How do you get started opening an ecological dry cleaners in London? Why London? Was it easy to start a business in England?
I had been working in London for almost ten years, in investment banking, when I decided to resign in 2012 to start my own business. Having grown up in a family from Provence and close to nature, I had long harboured in the back of my mind the desire to launch an eco-responsible business project – I just didn’t know which one yet.
During the years I was working in the bank, I was going to the dry cleaners very regularly, and yet I was always rather dissatisfied with the service – the quality was very uncertain, customer service generally non-existent. During my period of research in 2011 on the most toxic industries, I also discovered that the dry cleaning industry was incredibly polluting and bad for the health of consumers and its employees. This is why I wanted to do things differently and opened an ecological dry cleaning company that offers a modern and ecological alternative to traditional dry cleaners: we do not use PERC to clean clothes (a carcinogenic solvent already banned in many countries such as France, Denmark and some states in the United States), we treat our employees with the respect they deserve, and above all we place the well-being and comfort of the customer at the centre of everything we do. Driven by my idea, after a dry cleaning internship in Paris and several months of research and work, the first BLANC store opened in Marylebone in February 2013.
London was a natural choice for me. I personally liked it; I found that it was easier to become an entrepreneur there, and above all, England was behind France in terms of PERC regulations, which has, in recent years, given us a large early adopter advantage.
What makes you different from other dry cleaners?
Unlike traditional dry cleaners, BLANC uses the wet cleaning technology which, as its name suggests, uses water (and biodegradable detergents) instead of traditional toxic solvents. This technology, which comes from the United States, has been around for twenty years, is certified by Woolmark, and works with sophisticated professional machines. The wet cleaning process calculates the appropriate washing cycle according to the type of textile, from the most common to the most delicate, using the right amount of water as well as biodegradable detergents and softeners. It is suitable for all garments (even those labelled “dry wash only”), and provides quality cleaning that respects the textile fibre – much better for the skin, for the clothes, and for the planet.
We also put a lot of emphasis on the importance of alterations and repairs – an online service with our mission to care for clothes in a natural way and extend their lifespan.
What do you think are the keys to your success?
At BLANC, quality is our priority.
Starting with the quality of our cleaning, of course: our process combines the expertise of our craftsmen (who rely on their knowledge of textiles, brands and types of stain to pre-treat the clothes) and the sophisticated technology of our equipment.
But for us, quality must also be found throughout the customer experience – a point which has been rather neglected by traditional dry cleaners and which has created a considerable gap compared to other industries. Let’s face it, when you think of dry cleaners, the first image that comes to mind is one of a drab place, with the smell of chemicals, and little attention given to the customer. This is why, here too, we have decided to break the rules by doing dry cleaning in a designer and welcoming place where customers can receive expert advice. We also offer home collections / deliveries across London, so our green service can be synonymous with convenience.
What is your development strategy today?
We are convinced that the hybrid distribution model with an online presence and physical stores is the most efficient and the most suitable for our customers, who often switch from one to the other – enjoying talking to an expert in store when they have specific questions, but also being able to take advantage of the convenience that we offer with home collection and delivery. Stores are essential to our development, because physical conversation is very important in our business and allows us to fully understand the needs of our customers. We plan to open one to two shops per year in London, and to increase the number of our drivers, in order to ensure wider home delivery times in all parts of London. Our aim is to expand into other capitals which we believe also need our services – the world needs a brand that can be trusted to clean all the clothes produced every year in a practical and sustainable way.
How do you find your business premises?
French Touch Properties was of great help in our search for premises for our last stores. We have very specific location criteria and our activity also brings certain space constraints (because we need, for example, both a beautiful shop window and a large area out back to store customer orders and for our alterations team). French Touch Properties has been able to offer us premises that combine all these criteria, which is not an easy task.
How important are premises to your business? (location, rent, etc.)
Choosing the right premises is for us (as with any retail business) critical on many fronts. Firstly, stores act as a strong brand vector: Their location tells potential customers what our positioning is (our shops in Marylebone, Notting Hill, Chelsea, White City and South Kensington are purposefully located in upmarket parts of London) and attract customers who seek a quality service and are interested in our sustainable goals. Secondly, the location and layout of the stores are logistically important, as our stores act as staging posts in our London delivery network. Rent, finally, is obviously very important as well – we are a destination, not an impulse business, which does not need to be located on a major thoroughfare and would not bear the high rents.
Did you find help within the French community?
French people are always delighted to welcome a French concept abroad, and that has indeed helped us a lot for the development of our company – and especially recently during the opening of our store in South Kensington just opposite the French school Lycée Français. We are able to provide a quality, bilingual service, which appeals to newcomers, and has helped create positive word of mouth. The specialized French newspapers in London also relayed information about our openings and covered our news regularly, which undoubtedly helped too. Finally, the fact that the carcinogenic solvents used in dry cleaning are already close to being banned in France has created much greater awareness among French customers.
How is French Touch Properties supporting you? What is our added value for you?
French Touch Properties have been able to combine two strong skills: first, a strong sourcing capacity, i.e. the ability to find premises that are not necessarily on the market, which makes it possible to find gems. Second, a very good capacity for commercial and legal negotiation, which allows us to delegate part of the process to them with complete confidence. The combination of these two strengths is (paradoxically) rare in the retail agency sector and therefore it has been a real pleasure to work with French Touch Properties. They are incredibly efficient!
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to locate in London?
London is a welcoming city where it is good to do business, but which is infinitely larger than our large French cities, which is not easy to grasp. To fully understand its districts and their different characters and cultures, especially if it is a question of founding or developing a physical business, it is wise to find a partner like French Touch who has known the place for a long time, and will be aware of the current trends. For my first store, although I already knew London well, I literally crisscrossed several areas on foot for weeks, sitting in cafes to count passers-by and figure out if they belonged to my target audience. I could have saved a lot of time and effort by working directly with French Touch at the time!
Website : https://blancliving.co