Ironing can be filed somewhere alongside washing the dishes and mowing the lawn; nobody actually enjoys it, but it’s one of those things that just has to be done.
With that in mind, one London startup is looking to tap this necessity vs. desire disparity by offering a simple online service to take the hassle out of dry cleaning, and more specifically de-creasing your shirts and sheets.
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IHateIroning.com is currently open to London-dwellers only, though it is looking to expand across the UK and into Europe. We caught up with the good folks behind this service to see how it’s looking to innovate in an industry that’s not always been the most open to new digital technologies.
But first of all, here’s a quick synopsis of how the service works.
Hate ironing? Love this.
IHateIroning.com is about as simple as things get – there’s no accounts as such. All you do is enter your name, telephone number (mobile is definitely preferable), email address, collection/drop-off address and preferred dates and times. You then click ‘Place Order’, and that’s it. It’s also worth stressing here that it is more a general laundry and dry cleaning service than specifically about ironing, but we address this later on in this piece.
Though there are no native mobile apps for now, and there are no immediate plans for this, there is a mobile-optimized site that is basic, but does the job.
Next, you receive an email asking you to arrange payment, which is done using Gocardless (see previous coverage) and once it’s set up, the payments should happen automatically with all subsequent orders debited directly from your account.
That said, you can also pay the driver in cash or by cheque (yup) when they return your clothes. This option isn’t given during the ordering process though – this preference is established through a standard courtesy call from IHateIroning itself after your first order.
So this isn’t the most hi-tech set-up for now, but it is one of the interesting facets of a startup that’s looking not only to bootstrap its business through family, friends and personal savings, but also bring tech to an industry that’s typically resistant to major technological advances.
“One issue was how to communicate an order to a particular dry cleaner when our dry cleaners don’t really use the Internet, and are not conversant with smartphones or apps,” explains Matt Connelly, CEO at IHateIroning.com.
Indeed, all that’s needed from the dry cleaners is a mobile phone number. There’s no e-commerce system required, no APIs, or any other kind of hi-tech shenanigans.
The dry cleaner receives an SMS (powered by Twilio) with all the pertinent details, and they must reply to accept the order. They also receive a reminder message an hour before collection is due, as does the customer, just in case they’ve forgotten and have wandered out to the shops to buy some milk. This system actually allows both parties to rearrange the time at short notice if the original time-slot is no longer suitable.
So, postcodes are assigned to specific dry cleaners, and if they cannot or do not accept the order, IHateIroning.com’s system flags it and reassigns to another nearby cleaner.
“We built a system that identifies the closest dry cleaner to any order taken,” says Connelly. “The next issue was how to communicate that order to the particular dry cleaners, and the one common denominator among all our dry cleaners was the ability to send and receive SMS to their phone. SMS is obviously a fairly old technology, but this application of it works really well because everyone we need to communicate with uses it and, unlike email, generally isn’t ignored.”
But why would dry cleaners wish to use a service such as this? Well, it seems that while most of them already have a delivery van, it sits unused for 90% of the time, according to Connelly. “The only way they know how to grow is to open another shop a mile away, and they’ll do a few runs between them each day as most of the cleaning will be done in one of them.”
So by using existing resources, dry cleaners could potentially open up their customer base significantly, without any real investment beyond that of, say, a permanent delivery driver or extra in-store personnel to cater for an increase in demand.
The team at IHateIroning.com hand-pick the dry cleaners for each post code area, based on the quality and customer service they experience themselves. “We mystery shop and talk to their customers, but I can now pretty much tell within seconds of walking into a shop if they are going to be good,” says Connelly. “The dry cleaners we work with are incredible – their operations are well-oiled machines.”
Next up for IHateIroning.com, from a technology perspective at least, is facilitating an interface for the dry cleaner to do the billing itself.
The road to iron
“I’ve always hated ironing,” Connelly confesses. “And dealing with dry cleaners is a bit of a nuisance – either carrying my clothes down the road or trying to coordinate a delivery on the phone. I’ve been working with small businesses and startups for a few years already and thought there was an opportunity here for a hassle-free dry cleaning and laundry collection and delivery service.”
Indeed, while the idea was brewing in Connelly’s mind for a few years, it was only last November when he finally quit his job to give things a proper go. And what you see on the Web today is the early stages of a company that’s looking to tap a pretty big market.
“London has more than 750 dry cleaners alone, each averaging around 150 orders a week,” explains Connelly. “So that’s well over 100,000 dry cleaning and laundry orders per week.”
At the time of writing, IHateIroning.com has around 200 paying customers and 15 dry cleaning partners, though with a recent refresh of the site now live, they’re looking to push for 1000 customers and 50 dry cleaners as their next big milestone.
Interestingly, however, more than two-thirds (70%) of its customers use it more than once, with the remaining 30% using it for one-off situations – for example, those who are visiting the city, or those whose washing machine has broken down.
Though it is only London-centric at the moment, they are looking to grow around the country and are already set up to flick the postcode switch as soon as they have the resources to mange a wider roll out, which will include Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. And what about internationally? “We will focus on other major European cities, specifically those with large financial centers,” says Connelly.
In terms of pricing, there is a minimum £20 ($30) spend for each order, and the costs are listed very specifically for each garment on the company website. There is, of course, a premium for this service, which Connelly says is around 15-20% above what it would normally cost if you were to do the dropping off and collection yourself.
And what about the company name? Why focus specifically on ‘ironing’, when it seems to be a much broader laundry and dry cleaning service?
“While dry cleaners do the work, most of it is not dry cleaning,” explains Connelly. “Washing and pressing bed linen for Airbnb hosts is about 30% of our business, shirt-washes and pressing is about 30%, dry cleaning is about 25%, and 15% is ‘other things’.”
Also, one does suspect that part of this relates to having a catchy name that resonates with everyone – ironing is an activity synonymous with tedium and dread. Right?
For now, IHateIroning.com is a four-strong team consisting of Matt Connelly, whose role as CEO actually sees him focus on marketing and dry cleaner relations, a CTO, and a small customer support, admin and marketing duo.
Connelly also tells us that he’s aiming to raise some angel funds by Christmas time to help take the business to the next stage.