SME Stories: First Choice Cleaning Services want to be the only choice

Cousins Olumide Salvador and Olajuwon Osinowo started First Choice Cleaning Services in January  2016. It wasn’t an ideal time for them to launch a new business venture, they were both fresh out of the University of Lagos where Olumide studied Pharmacy and Juwon studied English and International Relations.

Regardless of the less than ideal beginnings, they took the plunge and the business has grown, with a ridiculously low price model and the promise of free pickup and delivery anywhere in Lagos, these cousins are challenging how dry cleaning should be done.

We met with Olumide in Surulere (Juwon was not in town) to talk about those early days, the challenges they face right now and their plans for the business.

Why a drycleaning outfit instead of a ‘cool’ business?

You need to know that business depends on who you want as your target audience. You usually start a business because you have a zeal to make money, you are industrious and there is no work out there, so you start your own thing.

We started a laundry because I believe businesses should serve something in people’s everyday lives, something they will always need all their lives.

So we don’t follow the trend, right now, everyone is doing tech but at some point, the market will become saturated.

We have a growing middle-class who are our main target that are busy. So we started a business based on the needs of people, people wear clothes every day, they need to work to get money, they don’t have the time to stay home and wash their clothes themselves. And even at weekends, they need to rest and socialise. So we started this to ease the stress off them and make sure they are not paying too much for laundry because we also realised people were paying a lot for laundry services.

It costs about 300-400 naira to dry clean a shirt, which we thought was too much, considering the average middle-class person earns about 50,000 Naira in a month, the same person also doesn’t have the time to dry clean the clothes himself.

So we went into the market to crash the prices because we saw people were paying too much for services that weren’t even that good.

We started at about 100 per shirt and we were packaging the clothes very well, it was ridiculous!

Most laundry services increased their rates because they say the cost of fuel has gone up. But we didn’t need to do that since we had constant power supply, so there was no need to make that profit off customers.

How did you finance the business starting out?

That’s why we took our time before we started, we didn’t have money, we had no one to give us money. We needed to start with whatever we had.

People don’t want to start businesses small, they want a fancy place with air conditioning, nice interior decor and all the fancy things.

However, the type of business format we decided on, was that we would take the services to them.

I feel if you are a dry cleaning or laundry service and people are still coming to you, then you are still taking some of their time. So we made our model such that we are coming to you instead.

So we were picking up and dropping off, this meant we had more time to take care of our own place. So the place did not have to be fancy, because the fancier the place is, the more costs I incur and then the more I’ll have to charge customers and I didn’t want to charge much.

So regardless of the space, you need to consider your customers. We knew how much we needed to start the business, get the setup; machines, dryers. So we had to wait.

We couldn’t get a loan and we always wanted to do it by ourselves. So that’s why we took a few steps back so we would get all the finances we needed.

So you guys started from your savings?

Yes, just our savings

and how many people work for you?

We have about five people working with us, there is one person that does pick up and delivery, I also do pickup and delivery then we have people who do the washing but they work in shifts so it is usually one person at a time here.

You charge 200 Naira per item, no added costs for delivery?

We do an average of 120 Naira per item, this we offer packages such as 100 items for 15, 000 in a month and we do two pickups in that month wherever you are in Lagos.

So when you calculate that what you are paying is about 100 per item. But if you walk in we charge 200 Naira per item.

We have a referral system also, so Referrers get 50% of the referral for their next wash. So, for example, you refer someone and their washing was 5,000 Naira, you get 2,500 Naira off your next wash.We have like 5 people who have done this all year.

We also have packages for families; like 100 items for 15 thousand Naira; 120 items for 18 thousand Naira and 150 items for 20 thousand Naira.

Then there is the All-you-wear-in-a-month for 5 thousand Naira.  

How profitable has it been so far?

Because of how we started the business we have always looked at the long term. We believe that once we have the customer base we will get the turnover we want.

It’s been profitable so far, as you can see we can pay our workers and business has been running smooth for over a year now.
Our customers have been increasing and we haven’t had to change our prices drastically despite all the challenges in the country. Response from the customers has been outstanding with a whole lot of referrals.

Also because of the environment I find myself I am not paying for too much, so it hasn’t made me increase my prices and we don’t plan on increasing prices for the next two years because I want the customers to stay with us for long. So you are getting quality services for a little amount of money.

What has been the biggest mishap you have had?

We haven’t had any crazy one because we have a good business model. I am a pharmacist so quality assurance is something I make sure is part of the business, so we have not had any major mishap. Not so far.

How quickly did you get on VConnect?

April 2015. We were trying to get the word about us out there, because the more people you meet, the more people who know about you, the more customers you get.

I actually stumbled on Vconnect. We needed to make people aware that we were in the business and we were dry cleaning for this ridiculous amount and you were getting quality service.

I was playing soccer one Saturday and one of the guys I was playing with works with Vconnect. He asked me why not advertise on VConnect. So I said I’ll think about it, so I spoke with my partner about it and we went online and checked out VConnect and we saw it was a good business plan to be on VConnect, we didn’t have a lot of money that time but it was a good investment.

We also noticed that people who are new to Lagos or need something done, search online for it. Say “cheapest dry cleaning in Lagos” or “cheapest dry cleaning in Surulere” we needed to be on that map and VConnect was a good way to be on that. So we stumbled on Vconnect and it has been good.

What’s the plan for the future?

Definitely, we want to branch out, because that reduces our expenses. That way we don’t have to go very far for pickups. Like we wouldn’t have to go all the way to Magodo and come back here to Surulere if we had a branch in Ikeja. A branch in Victoria Island could handle pickups from places like Lekki and Ajah.

But the good thing is that we are strategically positioned because we are like in the centre of Lagos so we can get to different parts of Lagos easily. But in the long run we want to branch out and still provide services at affordable rates just as we are doing now.

Would you want to get investors or outside funding?

We don’t work like that, in the short term we are looking at growing a dry cleaning community online through digital marketing. We believe that if we can build that community that believes in us, we will have more opportunities to expand.

So we are doing more than just washing clothes, but educating customers about how to take care of their garments so they last longer; How to iron (the right temperature), how to store your clothes, what kind of water to use…

Right now we are doing that by word-of-mouth, telling customers what to do, in the long run we will look at doing that on social media, medium articles and a newsletter.

Now we are focusing on making First Choice cleaners the most popular dry cleaner in Surulere, Ikeja, and Yaba. so that everyone in these areas patronise us, so we are looking into building that brand loyalty.

What is the farthest you have gone to make a pickup?

Can’t remember what the place is called, the place is after Ajah.

First Choice Cleaning Services is located at Salvador Towers Games Village Bode Thomas Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria. The are online on www.fchoicecleaners.com on Twitter  @firstchoiceng, Facebook  @fchoicecleaningservices and of course, on www.vconnect.com.

Also read:  Picking The Right Timepiece

 

VConnect SME Stories is a weekly feature highlighting enterprising small businesses, exploring the stories of small business founders and sharing intelligence and actionable tips to start and run thriving small businesses in Nigeria.

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Jimi Osheidu

Jimi is a content developer and screenwriter. Bizarrely, he has never been seen in the same room with Batman, leading many to believe he is indeed the Dark Knight. He refuses to comment on these claims.

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