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How a laundry franchise grew from zero to 150 stores during a pandemic

Gaurav Teotia

Gaurav Teotia

With 150 stores operated by 97 franchise partners across 39 cities, Tumbledry has serviced over 320,000 orders from its customer base of more than 100,000 in just two years of its existence. Founded and managed by ex-IIT, IIM and Infosys people, Tumbledry’s Business Head, Gaurav Teotia, has set on the path of becoming the #1 retail laundry and dry-cleaning service provider in India. Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal, assess the journey, customer-centricity, intensive research, unique set up and the emphasis on training adopted by Tumbledry.

Why is the franchise model becoming popular?

Laundry1According to Teotia, historically, laundry and dry-cleaning businesses have been carrying forward the family-owned legacy of the business for generations. Lately, this sector has transformed into a dry-cleaning-cum-laundry industry which also services daily wear needs, which was previously catered to mostly by the unorganised market. This expansion of services has embraced demand, sprouting the growth of store networks.

Compared to dry cleaning, laundry is much simpler to handle and the cost of starting up is comparatively lower. Young entrepreneurs who may not have prior experience in the industry can be coached and handheld by a franchise owner to hit the ground running from Day 1.

“The smallest of store set ups cost INR 18-20 lakhs,” explained Teotia. “For companies which are funded and have cash, it is much easier and faster to scale up on their own. Bootstrapped companies can invest rupees one to two crores and open 8-10 stores, but if you aspire to open 700-1,000 stores like we do, you need external funding or crowdsourcing. That is why we chose the franchisee route.”

Franchise owners assist through referrals and recommendations of existing franchisee partners, as has been the case with Tumbledry.

Pre-launch research

Before opening the first store in April 2019, the Tumbledry team spent six months only in research mode. While a franchise model does distribute risk across more partners, the franchise owner needs to be certain that every prospective store has business potential.

To ensure this, Tumbledry uses a statistical model which helps them analyse a town or area’s propensity for store. It looks at three parameters:

  • The population of the town
  • Economic indicator like some other business which indicates economic well-being
  • Willingness to consume luxury products

This helps ascertain the potential stores possible in a particular city. “Speaking of Bhopal, the team visited the town, scientifically did local area segmentation by mapping out the number and locations of CCDs. Then sought local telecom distributors assistance for inputs on how to divide the town into catchment areas. All this involves a lot of mathematics”, said Teotia.

The Tumbledry model

Teotia said: “We found that the industry is really opaque. There were just collection centers where customers went to dump their clothes, without knowing how or where they were being cleaned. Our unique proposition is that we create live kitchen-like stores, where customers can see the whole laundry process in action for themselves.”

But why would customers who are used to home pick-up and drop services bother to visit the store at all? Because when they are considering shifting from a traditional laundry shop, they will visit the Tumbledry store at least once. There, they will be given a tour, see the machinery in action, observe someone else’s clothes being processed – this builds confidence.

Combined with the pickup and drop service that Tumbledry offers in the smallest of towns, this is a recipe for success. To meet quality norms as well as to reduce human intervention in this model, the company has converted most manual tasks to mechanised ones.

Working with chemical and machine partners in the US and Europe for technology, Tumbledry equips each store with one laundry and one dry- cleaning setup. To take care of accessibility, it has decided to establish one store every 4-5km in urban areas. Customers have the option of using a mobile app, website or call center to schedule a pickup.

Training: the decisive factor

“The product we are delivering is being ‘manufactured’ in each store, therefore, the quality of the personnel in each store is extremely important,” said Teotia. Each franchise partner across locations is provided with Tumbledry-trained personnel to work in washing, finishing, and as the store manager.

A centralised training centre is a very expensive proposition; it isn’t practical for staff to travel from far-flung areas to Noida, where the team is based. Instead, the latter has developed a training module which is run at the store itself for 6-8 days.

“When we started the company, this project management charter consisted of 120 activities. In the last 1.5 years, it has grown to 250+ activities. In the first six months of our company, we were only training people. Now, we are training and certifying.”

Training is divided into multiple segments, such as how to treat different laundry garments, dry-cleaning (chiffon, silk, pashmina etc), handling clothes where one colour bleeds and one doesn’t, what to air dry and tumbledry and more. There is training on removal of 65 categories of stains.

Regular incentivisation and certification, physical certificates and company logos on all material gives employees the feeling that they are associated with a brand, not a small store. All activities are managed by a team; not the owner, but the area manager. This helps reduce attrition.

Opening new stores

“We make sure that business is generated in the first 8-9 months of the store opening through company effort. So, we do a lot of offline engagement, with significant participation in neighbourhood activities. If there is a high rise society, trials and demos are offered at zero cost, and the burden shared between the franchise partner and Tumbledry.”

To ensure consistency, Tumbledry supplies 10 kVH voltage stabilisers for all machines and water softener in every store.

Laundry: A recession-proof business?

“No matter what happens, people have to wear fresh clothes every day post-pandemic. Earlier, the average load was 4-4.5 kgs per order, now it is 7-8kgs,” shared Teotia.

It took 1.5 years for Tumbledry to reach the milestone of 150 stores; it expects to open the next 150 in 12 months or less. After an initial expansion in the north, it is focussing heavily on western and southern India, with new stores coming up in Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

Present and Future

Tumbledry has made its mark across the spectrum of cities: Tier I (Delhi), II (Lucknow, Bhopal), III (Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Faizabad). “Category B and C towns are doing much better for us in terms of franchise partner profitability.”

In metros, laundry is the major starting point in customer adoption and in smaller towns, it is dry-cleaning. “We see a humongous scope for expansion in every nook and corner of the country. By the end of 2022, we will be the largest player in India.”

This is where the conventional story would end. But Tumbledry is thinking ahead. “Customers speak mainly to the pick-up person. He can make or break the business; you need to leverage him to generate business for you.”

Using data analytics, Tumbledry plans to provide the pick-up person information such as ‘the customer had sent in two coats for dry-cleaning last July. It’s June, and they haven’t come back in again’. By having this conversation with the customer at his doorstep, Tumbledry will be able to scale up business for its franchise partners many times over.

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