They didn’t throw in the towel, and now they’re turning the industry’s tide.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
“No one wants to do the ‘dirty work,’” Manvinder Narang, the co-founder of the Mr Jeff franchise in Thailand, tells me with a laugh. “It’s why the laundry business is an up- and-coming industry. It also takes specialist equipment for certain types of clothing, such as Indian clothes.” Together with his younger brother, Karan Narang, the two have built up a business that have taken the literal load off people’s minds, especially at a time when more and more people are turning to online services.
“The concept behind Mr Jeff is its simplicity and convenience, while giving premium quality services at affordable prices,” I’m told. A franchise that was originally started in Spain in 2015, Mr Jeff has expanded to over 40 countries around the world, revolutionising laundry by venturing online before any other franchise had. In Thailand itself, Mr Jeff is the first-ever laundry application in the country. “We saw the potential of not only this industry, but also how we could disrupt it by providing more with the help of technology,” the brothers tell me. “We consider Mr Jeff a technology company, not a laundry company.”
Both born in Thailand, Manvinder and Karan had plenty of international experiences growing up, having both studied in various schools around the world, and having done their master’s degrees in Bond University, Australia for I.T. and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland for Commerce, respectively. From there, Manvinder gained corporate experience in Merrill Lynch Phatra Securities among other companies, before finally joining his family business, now called United Creations International Company Ltd, what would turn out to be a fortuitous choice as it’s given him the knowledge of fabrics and textiles that he has today.
Karan also ventured into the corporate route for a few years, with positions ranging from Regional Custom Service Manager in Asco General Suppliers, to the Country Sales Director of Michelin Siam Co., Ltd. In the end, however, the two pooled their knowledge and experience, and decided to take their own business for a spin. They tell Masala all about it.
Can you walk us through your journey in starting and expanding Mr Jeff?
Manvinder: The thought of diversifying had been lingering at the back of my mind for a long time, as I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, and I wanted to start earning passive income. However, since I’m so hands-on with my work, I just didn’t have the time to venture out. The idea of a laundry business came from Karan. He’s the one who reads up on new ventures and shares ideas for them.
Karan: Coming from the corporate world, I’ve always known that one shouldn’t focus on just one business. We studied many options, from property to F&B, but we finally chose the laundry industry as we were already experts in textiles, with great familiarity in fabrics, and moreover, we saw it as the business of the future, one that brings together innovation, convenience, hygiene & safety, and premium quality.
What makes Mr Jeff unique from other laundry services?
Firstly, simplicity. We cater to all types of clothes and we use the ‘Bag Concept,’ which allows customers to choose their size of bag, regular (20-25 pieces) or large (45-50 pieces), with no differentiation between material or clothes type. The only exception are clothes that require dry cleaning. Customers also have three options: ‘Wash & Fold,’ ‘Wash & Iron’ and ‘Iron Only,’ which are all self-explanatory.
Secondly, convenience: Mr Jeff is the Grab of laundry. Customers can use our Jeff app (which can be downloaded on the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store) where they can specify the pickup and delivery place and time, type of laundry, or even whether clothes need to be dry-cleaned, all from the comfort of their home or office.
Thirdly, we provide premium quality service. We use the industry’s highest-standard products, and we’ve partnered with Ecolab for environmentally-friendly cleaning solutions. We also use eco-friendly paper wrapping for most clothes, which is also a thank you gift to our customers.
Moreover, we promote a lifestyle that’s freer and safer during this time, while staying affordable because although we use and give premium products and services, we want everyone to be able to access them, from students to CEOs. Our monthly packages range from our regular bag ‘Wash & Fold’ package, which amounts to around 100 pieces at THB 990 per month, to our ‘Wash & Iron’ package, which amounts to around 24 pieces at THB 1,080 per month. To add to the convenience, all our packages include free delivery and pickup service four times per month.
What challenges and advantages have you found are unique to running a young business at the vanguard of its industry in Thailand?
Our biggest challenge as a new business are the many unprofessional ‘laundromats’ that have opened in every corner. Mr Jeff is a very well-known company in Europe, South America, and Singapore, but is not as recognised in Thailand yet. Building brand awareness and getting customers to use and trust our service will take some time.
An advantage is that while Mr Jeff is a young company, we, the owners are also young, professional, and perfectionists that are detail-and-service-oriented. It’s a recipe for success. Added with the advantage and backing of a technological company which has a tried and tested recipe, we only see ourselves capturing more of the market in the future.
During this time, businesses like yours are more relevant than ever, as people turn more towards online services so that they can avoid bringing the COVID-19 virus home. What are your health and hygiene practices to assure your clients that they are in safe hands?
We strictly follow health and hygiene practices because we care not only for our customers, but most importantly, our staff. Our staff wear gloves and masks while handling clothes and during pickup and delivery to customers. Customers coming into the shop are required to wear a mask and clean their hands with alcohol gel, and social distancing and touch-free pickup and deliveries are not only encouraged but also enforced.
What has it been like as leaders of your team, and what are some unexpected aspects of running the business that you did not expect prior to starting it?
To date, our biggest challenge as team leaders has been acquiring the right staff who are reliable and competent. Another is the unexpected expenditures we have acquired, but that problem is self-created as we have incurred these costs in our drive to achieve the highest standards of perfection and customer satisfaction.
What are Mr Jeff’s expansion plans?
Initially, we had decided to open 10 branches but due to many factors, including the current economic situation, we decided to open three branches first. We’ve already opened our Sukhumvit branch in Soi 49 and a Sathorn branch in Soi Amon, and we’re opening another branch in Sukhumvit soon. We’ve given ourselves one year to see how these three branches are operating before re-evaluating our expansion plans.
Any advice for others wanting to be innovators in their field, like both of you were?
Manvinder: Sometimes, being focused on small details and perfection, like me, can be a hindrance as I have to take a lot of precautions before venturing out of my comfort zone. It takes someone like Karan who proposed new ventures and gave me a big push, as well as the Landmark Forum, which ‘reprogrammed’ me. After deciding to take action, you’ll find that the sky’s the limit!