Online laundry sector booming despite obvious challenges

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The desire for laundry services that are hassle free is on the rise.

Clean and tidy. (Image via Washmen)

Seizing their chance, UAE startups like Washmen, who have just closed a $400,000 investment round, are addressing this issue. Launched in Abu Dhabi in September 2015, the startup is one of Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi’s first graduate batch.

A mobile-based laundry service Washmen enables its customers to schedule a time for their laundry, with a 30-minute window period, and to have them ready by the following day.

They work with the most prominent laundry businesses in the country “to guarantee careful handling of user’s clothes in the best facilities of the UAE,” cofounder and CEO Ramy Shaar told wamda.

As soon as items are delivered fees are deducted from the user’s credit card and a receipt is sent via email. “Our biggest competitor is the laundry machine in your house,” Shaar said. “This is why our crew handled the challenge by creating an affordable pricing model that makes it possible for you to send all your clothes and house equipments to [us].”

Indeed, according Shaar, the app has succeeded in having 90 percent of its customers return in just one month.

Launched in May 2013, LaundryBox is the first modern laundry service in the UAE.

Ramy Shaar during Flat6labs Abu Dhabi’s first
graduation ceremony. (Image via Pamela Kesrouani)

The service, currently installed in 75 buildings across Dubai, depends on automated smart lockers where users can easily drop off and pick up their laundry.

It currently serves 7,000 customers, according to founder Bader Al Kalooti.

The customer creates an account on the platform’s app or website, and chooses his preferred services (washing, ironing, dry cleaning) and then drops the clothes at the automated storage areas. He is notified later of the receiving of his clothes and told the date of delivery through a message or a phone call.

After payment is delivered online through the app or through cash on delivery, the clothes can be picked up by the next day, with no personal interactions by employees whatsoever. Perhaps what distinguishes Laundrybox is the presence of its own warehouses and storage facilities.   

Another cleaning service is Getlaundry, launched in April 2015. According to the startup's adviser Pawel Iwanow, the process requires “three simple steps: download, register, order.”

Rising through the piles of laundry debris. 
(Image via Laudrybox)

A service that offers round-the-clock washing, ironing, dry cleaning and tidying of clothes, GetLaundry operates in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Shariqa. Because of their partnerships with laundry services in these areas, Iwanow is sure that they “will no doubt be able to offer their services in central UAE”.

Six months ago, washplus was launched after founder Halim Boumadini’s numerous distasteful experience with traditional laundries. Unlike in other similar services, users order via the app and have their items picked up and then dutifully delivered within 48-hours.

Perhaps what distinguishes this app is users’ ability to track the progress of the service as their clothes are being handled. Indeed, Boumadini’s goal is to “wash clothes the right way”, in a way befitting the city’s quick-paced attempts at becoming a smart city.

A journey littered with challenges

All four entrepreneurs consider themselves as part of a huge market in the UAE, with plenty of opportunities available for their ventures. As for having competition, it can only be beneficial as it introduces larger segments of the public to the concept of tech-oriented services.

However, challenges are tough and not to be taken lightly, if one is to expand and achieve sustainability.

Getlaundry team. (Image via Getlaundry)

Keeping the customers happy

To Al Kalooti, the laundry sector is a tough nut to crack as “everybody hates the laundry man”, who often has to deal with the customer’s displeasure at having their clothes mishandled. “It’s important to educate users and communicate with them on the different requirements of this service, so they can be serviced better,” he noted.

For Shaar, home delivery plays a crucial part in customers’ satisfaction. “A lot of startups offer pickup and delivery services from home, yet find it difficult to keep their word because of logistical challenges, especially in case you have high demand,”  he said. “We developed algorithms for routing optimizations at Washmen, because we take delays very seriously.”

High quality

While founders may disagree on the best way to achieve good quality they do agree on its importance.

While Al Kalooti considers owning laundry facilities to be crucial in achieving quality, many new players in the field prefer to outsource their services. “Because we have our own facilities, we can cater to customer’s preferences and hence quality, in order to deliver good services with affordable prices,” he said. “Because quality is what matters most.”

Iwanow from GetLaundry agrees on the importance of quality for success. GetLaundry, he says, follows a strict protocol to guarantee high standards, thanks to its partnerships with the best laundries, as well as training drivers and customer service personnel on dealing with customers.

Washplus’ Boumadini believes that managing a customer’s expectations is key to success, along with good quality, of course. “There’s no point in offering bad quality and a fast laundry service, or vice versa. Quality remains our priority.”

Washmen at work. (Image via Washmen)

A specific system to managing your operations

“Managing your operations is no doubt the key to a better customer experience, from the app ordering to delivering clean well-kept clothes,” said Boumadini. “I believe that providing high-quality services is what makes teh difference between companies.”

Yet Al Kalooti sees a challenge in this. “The more you expand your operations, the more difficult maintaining quality becomes,” he said. “Especially because laundry requires a large space with a big team and gigantic logistics to guarantee speedy delivery of a customer’s order.”

Shaar agrees. In his opinion, startups who own a complete supply chain, from pickup to delivery, have more sales' volumes and therefore can impose higher prices.

The ability to finish operations with minimum hassle while managing quality all throughout the process gives Washmen a competitive edge, while simultaneously satisfying customers, he said. He added that washmen's sole reliance on the app "allows the company to adopt a flexible pricing model, which is beneficial to customers, where prices are 30 to 50 percent less than those of other laundry companies in Dubai."

Constant improvement in technology 

Tech is at the core of these startups. For Shaar the aim is constant improvement until they reach a one-hour delivery status. This would allow Washmen to be more cost-efficient. Iwanow was keen to add that the founders' tech experience of more than 10 years in the digital sector has helped them develop the right platform for customers.

Boumadini reminded us of other problems that he said should not be disregarded. E-payment, lack of talent, lack of delivery infrastructure, road traffic at rush hour and local investors, all still exist.

However, what can be sure is that this is not a temporary trend, but a reality based on growing market need. "This is only the beginning," says Al Kalooti. "People will order more and more of these kinds of services. This is a long-term trend that will change the industry."

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