Dry-cleaner’s delivery-drone gimmick carries marketing clout

 Harry Vartanian, owner of Manayunk Cleaners, hooks a shirt onto a drone, operated by his friend Joe Munoz. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Harry Vartanian, owner of Manayunk Cleaners, hooks a shirt onto a drone, operated by his friend Joe Munoz. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

On a cloudy Wednesday morning, a small, white drone buzzes just above Harry Vartanian’s head. In his hands is a dry-cleaned T-shirt on a hanger that’s about to go for a little ride. 

“This is definitely the future of delivery methods,” says Vartanian before the remote-controlled craft sails over a building on Main Street in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood, a shirt flapping in the breeze.

At the end of the month, Vartanian, who co-owns Manayunk Cleaners, will start randomly selecting a customer each month to receive his or her dry-cleaning via drone.

With just one drone to the shop’s name and just one friend who can fly it, you’re not likely to see a fleet of drones flying around the neighborhood anytime soon. But Vartanian does think the high-tech, high-flying service is a good way to spice up a traditionally boring business.

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“It’s kind of more like an event,” he says.

Joe Munoz, Vartanian’s friend, will be in charge of steering the drone when it’s time to make a delivery, which can include up to three pounds of clothing — the weight of about four or five shirts.

The helicopter-like device can travel about two miles.

Munoz says the delivery service is a great way to advertise, and also to introduce the public to a concept he thinks will become more commonplace.

“There’s going to be a little bit of an obstacle of people accepting it at the beginning, just like when the first buggy showed up,” Munoz said.

Pedestrians on Main Street have definitely taken notice of Vartanian’s test flights.

Lorraine Knudson, who lives just outside of the city, was strolling down Main Street when her eye caught the drone and the sea green shirt dangling below.

“It’s great,” says Knudson. “It’s just kind of a shock factor — somebody bringing your dry cleaning by drone — raise a lot of eye brows. I think it’d be fun.”

Bruce Cook, who’s been renovating a storefront gallery not far from Vartanian’s shop, agrees with Knudson on one thing: The concept is fun. But he says it’s also impractical beyond advertising.

“It couldn’t carry much. Plus if it’s raining or windy it just couldn’t possibly work,” says Cook.

For now, he’ll stick with picking up his dry cleaning in person.

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