Redefining the unorganised laundry sector in India

WassupIndustries can stay the same for decades until a disruption comes along that changes the face of that business forever. In India, the market for laundry was mostly unorganised with traditional dhobiwalas washing clothes like they’d always done and ironing them with a coal iron. It is here that Balachandar R from Chennai saw an opportunity and started a company, Wassup Laundry that offers end-to-end laundry service for consumers and B2B clients. Completely modernising how laundry is done, Wassup uses treated water and ensures that each garment is washed as per the requirements prescribed in the label.

Currently present in 7 large cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai, Wassup plans to expand further before a planned IPO in 2019. Taj Vivanta, the Radisson, the Indian Navy are some of its more illustrious clients in the B2B space but the enterprise’s real value lies in how it makes life simpler for couples who are working or people who just don’t have time for the mundane task of laundry. Wassup Laundry was second runners up at the Retail Startup Awards 2017 held this year in Mumbai, & they have been in the news for acquiring a Mumbai-based home laundry service in an equity swap.

In conversation with GlobalLinker (GL) Balachandar R (BR) shares the story of Wassup Laundry and his plans for the company.

GL: Tell us about your business.

BR: After spending over 15 years in the retail industry with various companies such as Hidesign, Tata International, I wanted to start something unique of my own. While doing background research on potential business ideas, I noticed a huge gap in the organised laundry segment. I then decided to work on creating a national laundry brand which brings convenience & quality service to the doorstep. Laundry is an essential necessity of daily urban life, and residents, especially in metro cities, find it challenging to take care of this themselves. There are hardly any professional companies present in this sector. Taking this use case for the urban market, I developed a business model providing laundry service delivered to the doorstep. I held discussions with Durga Das, who was first an investor in our venture, and later came on board as co-founder who also helped me fine-tune my business plan. We launched Wassup in 2011 as an integrated omni-channel player with a processing facility & retail shops where people can drop off their clothes for washing and a mobile app through which an order can be placed along with a 24-hour toll free helpline number. Customers can avail laundry, dry cleaning & shoe/bag refurbishment services through our platform.

GL: What are the challenges you have faced in establishing your business?

BR: Managing unit economics in the laundry segment is extremely hard as there is a logistics component attached to it. Apart from that, the industry backend for laundry services is quite underdeveloped. Aggregating the service via outsourcing partners is very difficult. It is also difficult to attract skilled labour and bring the consistency to ensure customer satisfaction. We decided to set up our own backend facility to keep a check on quality. Manual involvement is involved at various stages in the service process, and to ensure a higher accountability of procedures and quality issues, we built an in-house laundry management software.

GL: What is the USP of your business?

BR: Wassup is India’s only omni-channel player in the laundry segment. It operates via multiple channels such as a website, mobile app (Play Store & Apple store) & a toll free helpline number through which customers can place pickup requests for their laundry right from their doorstep. Apart from these channels, we also have collection stores where customers can physically drop off & collect their clothes after laundering. We are a full stack model with backend processing facilities in each city along with a front end technology platform for customers and a POS system provided at each store for easy order tracking and management.

GL: What are some of the milestones of your business?

BR: Founded in 2011 in Chennai, Wassup has expanded its user base across 7 cities in the form of franchisee stores & collection points and at current has around 40 stores across India. We have serviced over 3 lakh clients and washed over 50 million pieces in the last 5 years. We have a mix of B2C customers & corporate B2B customers we are also servicing hotels, hospitals, spas, salons etc. Currently, we have expanded to 7 major metro cities in India, and are processing around 75,000 pieces of garments on a daily basis at our facilities. We are targeting to be a Rs 500 crore company in the next 4 years.

This year we were voted the third best retail startup at the Retail Startup Awards at the Retail Leadership Summit in Mumbai presented by the Future Group.

GL: What role do you feel GlobalLinker plays in connecting and assisting SMEs?

BR: GlobalLinker’s large network of entrepreneurs, corporates & investors across the globe can help us expand our knowledge base and also seek opportunities beyond our current geography. We feel there is a lot to learn through the experience and problems faced by entrepreneurs across various verticals of SME businesses and help us build a solid business strategy for the global market.

GL: What is your big business dream?

BR: I want to grow Wassup into a company with a Rs 500 crore turnover by the end of 2020 and launch the first IPO in the laundry sector. We want to diversify the brand into multiple affiliate products & services which are co-related to our primary business offering. We believe with a target market of over Rs 2 lakh crores, we want to go public by the year 2019 through an initial public offering (IPO).

GL: What is your message to aspiring entrepreneurs?

BR: My message to aspiring entrepreneurs is that, first, start a business for the right reason. Second, focus on value creation and valuation. Third, persevere with your passion – it takes many sleepless nights to become an overnight success.

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Retailers Association of India (RAI) is the unified voice of Indian retailers. RAI is a not for profit organization (registered under section 25 of Companies Act, 1956), works with all the stakeholders for creating the right environment for the growth of the modern retail industry in India. RAI is the body that encourages, develops, facilitates and supports retailers to become modern and adopt best practices that will delight customers. RAI has a three charter aim of Retail Development, Facilitation and Propagation.