The size of the Indian laundry market is estimated at US$1 billion in the organised sector, and a whopping US$30 billion in the unorganised sector! Seems like a segment with huge potential, right? Furthermore, the numbers are only increasing every year.
Let’s take a reality check. Since the segment looks so lucrative in terms of the market size, it is quite overcrowded. Consumers are available, customer acquisition is easy, the initial setup cost is low, there are very few entry barriers, funding options are available and the job doesn’t require high-skilled workforce. All this makes it very easy to start and hence the competition is huge.
Let us consider the scenario of the 8th largest city in India – Pune. Pune itself has 40-plus laundry startups trying their luck.
The startups can be categorised into three: the ones with in-house operations facility, the ones following aggregator model and the remaining are in market place model. While the distribution in these categories is more or less even, all are trying to get the largest share in the pie. Such kind of competition makes the pricing cut-throat.
Questions that need to addressed by these startups are: how can I create differentiation? Is discounting or cash burn the only way to capture the market? Is loyalty of customer attainable? Is the unit economics attainable? Will I ever be cash-positive?
With very small space for differentiation, players are resorting to discounts and price cuts. To attract customers, some are giving free credits and some free first wash. Seeing that unit economics look far-fetched to achieve, people are trying to disrupt the market in order to gain market share and hence higher valuation.
The factors for differentiation are quite low and loyalty of customer is quite hard to get (and hence no predictable sales). While major players like Housejoy and Zimmber revisiting their model, some of them have closed down laundry service offerings.
On further analysis, major operational issues seem to be:
The average ticket size is quite low and the pickup-delivery cost makes up to 30-40 percent of the order size, reducing the margins to almost nil.
The challenge is to address the local level and the specific needs of individual customers; each customer has a different requirement and quality needs which, of course, is very difficult to track.
The major pain point is managing the quality when scaling up, managing the unit economics and delivering consistent value to the customers. In the long run, delivering consistent results to the customers is the only thing that’s going to matter.
It’s quite a difficult task to explain to the customer the value that they get from outsourcing their laundry versus washing clothes at home. After all, the efforts of providing convenience, affordability and quick turnaround time, the customer still ends up comparing the prices with a local dhobi. The customers still think that these startups make huge profits at INR 7 per piece as against a local dhobi who charges INR 5 (US$0.1).
Scope for technology use is limited and human involvement is high.
Suppose we allocate five percent of the total organised market to Pune, it could be worth INR 250 crore (US$37 million). That makes it a space to be in!
However, given these issues, one has to adopt a wait-and-watch approach. This space is likely to follow nature’s age-old law: survival of the fittest. Only those businesses that are highly tech-enabled, have robust delivery and ops SOPs implemented and can execute and deliver a beautiful consumer experience at an affordable cost, will survive. Having said that, the Indian market is still big enough for a few players to eventually coexist.
This is the harsh reality of laundry. No business is easy though. Believe me, do not get into entrepreneurship just because you know somebody is making money out of nothing. That’s hardly ever the case.
To conclude, I would like to reveal that I am one of those 40 startups in Pune. Do I regret my decision of having started an online laundry? NO. I think there is a problem to be solved and hence it is certain that there is scope for rapid growth stories here. I think persistence and continuous response to the market stimulus is the way forward. Speaking for myself, I am sure that this perseverance is what will keep me going and wanting to grow.
In the long run, I see a solved problem, happy customers and growing profits!