Would you do your washing in a car park?

UK company Photo-Me is installing duvet washers in supermarkets – but will this be a recession busting idea or a gimmick that doesn’t work?

Lucy Handley

It sounds random but we could soon be taking our dirty laundry with us when we go shopping, as one operator has grand plans to launch coin-operated washers in car parks and other public places throughout the UK.

The photo booth company Photo-Me announced last week that it is talking to UK supermarkets about installing industrial-sized machines close to their stores, so people can get their duvets cleaned while doing the weekly shop.

On first glance, this sounds like a strange plan, given that people are so used to washing things at home or – heaven forbid – washing big things like duvets rarely.

But I think this is actually going to work. It’s a clever example of a company that has spotted a gap in the market, providing something to people that they never thought they needed until it comes along. A bit like Sony’s Walkman but rather more practical.

The company clearly thinks it can get Brits to air their dirty laundry in public, having trialled the machines in Europe. It is also making efficient use of skills – saying the same engineers that work on its photo booths can work on the new washers – which will initially be made in France and, more cheaply, in the Far East in future.

As for the supermarkets, I’m guessing that anything that can keep people at the shops for longer (say it takes an hour for one load of washing) will be welcomed by them, as people might buy more stuff while they wait. Clearly the company already has an in with them, with its photo and digital printing businesses.

Photo-Me might not sound like a sexy company, but it is cleaning up: it currently has more than 24,000 photo booths around the world and an operating profit of £20 million to this April. And its public washing machines might just be the next great example of tapping into consumer behaviour and doing well through a recession.

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