Laundrapp’s CEO on disruption and why it shies away from digital marketing

The laundry app’s chief Ed Relf on building brands by focusing on trust and why marketers make the best entrepreneurs.


Laundrapp has only celebrated its second birthday this year, but it is already experiencing a growth spurt more commonly seen in teenagers.

The app, which allows users to get their clothes picked up, washed and delivered, has been downloaded more than 250,000 times and currently covers over 100 towns and cities across the UK. It recently launched in Australia and New Zealand, and there are plans to expand to 15 international markets over the next 24 months.

The business has Ed Relf at the helm, who reluctantly considers himself a marketer – but only “if you had to pigeonhole him”. Even though he started his career as a programmer, he soon moved into marketing and was the CMO at Mind Candy, the gaming company behind Moshi Monsters, for four years.

He is also a keen investor in startups, and decided to start his own after visiting a few of his local dry cleaners and discovering they all charged him different prices. On further investigation, he found out most businesses outsource the dry cleaning to larger facilities and saw an opportunity to go “direct to the source”, thereby creating the premise of Laundrapp.

It was, in his mind, a “natural next step” for his career. And he believes the business acumen he developed during his time as a marketer has helped him out.

“I believe that marketers make the best entrepreneurs. Particularly these days, most businesses are much more marketing driven. It’s only natural that marketers make great CEOs and entrepreneurs; they tend to work with every part of the business, be great sales people, understand customers and work closely with technology,” he tells Marketing Week.

Building trust without brick-and-mortar stores

When it comes to building the business, Relf says the brand has faced multiple obstacles, including recruitment issues, creating a culture of innovation and having the right logistics in place. By far the biggest challenge, however, has been “building trust and changing consumer habits”.

Laundrapp considers its biggest competitor “the washing machine and iron”, and is not interested in competing with high street dry cleaners as consumer relationships with those businesses “are difficult to disrupt”.

“Our opportunity is to change consumer habits around home laundry; hence the name ‘Laundrapp’ instead of ‘Drycleaningapp’. We largely want to appeal to a younger demographic that hasn’t yet got that instilled habit around doing their laundry. We’re at the very beginning of this process right now,” he says.

Digital marketing is less effective when you compare it to above-the-line channels. Certain channels subconsciously instill more trust in people than others.

Ed Relf, Laundrapp

Having to build trust among consumers is something that also feeds directly into its marketing. Despite being a digital business, Relf believes digital and mobile channels don’t necessarily “drive the best business results”.

“It largely has to do with the type of industry we’re in, and trust. Digital marketing is less effective when you compare it to above-the-line channels. Certain channels subconsciously instill more trust in people than others. It’s about TV, radio, outdoor being waved into the mobile experience,” he says.

Laundrapp’s drivers also play a crucial role in building trust with consumers. All of its “agents” are directly employed by the business, unlike the likes of Deliveroo and Uber that consider their drivers “contractors”.

“With brick-and-mortar stores, you can walk in and speak to somebody. For us, trust is built through interaction with drivers, who we call our agents. We felt it was the right thing to do. It does impact us commercially, but the business is built on its repeat custom. It might cost us more initially, but longer term the business will benefit,” he explains.

Partnering up

Other competitors have hit the headlines by partnering up, with ZipJet typing up with consumer goods giant Unilever. Both partners benefit; while Unilever can provide a startup with scale, the startup can provide valuable data on Unilever’s target customers.

When asked if these types of partnerships worry Laundrapp, Relf retorts “absolutely not”, and insists it’s important for others to help build the category and shine a spotlight on these services. He considers the move by ZipJet and Unilever “incredibly smart”.

“In the UK alone, laundry and dry cleaning are worth almost £100bn. It’s liquids, washing machines, detergents – it’s enormous. It will take an enormous push to build this category. I treat our competitors more as friends as they’re helping change consumer habits,” he says. “And that’s not just a line.”

Relf says most big companies struggle with innovation due to the scale of their operations. He believes splitting businesses up into siloes is a more effective way of getting change to happen. That said, he seems cynical that they will.

“Big brands are scared of us; but they can learn more by partnering with us. It’s fear that prevents them from making any changes,” he concludes.

Ed Relf is speaking at the Festival of Marketing about building the business using data. It takes place on 4 and 5 October. To find out more details and to book your tickets, click here.

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