The Indian urban space is filled with multi-storeyed buildings, apartment complexes, and townships. While most of these come with many amenities, yet the concept of laundromats has not taken off.
Many Indians still make a weekly or fortnightly trip to dry cleaners to drop off and pick up their dirty laundry. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic and the awareness surrounding the importance of hygiene has made people move to everything ‘contactless.’
While working in Mexico, ex-Bosch employee Srinivas Thali Ramakrishna used a laundry locker system at his apartment and realised that the same could be built for the Indian market. The laundry locker system sits in an apartment for the laundromat business owner to pick up on behalf of the customer and enables co-living spaces to offer convenience to their occupants.
“After returning to India in 2017, I met a couple of laundromats and explained them the concept of a laundry locker system in North America, and learned that the laundry industry in India does not have the concept of lockers and apps to serve the customer,” says Srinivas the Founder of dhobilocker.
Thus, Srinivas set on the journey to enable laundromats to expand its business with a laundry locker concept. In March 2019, he developed a SaaS platform called dhobilocker — a combination of digital lockers and a mobile app platform — that provides 24×7 laundry and dry cleaning service. The product is part of the parent company Invati Technologies.
The product: dhobilocker
With rising smart cities and ease of living across many Indian states, Srinivas believes domestic services will also become digital. The dhobilocker platform aims to solves for both laundromat owners and the end customers.
For the owners, the platform addresses two main pain points of expanding the business and the cost of optimising logistics. On the business front, the laundromat business involves high capex (real estate cost), as well as the on-time pick-up and delivery of washed clothes.
“First, we need to pick-up garments from the customer’s residence and travel back once the garment is ready for delivery. Most problems that we are solving for laundromats are the huge real estate cost involved in expanding their business. With our SaaS technology, they don’t have to expand to physical stores, but can easily expand by simply setting up of lockers in apartments, villas, hostels, co-living, co-working, PGs, malls, corporate offices, hospitals, and in all potential buildings,” Srinivas says.
Similarly, the end customers can also get their laundry easily done without waiting for the weekend to do it or going out in search of laundry stores.
The Indian laundry industry is a Rs 2,00,000 crore market and is the sixth-largest GDP contributor, Srinivas says. Of that, the organised sector is over Rs 5,000 crore, which has about 12 million online consumers.
At present, both unorganised and organised Indian laundromats are following the traditional doorstep pickup and delivery service. However, this method continues to backfire quite often as delivery boys fail to arrive at the scheduled time to carry out the task.
“The ecosystem is vast. Look at the laundry service provided to PGs, hostels, and co-living spaces (B2B). Currently, laundromats pickup only twice a week. But, this method is highly miserable for the sites as customers dump garments at the reception, and also have to wait once a week to avail a service,” the founder says.
dhobilocker’s hyper-local solution connects customers with thousands of neighbourhood laundromats or dhobis with unmanned virtual laundry stores (digital lockers) through its mobile app. A majority of the startup’s revenue comes from the commission it earns from laundromats for lead generation, as well as serving as an on-premise virtual store partner.
dhobilocker is a custom-designed digital locker, as well as a tailor-made mobile app for all living spaces that require laundromat services. According to Srinivas, here’s how one can avail the dhobilocker services in a few simple steps:
Step 1: Customers can drop off their garments in a locker owned by the startup and placed in the building premises.
Step 2: Post that, they can place the order on the dhobilocker app by choosing the required services.
Step 3: Upon receiving the request, the nearest laundry owner-partner collects the garments from the locker for cleaning purposes.
Step 4: After processing, the laundromat delivers it back to the same locker.
Step 5: To pick up the processed garments, customers can make the payment and get a new pin to unlock the locker to collect their cleaned laundry.
Started with an initial investment of Rs 25 lakh, Srinivas says he had to overcome many challenges to keep his startup going. His first challenge was to convince laundromat owners the idea of dhobilocker since most of them belonged to the unorganised sector. Further, the apartment association members were rigid about meeting startups.
“I first started it in my own apartment. I took permission from my apartment Royal Legend Apartment (Bommanahalli) Association to place a locker and they agreed. Then I contacted a nearby laundry service provider to use the dhobilocker platform for pickup and delivery of garments from customers. The deal with the dry cleaner was to do a revenue sharing with each order. It was a win-win for both because it was an easy acquisition of nearly 350 flats for the laundry service provider with zero investment,” Srinivas explains.
Later, the startup succeeded in getting permission for placing lockers at Vakil Whispering Woods in Chandapura, Bengaluru.
Milestones and future plans
At present, dhobilocker operates in several suburbs of Bengaluru, including Koramangala, Marathalli, Varthur Road, RR Nagar, BTM Layout, Bannerghatta, HSR Layout, and near Manyatha Tech Park.
It has also signed up with Colive, CoHo, Campus Student Connect, Grexter, OYOLife, Zolostays, Innov8, Smartworks, Prestige Property Management Services (PPMS), and multiple large size apartments.
In the next 18 months, the startup aims to expand into more urban living spaces in cities, including Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Coimbatore, Gurugram, and Delhi. At present, the startup has over 20 service partners and five reseller partners in five cities, and is going to launch its services in major metros. It is also planning to onboard a few hospitals as well.
The startup has been processing over 10,000 garments every month in Bengaluru alone. With a five-member team, dhobilocker generates Rs 15 lakh revenue per annum. And, by end of this year, it is aiming to implement over 200 lockers in Bengaluru, catering to a community of 50,000 customers.
After 15 months of hard work, a UK-based laundry company (name undisclosed) contacted dhobilocker and is launching a similar app in the country soon. The startup is now building a new version of the app to meet the regulatory requirements of the EU and the UK, such as PSI, GDPR, payment gateway, and other security aspects. Apart from the UK, it has a couple of projects lined up in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia.
It has onboarded reseller partners in these markets. It also has a strategic alliance with Washmaatic (STALH) to build a business ecosystem for local dhobis to upgrade them digitally and provide a livelihood.
By next year, Srinivas believes that dhobilocker will have a 20x growth as people move their garment washing to contactless services. The startup competes with the likes of QuickClean, CoinLaundry, and LaundryBasket.
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