Is a marketplace enough to penetrate UAE’s laundry services?

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A woman gazes at her new purchase. ‘Lucky me’, a 1959 advert for washing machines says.

And indeed lucky her. Rather than time spent hand washing she can now save time. ‘Everything’s under control: cost, quality and time’ reads another.

Fast forward to 2017 and you will find people cursing the same machine for the exact same reason it was blessed back in the 1950s: time.

Everyone still needs their clothes washed, but not everyone has the time or patience to do it themselves. So what are our options?

Yes, lucky her. (Image via Photobucket.com)

Three ways to launder

There are three models of laundry delivery services in the UAE.

First there is the one-stop-shop: the company takes care of everything from A to Z, operates an on demand delivery service, and is responsible for the laundering process.

An example of this model is
Laundry Box, which was launched in late 2015 and has pivoted into Mybox.net, extending its work to include device repair and package delivery.

The second model is limited to technology and delivery, leaving the laundering to partners. Washmen.com and Washplus.ae are good examples.

Finally there is the online marketplace. Vendors hosted on the platform are responsible for the delivery and laundering. Getlaundry is the example.

On demand services vs. a marketplace

Getlaundry started as an on-demand laundry service in 2015 but a year and a half later, the founders realized the drawbacks and pivoted into an online marketplace.

“In 2015 there was a little bit of a rush for Uber of everything,” said Pawel Iwanow, the startup’s founding venture partner, talking about the role of on demand services in disrupting traditional business.

The problem now was that on-demand services had a negative margin of scale, because there were only a limited number of vendors to partner with, taking into consideration limited resources and infrastructure such as employees and delivery cars.

A lack of choice and transparency conjured by an on-demand laundry service was a problem, Iwanow said.

Washplus founder Halim Boumadani believes customers don’t really care to choose. “There’s nothing sexy about the laundry, I understand restaurant marketplaces are successful, because of the possible enjoyable experience the user might get, but laundry services are all similar to people,” he told Wamda.

The Getlaundry app. (Image via Getlaundry)

While Boumadani admits that managing a marketplace lets the company be free from a direct obligation towards the end customers, it puts a huge portion of the business in the hands of many vendors, which makes quality more susceptible to inconsistencies.

SaaS for laundry

Of course the online marketplace is only part of Getlaundry’s offering. They now have laundry management software on offer. International examples include Linentech.net.

Vendors using on-demand services are generally doing so in order to save themselves from the hassle of delivery and in turn get more customers. But what if rather than outsourcing their delivery, they are equipped with the right tools to operate it in house?

The possibility prompted Iwanow and his partner to start selling a cloud management software specified to launderers’ needs, focusing on areas of order management, payment, account management, delivery, logistics, and inventories.

“Most of our suppliers lacked an online delivery service and used legacy management systems,” Iwanow says. They are now working with over 100 clients and over 8,000 users in the UAE.

They scaled to Southeast Asia (notably the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand) in October 2016, where they now have over 90 clients and about 1,000 users.

The laundry industry in UAE is expected to witness a spike in response to Expo 2020. A boost in the hospitality sector in Dubai alone will see up to 160,000 hotel rooms in use  - a boon for the laundry industry.

However, with startups working more with individual consumers, the growth spurt might not be to their benefit. Tapping into large consumers like hotels and banks is very difficult, say Iwanow, but a B2B model is within Getlaundry’s reach when it comes to smaller businesses like gyms and spas.

Feature image via Wikimedia Commons.

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