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The butler service that lightens the load

Italian expat Alex Benincà tells The Local about how the frustrations of Zurich’s dry-cleaning services led to a business idea over the breakfast table, that is tailored to meet its customers time-saving needs.

The butler service that lightens the load
Cosmobutler

It was while preparing for another long day in the office with his wardrobe of bespoke shirts in tatters that Alex Benincà put his business mind to work.

The former management consultant, who originally hails from northern Italy, found the laundry services of Zurich just didn’t wash with him. And over breakfast one day he and his room mate Alexandra decided they could do better.

The result was Cosmobutler, a service that started with the concept that laundry shouldn’t have to be a chore. 

“Like many other people, time was an issue for me,” he says. “I worked long hours and when I got home I had other chores to do.”

In a job where a suit and tie is standard uniform, he found getting his dry cleaning fixed simply led to frustration, due to inconvenient opening hours and garments being returned in poor shape.

“My shirts were being systematically destroyed,” he adds. “What I wanted was a simple service with 24-7 opening hours. Just like ordering a pizza.”

So Benincà and co-founder Alexandra Gastpar aimed to fill the gap by setting up Cosmobutler in 2011, which began as an online laundry delivery and pick up service for shirts and blouses. 

“Demand was high and I thought the typical customer would be someone like myself – an expat with too little time.”

But requests soon came flooding in from locals, families and pensioners alike and the company now caters for both private and corporate clients.

“Our oldest customer is 87 years old,” Benincà says. And he knows because he has sampled every part of the business, from sourcing ironing specialists to life as a Cosmobutler, out on the road as a delivery and pick up courier.

“By pure chance I even got to meet Zurich’s Eufemia Stadler, a Guinness world record holder in ironing,” Benincà adds. “She gave me some valuable input on what to look for.”

Customers come back to Cosmobutler at a return rate of 90 percent and their feedback provided Benincà with the idea to expand the service to include shoe care and repairs.

Convenience is key with daily pick-up and delivery available until 10pm and a round the clock online ordering service. Free pick up and delivery is available on your first order.

“I don’t see myself in the dry-cleaning business,” he says. “ I’m in the time-saving business.“

Yet, with plans for national and European expansion, Benincà still has precious little time on his hands.  A partnership with Swiss Federal Railways, SBB, means that Cosmobutler will be rolled out across the country by spring 2014.

And branching into other European counties is set to follow suit. “Say you go to London for a week, we’ll be happy to do your laundry from wherever you are,” he explains.

As Benincà invests all his energies into a business set up to allow people like to him enjoy more of their spare time, he admits the Cosmobutler service is one he personally can’t live without.

Article sponsored by Cosmobutler

ZURICH

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

A deadly virus has swept through Zurich's zoo, killing three Asian elephants in a month. Experts are stumped about the virus and don't know how to stop its spread.

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

The zoo overlooking Switzerland’s largest city now has only five of the majestic creatures roaming its 11,000-square-metre (118,400-square-foot) elephant enclosure.

Two-year-old bull Umesh was the first to fall victim to the Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) at the end of June, followed just days later by his eight-year-old sister Omysha.

Last Saturday, Ruwani, a five-year-old female from a second matriarchal herd also died.

They succumbed at lightning speed to the herpesvirus, which leaves young Asian elephants with internal bleeding and organ failure.

In captivity, this virus is “the main cause of death for elephants between two and eight years”, zoo curator Pascal Marty told AFP.

The virus has also been known to kill elephants in the wild, he said, but “it’s a bit harder to detect”.

Last goodbye

The herpesvirus lies latent in nearly all elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, but can in some cases suddenly become deadly, killing its victims in a matter of days.

“We still don’t know why it happens and when it happens,” Marty said.

The zoo’s five remaining Asian elephants — all adults — were permitted to spend a few hours gathered around the remains of their young family members and companions.

Marty said it was important to give the animals “enough time (to) say farewell”. “It’s very hard to say whether or not they are sad, because sadness is something human,” he said.

But he stressed that since elephants are highly social animals, it is vital that they have a chance to realise when a member of their herd is no longer alive.

“It is very important for them to have closure to understand this individual is not part of our group anymore.”

Less than a week after the latest death, the giant mammals appear to be going nonchalantly about their daily activities, from swimming in a large pond to searching for food.

They slip their trunks into holes, where a computer programme randomly distributes carrots and dried grass, aiming to make the animals walk and search for food as in the wild. 

Stress 

“It is kind of sad, especially because here in Zurich I think the elephants do have enough space,” said frequent visitor Mauro Muller, 29. Zurich zoo opened its new elephant enclosure in 2014, providing its herds six times more space than they had previously.

But eight years on, the zoo acknowledged it was going through “difficult days”.

“It is particularly frustrating that we are powerless against this virus, despite the best veterinary care through the university animal hospital in Zurich,” zoo director Severin Dressen said in a statement.

There is no vaccine, and while antivirals exist, they are not very efficient and even when elephants are treated quickly, only about a third of them survive.

“The epidemiology of the disease is still not clear,” said Bhaskar Choudhury, a veterinarian and member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Elephant Specialist Group.

“The virus is shed intermittently by adults but with increasing frequency during stress periods, which is thought to be the source of infection for young calves,” he told AFP.

“IUCN is highly concerned with the mortality worldwide in captivity and more so in the wild.”

‘Ambassadors’ 

Asian elephants, which can live up to around 60 years old, are listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, with only about 50,000 left in the wild. Deforestation, urban sprawl and agricultural development have robbed them of their natural habitat, while poaching and the illegal ivory trade also threaten many herds.

“The populations are declining almost everywhere,” Marty said, adding that for conservation reasons, “it is also really important to have good and healthy populations of Asian elephants in Europe”.

Zurich zoo, he said, has one of the world’s most modern elephant enclosures, and is intent on continuing with its mission to breed them.

He described the elephants in the park as “partners” in educating people about the problems wild elephants face. “Elephants here at the zoo have an important role as ambassadors for their own species,” he said.

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