Matt Connelly, founder and CEO, ihateironing, knows that we’re ever increasingly moving our lives online. For him the rate of change is startling. And he quotes figures that are eyewatering: “In the UK those aged 16 to 24 spend, on average, 34.3 hours a week on the internet – the equivalent of a full-time job.” He adds that as a result, that “it’s no wonder that high street businesses without a virtual presence are finding themselves voiceless.” And of course, one group that has been suffering from this in particular is the drycleaner.
One reason for this, reckons Connelly, is that without the budget for a tech overhaul to help build a presence online, they are struggling to keep up. This is the reason why, in 2011, Connelly felt that there was an opportunity to help. At the time he was working as a consultant for small businesses and was struggling to find a drycleaner that was open around his long working hours so that he could get his shirts cleaned. He says: “On a run around the streets of Brixton I started to formulate a plan. I could see that my local drycleaners were struggling and that there had to be a solution to help them compete in an always-on world where ordering pretty much anything is possible on our phones.”
That’s when the idea for ihateironing was born. Connelly resolved to build a platform which made traditional high street drycleaners “accessible for professionals juggling long working hours and commutes… something that could also give drycleaners an attractive aesthetic that would appeal to the Instagram generation, without costing them the world or taking away valuable revenue.”
Demand was tested and very quickly Connelly proved it was a model that could work; he invested in the technology and as he says, “personally went out to meet the businesses that would become our first partners on this journey.” In practical terms, Connelly reckons that his platform lets drycleaners take control of their business with an “all-round view” of orders coming in and drop-offs going out.
Fundamentally, the benefit of the service to a drycleaner – via smartphone browser or dedicated app – is that it makes their service available to a wider audience locally that either can’t work around traditional opening hours or which prefers an online service that delivers greater convenience… essentially one that comes to them. Connel ly thinks that ihateironing has made an impact in the marketplace – both for his clients in the UK and abroad: “Our drycleaning partners who help deliver our service see an average 55 per cent increase in revenue when they work with us.”
He claims that the company has even helped some of them hit personal milestones: “One of our drycleaning partners in North London has been working with us for more than four years and has grown his business to the extent where he’s been able to buy his first home with his brother and hire additional staff.” It appears that ihateironing is doing well on the back of the success of drycleaners that it works with. Connelly claims that the firm has completed 300,000 orders with nearly half of this number in the last year alone.
ihateironing is now operational in six cities around the UK and has now launched in the US. For Connelly, he says that coming from a small business consultant background “it’s been really rewarding to not only kick off my own business but to grow one that simultaneously helps other small businesses to thrive.” He considers that “drycleaners are a major part of the British economy and contribute almost £1bn every year so it’s vital that we continue to support them.” As he’s keen to emphasise, “the point of ihateironing is to help them keep doing what they are best at, taking the utmost care of our garments and delivering a service that they can take great pride in.”
For the drycleaner, the company aims to take the headache of marketing and logistics away leaving items going to the most appropriate drycleaner, based on their location, expertise and capacity. It’s all about extra business in other words. Connelly is hands-on with the business and partner firms.
He says that a huge part of his role in setting up the company was to go and meet potential new partners, “to get to know them and their expertise, what they want to achieve with their business and to test their service, so we could be confident they’d deliver the quality our customers demand.”
For him “it’s one of the most rewarding jobs because you have a personal relationship from the start and are genuinely invested in their journey, too.” It’s entirely clear that life on the high street is hard, but Connelly loves the fact “that we’re doing something to help; drycleaners deliver more than a laundry service, they play an important role in a community and it’s essential they remain a feature of our high streets in the future.”