Priyadarshini Paitandy meets Balachandar, the new-age laundryman who has turned a humble profession into big business
“What! You want to become a dhobi?” R. Balachandar’s mother had exclaimed in horror. “Who will marry you?”
Three years on, Balachandar is happily married, and is the CEO of the Laundry Project, his start-up venture which is looking at an annual turnover of Rs. 8 crore this year. “My wife loves me even more because she doesn’t have to do any laundry, it’s taken care of,” he laughs.
Balachandar, who holds a Master’s degree in International Business, was the Retail Head (Asia) at Hidesign before he quit the company to start something of his own. Given the current scenario where almost everybody is hard pressed for time, a business that would relieve them of their daily chores seemed a winning idea to him. “We first considered catering, but that was too personal. Then we thought of laundry and the idea excited me,” he says. So he launched Wassup–Just Laundry, three months ago — a boon for those who hate starting their day washing clothes or returning home to a basketful of dirty linen.
“The service was the need of the hour because these days both husband and wife are working, and finding domestic help or a dhobi is often a challenge,” he says. His research revealed that the laundry industry was in the same position that the hair-styling segment was about 10 years ago. “Look at the hair-styling industry now, it has gone through a change. Stylists get paid better and are in demand,” adds the 34-year-old.
With the city already having a few laundry chains, how is Bala’s service different? “We pick up and drop laundry off at our client’s place. Ours is a concept of day-to-day laundry and we decided it has to be affordable. While most others charge Rs. 60 for a shirt, we charge Rs. 30 to 35.”
In addition, he says, there are packages to choose from. And much like gyms and yoga classes, this laundry has subscriptions as well — monthly, quarterly and annual. The IT zones are where he believes they make a difference because IT employees work erratic schedules and water is usually hard there. “In a professional setting, like our factory in Sholinganallur, we have a water-softener and RO plant to keep the clothes clean and from getting a yellowish tint,” he says. Most of his clients are in the 25-40 age-group and include working bachelors, young couples and people who prefer not to wash expensive clothes at home.
Balachandar, in fact, started off with an impressive set of clients: before setting up Wassup, he had already approached luxury hotel chains such as Taj, Radisson and Marriott and had offered to do their laundry. He has branched out to Bangalore and Delhi NCR, and plans to shortly set up shop in Pune and Vishakapatnam. Chennai has 12 Wassup outlets from where workers go to clients’ homes, pick up laundry and bring them to the store. A van collects the clothes from the outlets and takes them to the Sholinganallur factory laundering. “We follow a fourth-day delivery pattern. But in cases of emergency, we have an express 24 hours delivery option as well.”
Initially the challenge was getting people to work for him. Thirty-three per cent of the staff is from the hotel laundry background. “We train them to understand garments and how they should be cleaned,” says Balachandar. He has also hired staff through campus recruitments and his 120-member team is steadily growing. His HR team is in talks with ITI Karnataka and they are launching India’s first Laundry Certified Programme.
With Balachandar washing his clients’ dirty linen far away in Sholinganallur, there’s one thing you are unlikely to find at his home — a clothesline.