Packing apps: virtual valets that sort, clean and ship clothes for busy travellers

A few taps of a smartphone screen is all it takes to outsource the drudgery of transporting the corporate jet-setter’s work attire to the places he or she needs. Your closet becomes the app on your phone

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 March, 2016, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 11:00am

When you’re travelling for business, picking, packing and toting your clothes may at times feel like a second job. But a host of apps are trying to make life on the road a bit easier.

From online valets to services that essentially offer laundry to-go, corporate trekkers can digitally outsource much of the drudgery around their work attire.

READ MORE: Hong Kong start-up finds space in wardrobe storage market for people on the go

“It’s about the ability to go on a trip ... and not worry about anything other than your business,” says Bill Rinehart, chief executive and founder of DUFL, a “virtual valet” that will sort, clean and ship your wardrobe to and from wherever you’re travelling for work.

Customers download the DUFL app, then fill a bag the company sends to their home or office with their business outfits. DUFL will clean, inventory and photograph all the items. Then, “from that day forward, your closet is the app on your phone”, Rinehart says.

Customers input their business destination, the hotel where they’re staying and the dates, and the suitcase arrives the same day they do.

At the end of your stay, you can drop your bag off at the front desk, where FedEx will pick it up and ship it back to the DUFL warehouse. There the clothing is cleaned and readied for your next trip.

The cost is US$9.95 per month plus a US$99 fee per trip, which covers shipping and cleaning. Since launching in May 2015, Rinehart says, thousands of customers have registered for the service, with the typical male client storing 50 items in his closet, and the typical woman having 150. Customers will sometimes order items from Amazon or a department store and have the items shipped right to DUFL.

“When you think about someone spending the vast majority of time on the road, it’s incredibly time-consuming and stressful,” he says.

Washio, which started in March 2013, has customers who use its services while travelling for work, as well as when they return home.

“While travelling for business, most hotel dry-cleaning services are very expensive,” says Washio CEO and founder Jordan Metzner in explaining the appeal of his service to business travellers.

Meanwhile, those heading out on a corporate trip can get their shirts boxed, for easy packing. And when faced with a suitcase full of dirty clothes upon their return, they can simply send the items off with Washio and they “have clean clothes to take on their next trip”, Metzner says.

Ben Gillenwater, chief executive of his own software company, initially built his PackPoint app for himself.

“I’ve been a business traveller for about eight years,” says Gillenwater, who is chief executive of his own software company. “I was always forgetting something ... like my passport, or my toiletries or even my dress shoes for work.”

Now PackPoint practically does the packing for him. The app tells users what they need to take depending on their destination and planned activities, right down to reminding them to take an umbrella because it’s likely to rain. And as you pack, you can check off each item within the app.

“You can tell it if you will have access to laundry and if you want to repeat basics, like wear a shirt more than once,” he says.

A paid version of the app, which costs US$2.99, can be customised – you can tell it, for instance, to never remind you to pack contact lenses since you don’t wear them. And if you have a TripIt account where you assemble all your travel arrangements, PackPoint will sync with it and automatically create packing lists based on your itineraries.

Stylebook, an app launched in October 2009, isn’t just for those honing their inner fashionista. The app, which has a one-time cost of US$3.99, is “perfect for business travellers”, says co-founder Jess Atkins, “because they can plan what to pack whenever they have a free moment”.

Users input pictures of their clothes and can utilise the app’s calendar to plan their outfits. The app also allows them to create a packing list and even post notes to remind themselves where they wore various ensembles.

“With airline baggage fees at an all-time high, suitcase space is precious, and Stylebook can help you bring only items that you need,” says Atkins.

Apps like these can be real time savers, some users say.

Debbe McCall, a business owner and patient advocate and researcher, uses DUFL one to four times a month. “I save hours not packing, not schlepping, not looking for overhead space, not wishing I had brought an extra outfit or pair of shoes,” says McCall. “And [when] I get home, I am really home, not almost home or home after I unpack, do laundry or run to the dry cleaners.

“Imagine walking through security and onto a plane with only a handbag, iPad, phone and meds,” she adds. “Travelling is fun again.”

Tribune News Service