Visiting Manhattan in 2014, Talal Jandali was struck when a cousin picked up some dry cleaning from his concierge. In Toronto, Mr. Jandali always had to drop it off and pick it up himself. "I was like, 'Cuz, what's this?' And he looked at me like I had five eyes."
It was the convenience that stayed on his mind, particularly as the grocery-deal optimization app he'd brainstormed out of business school failed to launch. Why not, Mr. Jandali thought, start a to-your-door laundry service beyond a single building – scaled up to a neighbourhood, perhaps a city?
He launched Simply Laundry to do just that. Mr. Jandali says the company now has clients in 131 condo and apartment buildings, 17 businesses and countless homes in parts of Toronto and Mississauga. The team of seven employees and 10 independent-contractor drivers has refined its workflow several times in a few short years. What centres the business now, he believes, is the recognition that it is not really a laundry company at all.
"We're more of a logistics company if you really think about it, because we don't do the cleaning ourselves," Mr. Jandali says. The company works with two cleaning plants – one for dry cleaning, one to wash and fold – to take care of the rest. "What we have to handle is ensuring the reliability factor of getting the people's clothes from point A to point B on time."
Mr. Jandali likens the service to pizza delivery – which at first glance sounds like a stretch, at least until one looks at consumer trends. "Digital door" food services, including pizza delivery and more upscale services such as Foodora and UberEATS, are a billion-dollar market in Canada, according to market research firm NPD Group.
The laundry delivery sector is too niche right now for NPD to track, but Robert Carter, its Canadian executive director who studies food service, says the proliferation of to-your-door delivery services is impossible to ignore.
"The more convenient you make something, consumers are going to respond," Mr. Carter says. Digital-door food spending is rising across all market segments, he says, and has grown at greater than 10 per cent in each of the past three years. With people working longer hours than before – especially in double-income households – and the saturation of mobile devices in urban society, saving time "continues to be a strong motivator," Mr. Carter says.
Simply Laundry charges on a per-item basis for dry cleaning and by the pound for wash and fold: $1.95 a pound for a regular order, with plans for couples, families and businesses. The minimum order size is $20 for dry cleaning, and 10 pounds per wash-and-fold; it's usually returned within 72 hours. As tactile as laundry is, they measure success like a tech service, with metrics such as average revenue per user.
The ARPU is between $80 and $85 per person per month. Laundry is heavier than one might think, and can be a lucrative business in high volumes.
"It could be multiple loads, or it could be one huge load that month," Mr. Jandali says. "Think about it – all your clothes, your gym clothes, your towels, sheets, you name it. Everyone just stuffs it in there."
The company's target market is 24- to 43-year-olds – millennials, though not exclusively – and their customers are about 60 per cent men, 40 per cent women.
One client segment that recently started climbing in numbers is new parents, particularly mothers. "They don't have time for anything, and they just want the laundry to be taken away from them," he says. The company is happy to offer clients fresh laundry without pesky perfumes and fabric softeners, and "they're loving the fact that we're able to provide that for them."
Mr. Jandali grew up in Dubai, did an undergrad degree at St. Mary's University in Halifax, and returned to the Middle East to work for seven years as a buy-side investment banker. He came back to Canada to do an MBA at York University's Schulich School of Business. From there, he and co-founder Hasan Makansi launched Simply Laundry – first pitched as a dry-cleaning company, though wash-and-fold now makes up 65 per cent of its business.
With no prior experience in operations, Mr. Jandali was forced to learn logistics on his feet. First, the company had to figure out the best method for pickup and delivery. Despite his first inspiration through concierges, nearly a third of buildings didn't want their door staff to handle the laundry. Competitors such as Laundry Concierge use lockers for pickup and dropoff, but Mr. Jandali thought that cost too much and could fill up too quickly. Eventually, they settled on the to-your-door model.
The company decided to hire drivers as independent contractors, like the rideshare app Uber. Mr. Jandali had to learn how to dispatch and organize drivers around their schedules, too – and decided to take the wheel himself on high-volume days. It's a lot of work, especially when he spends full days managing and driving until nearly midnight. But he says it is worth it, and the company is forging ahead, planning to launch in Montreal and a B.C. city in the coming months.
Mr. Jandali says one key to his GTA success has been working with just one dry-cleaning plant and one wash-and-fold company. This, he says, ensures that no client's laundry gets lost, which he believes led to the downfall of some similar U.S. businesses. And it's good for relationship-building.
"It's going very, very well," says Philip So, who runs the Simply Laundry's partner dry-cleaning plant. He usually works with large clients, such as hotels, and says the delivery company has become a valuable partner. "It's very smart," Mr. So says.
Mr. Jandali envisions a multi-city service that, in the future, could be expanded beyond just dirty clothes. "The first commodities that we're doing is dry cleaning and laundry," he says. "And we're going to start expanding it into different commodities going forward. If you're able to build and attract people who just want the convenience, and they care about their time ... it'll be very easy for you to leverage whoever you still have on your platform."