up laundry bags outside dorm rooms across campus. The laundry is then taken to Salem Dry Cleaners near campus where it is washed, dried and folded, and then returned to students on Thursdays.

“Wake Wash is an amazing business that has grown tremendously,” says Varner, who gave Graber and Musgrave the initial assignment in his Foundations for Entrepreneurship course. Smith, Musgrave’s roommate, got excited and joined in the project. “They found an opportunity and their personalities, persistence and creativity has made the business a success,” Varner says.

Their business sounds pretty straight forward, but it requires constant attention — financial planning; advertising and marketing; responding to e-mails and inquiries; and handling customer complaints. “We’ve learned a lot about our individual strengths and weaknesses. At weekly meetings we review problems from the past week and brainstorm ways to prevent them in the future,” says Graber, who is from Milwaukee, Wis.

One recent issue — customers calling to say their laundry wasn’t picked up. The business partners decided to solve this one with sticky notes. If a student contractor stops by to pick up a customer’s bag and the bag isn’t by the door, they leave a note to let the customer know they have been by. This way, customers know they’ve missed the pickup.

“The best part of running a business is finding out what works,” says Graber. “It’s similar to a crossword puzzle. Sometimes you find an operation that fits perfectly, but if it doesn’t work with other aspects of the business you need to rethink the solution.”

“We have our moments when we disagree,” adds Smith, who is from Houston, Texas. “But we’ve all learned to express our opinions while listening to one another. And the listening is really the most important part.”

All three entrepreneurs agree that running Wake Wash brings life to what they studied in the classroom. And now, with all three preparing to graduate in May, they are working together to decide what will happen to the company next year.

“Although group projects can simulate ‘real world’ teamwork, nothing compares with learning to make compromises when several thousand dollar decisions are at stake or when long-term plans for the business must be agreed upon,” says Musgrave. “The good news is, that with three of us, there is never a tie vote.”

Wake Wash Entrepreneurs

Scott Graber (’10)
Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Major: Political Science
Minor: Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise

Julie Musgrave (’10)
Hometown: Severna Park, Maryland
Major: Finance
Minor: Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise

Eleanor Smith (’10)
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Majors: Economics and art history

Wake Wash Strategic Partners

Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts
New venture seed grants and mentoring: Professor Bren Varner and John Ceneviva

Schools of Business (Accountancy)
Tax filing assistance: Associate Professor Yvonne Hinson and 5th year accounting program

Community Law and Business Clinic
Reorganization from general partnership to LLC: Professor Steve Virgil

Residence Life and Housing

Logo designer:

Claire Altizer (’09)

Web site developer:

Tim Griesser (’10)

Categories: For Alumni, For Parents, Student, Students Taking the Lead, Wake Forest College