The dry cleaning industry isn’t working. Customers feel it, vendors feel it— but both parties need it to work. Everyone needs clean clothes, and those working in the industry have to make a living.
Rinse has a solution for both, and thanks to a $14 million Series B funding round led by Partech, it’s taking that solution to two new cities: Boston and Chicago. The solution is simple, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.
“There’s so much friction in the clothing care industry,” said Ajay Prakash, CEO and founder of Rinse. “It’s not just one big point of friction that you can take away and that fixes it. We refer to it as ‘death by a thousand cuts.’ ”
One of the biggest issues is that many customers are not available when dry cleaners are open. Most establishments keep the traditional business hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., leaving customers rushing to drop clothes off before work and scrambling to pick them up afterward. It is a model that Prakash says is completely “vendor-centric.” Rinse aims to change that model.
“We wanted to be consumer-centric and address the customer’s pain points head-on,” said Prakash.
Rinse customers can create an order through the Rinse app any time before 5:00 p.m. Then, between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. – while customers are home – a Rinse valet will stop by to pick up the order in a color-coded bag: black for dry cleaning, white for wash-and-fold or teal for hang-dry.
The evening pickup hours save customers from having to leave laundry unattended on their doorsteps, though Rinse does offer a “personless” pickup service for those who need it (and have a high level of trust for their neighbors).
Rinse’s valet then delivers the order to a local cleaning partner and the customer receives a confirmation message. In fact, Rinse communicates with customers via SMS messages throughout the process, fielding questions, providing order updates and notifying them that a valet is in the neighborhood if they want anything picked up.
For dry clean orders, customers receive an itemized list complete with photographs, ensuring that all items have reached the cleaner and helping to make certain that all of those items arrive home again. The visual, itemized list also helps with inventory control on the business end, giving the feature win-win aspects for both businesses and consumers. Wash-and-fold customers receive notifications of the number of bags received.
A few days later, the order will be returned to the customer’s home – once again, during evening hours when customers have finished their workday. Rush cleaning is available for an extra fee, but the default delivery day is a rapid enough turnaround for most users.
Rinse’s pricing is on par with traditional dry cleaners: $8 for a blouse, $12 for a dress and $16 for a suit including jacket and pants. The delivery fee is just $3.99 regardless of the number of items, and Rinse’s cleaning partners will even replace lost or broken buttons for free.
The idea is to create a routine around this service that everybody needs, and, if Rinse does its job right, one which they will plan to use again and again.
“We’re not solving an acute pain like Uber, where people need it now,” said Prakash. “We’re solving chronic pain. People want quality more than speed.”
Quality encompasses more than just cleaning quality. Valets need to be punctual and personable. Customer service needs to address questions and concerns. The app, a lynchpin of the Rinse service, needs to be user-friendly and effective without becoming the company’s primary focus. It’s not enough to be the Uber of clothing services.
“This is much more than building an app,” Prakash said. “It’s execution of moving pieces. It’s high-quality cleaning, delivery and customer service. It’s an on-time, friendly, well-trained valet. None of those are tied to a mobile app. A mobile app is just a medium for the overall solution.”
The $14 million of funding Rinse recently secured will not be going into the company’s tech as much as into building out its team as it looks to launch in new markets. Rinse currently serves its home base of San Francisco as well as Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Including Boston and Chicago, which could see service as soon as the end of summer, Rinse has plans to expand into 10 new cities in the immediate future and eventually to go nationwide. Houston, Dallas, Austin, Seattle, Miami, San Diego, Denver and New York are up next.
“Our goal is to be the first and largest national brand in clothing care and become a household name,” said Prakash. “We view ourselves serving the entire country. My parents are living in central Minnesota and I want them to use Rinse.”
The company is starting in bigger cities because that is where the need is most pronounced. But, because the service is universal, Prakash believes there is no reason it could not also succeed in the suburbs.
Rinse has never been focused on fast growth, however, and that is not going to change. It is focused on quality, which organically drives customer retention and new business.
“It’s a naturally recurring experience,” Prakash said, “so if we do a great job the first few times, you’re with us forever. And people have a great experience and it creates evangelists. People have chosen not to use these services, so we’re competing against our own high standards and our customers’ high expectations to create a forever relationship.”