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The resurgence of retail laundries

Against all odds, the laundry and dry-cleaning industry have begun to emerge from the long shadow of Covid. By increasing its customers base and banking on their readiness to pay premium prices for premium services, industry players have proved naysayers wrong.

Suresh Bhatia, Founder & MD, SB Fab Care Pvt Ltd-Cleanovo, Anup Poddar, Director, Beepee Enterprise Pvt Ltd and Jash Dalal, CEO, Beepee Puretex Ltd spoke to Mohana M, Editor and Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal about what explains the return of demand, what form it has taken and how the retail segment will evolve.

Look into your wardrobe, and examine your own clothes. Now rewind to a decade or two earlier, and try to picture your wardrobe then. In all probability, your present collection has many more branded, high-end garments that you might not even have considered purchasing back then. The middle-class has become upper-middle class, and the latter is on its way to becoming High Net Worth Individuals. As purchasing power steadily increased, so did the price of clothing chosen.

Gone are the days when people shopped only during the festive season. Clothes are now bought around the year, and people are willing to spend more on what they wear. The average price of a garment bought by an upper middle-class person might range between ₹2,000-10,000, while more prosperous individuals can easily spend upwards of that much on a single garment.

Speaking about designers, Dalal said: “Fashion houses are banking on sustainable fabrics, for leisure wear and home wear as well. Compared to polyester, these are delicate and difficult to wash at home. Post the lockdown, we are receiving many more such garments.”

The more expensive the garment, the greater the demand for cleaning and maintaining it professionally. For a clientele opting for luxury wear, laundry is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

In the commercial sector too, the hospitality industry is clinging on to 100% cotton as the epitome of comfort. Hospitals may have gone in for polyester-mix uniforms, but their patients are still clothed in cotton or poly-cotton gowns.

Covid’s clout

“In the initial six months, people were stuck at home and wore only shorts and T-shirts. So, we got homewear, towels, sheets and curtains for processing. But now, people are sick and tired of being at home, and are going out in the evening even on weekdays, so we’re getting a lot of smart casuals”, said Poddar.

Formal suits, which accounted for 30-35% of demand earlier, may be missing now. However, many businesses have gone back to work-from-office, and although employees may have dropped blazers from their outfits, their shirts and pants are coming back for processing.

The pandemic has also made it difficult for people to find house-help. Hence, some customers who only sent in pants, shirts, dresses and saris for laundry earlier, are now also sending their regular clothes for dry-cleaning.

Optimising use of laundry consumables

“We have always looked at all garments as delicate; the chemicals we use are safer than home detergents. We use specific chemicals for specific purposes; for example, if a shirt only needs freshening, why should destainer also be used? We use a scientific approach to minimise and rationalise the use of chemicals”, said Poddar.

How is this done? By strictly sorting and tagging garments and placing them in the whites, lights and darks bins, which are further segregated based on whether the garment has embellishments. Each set is then processed in batches, so no resources are wasted.

For delicates, special programs are operated in smaller machines where the contact time, application of heat, chemical used, water changes and rpm of the drum are all customised.

The future of laundries

Said Bhatia: “The challenge now is for laundries to stay put and consolidate. It is going to be a customer’s market; people have become used to getting services at their doorstep, and want the convenience of home pickups and drops, all scheduled through an app.”

Striking a note of caution, he continued: “Lavish stores may not work. Physical stores will have to pivot online, but apps will succeed only if they have a strong backend.”

Dalal sounded optimistic when he said: “If things go back to normal soon, we will see a 20-25% jump in demand compared to pre-pandemic levels. Even if the hybrid mode of work continues, there will be a steady rise”.

There is now talk of hotels who are now actively looking for service partners with off-site to whom they can entrust all hotel and guest linen. Some hotels even want partners to take over operations of their on-site laundries.

After a long, dark night, dawn is slowly breaking for the sunrise industry of laundry and dry-cleaning.

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