What could be more on demand and in demand than laundry in the UAE? Now a number of new online businesses are working to disrupt the traditional shopfront industry by offering customers business models that play to their needs.
Washmen is among the new crop of online laundries. Founded in 2015, its co-founder and chief executive Rami Shaar says an online-only business means it can charge less for cleaning.
“Sixty per cent of the volume in any laundry is shirts,” says the 28-year-old Palestinian-Canadian entrepreneur. “We charge Dh9; if I was a conventional laundry I would be charging double to maintain the same premium quality service.
“The beauty of the business is it’s quite lean; we try to offer the best possible quality at the lowest possible price point.”
An early entry into the market was Laundrybox. Founded in 2013, it proved so popular as an app-based cleaning service that it has expanded into Mybox, which also provides shoe and device repairs, tailoring and alteration.
The premise is based around lockers. You set up your order online or on the app and a locker password is assigned to you – the locker is then yours for the duration of that service cycle. Drop off your laundry, or phone, or shoes, and pick it up from the same locker – the very next day in the case of laundry.
“The entire value chain is automated,” says co-founder Bader Al Kalooti. “As an investment banker in a previous life, I always needed a fresh shirt and suit. I had a hectic schedule and travelled a lot. There were a lot of pain points, particularly meeting and coordinating with the delivery guy. The locker is 24/7 and eliminates the need to interact.”
There are 85 Mybox lockers across Dubai, from Downtown to the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Lakes Towers and DIFC, all in high-rise residential buildings. Later, Kuwaiti Mr Al Kalooti, 34, plans to put lockers in university dormitories, commercial buildings and villa compounds too.
To control quality, he set up his own laundromat facility with 15 drivers and cars. A shirt costs Dh11 to dry clean or launder and Dh6 to press, while a two-piece suit costs Dh39 or Dh25 for the same services.
Other services are outsourced; shoe repair costs from Dh30 and trouser alteration from Dh45.
Mr Al Kalooti and his partner brother, who joined the business almost two years ago, plan to add package delivery and a “micro” storage facility for spare clothes to the mix soon. They have 12,000 registered users and have taken 175,000 orders since launch.
With Washmen’s app, you schedule a 30-minute pickup and drop-off any time between 9am-11.30pm, seven days a week. Turnaround is 48 hours, with a 50 per cent surcharge for a next-day delivery.
Unlike Laundrybox, Washmen also outsources its laundry to a secret, “super-automated” laundromat, one of the largest in the world, which handles 3,000 items a day for them.
“We spend quite a lot of money to acquire customers – what’s the point if we can’t retain them?” he says.
The business leases its vans and employs its own drivers and Mr Shaar, also a former banker, says the other benefit of an online-only laundry is cheap, targeted marketing to customers.
The newest service Washmen offers is an all-you-can-wash service for Dh79. Items are folded but not pressed. Customers are invited to stuff as much as they can into the bag; “one put 112 items in”, says Mr Shaar.
Issam Maakabry launched The Laundry Clubs in Abu Dhabi in January, having built his career in the hotel industry.
With the help of a silent partner, he has sunk Dh1.8 million into buying washing and dry cleaning machines in a 650 square metre facility which can cater for 4,000 clients.
It is a traditional pickup service but you can email or WhatsApp your orders. The business works on a membership model: Dh350 per person per month to wash and press clothes to “hotel standard” and an extra Dh100 for bedding and towels. For that you can send in unlimited items over the month for a 48-hour turnaround.
Syrian Mr Maakabry, 29, has signed up more than 600 members in just two months. “We provide a hotel luxury touch,” he says, “with even a special perfumed smell.”
Washmen has received $400,000 in seed funding plus an undisclosed, seven-figure sum recently, while Mybox has had $2.7m in investment.
But as Mr Shaar of Washmen says, it was an industry in need of disruption.
“As real estate prices keep going up, laundries cannot just keep passing the costs on to customers,” he says.
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