Heartland awash with launderettes
THEY say not to wash your dirty linen in public, but more people are doing so these days - as more self-service laundry shops pop up in housing estates.
Industry players say there were only about 20 such shops in the heartland three years ago, but this has since grown by five times to around 100 shops.
These shops have sprung up to cater to foreigners who rent rooms and do not own washing machines, as well as locals who do not mind paying to get their clothes washed and dried in quick time.
It usually takes about an hour for a load of laundry to be washed and dried in these launderettes. Most stay open 24 hours a day and their rates start from around $5 to use a washing machine and $1 to use a dryer for five minutes, which amounts to $6 for 30 minutes, the average drying time.
The outlets provide coin-operated heavy-duty washing machines and dryers, which accept loads of laundry up to around 20kg - larger than the loads of 10kg and below that washing machines in homes typically take.
People who want to wash bulky items, such as furniture covers, also visit these laundry shops.
Said Fanny Chai, 41, a global programme director who frequents an Ocean Wash outlet in Toa Payoh: "Bed sheets and comforters are troublesome. You have to hang them up, they are slippery and they drip. They get in the way and when you cook, it leaves a smell on them.
When she visits a launderette, she needs only to put them into the washing machine and dryer, then keep them in a drawer when she gets home, she added.
In areas such as Bishan and Toa Payoh, competition between launderettes can be fierce, with a few located close to one another.
Some owners say the current market is "saturated".
Washer-dryers, which are becoming more common in households, could mean that the shops lose customers who visit them mainly for their dryers.
According to market research firm GfK, sales of washer-dryers here jumped by more than half to about 9,000 units from February last year to January this year, over February 2013 to January last year.
The turnover for launderettes can be high, with roughly four in 10 outlets not making profits, said Chan Tai Peng, 69, chief executive of laundry and dry-cleaning firm Laundry Network.
Some of them close within less than a year, added Mr Chan. Laundry Network has been around for more than three decades and runs seven shops under the Systematic Laundromat brand.
Still, other laundry chains are optimistic that there is room for growth.
Ocean Wash, which has opened four outlets since August, has plans for more this year. Said Belmont Chia, 46, the company's director: "Some areas are oversaturated, but there are still many Housing Board areas not populated by laundromats."
Increasingly hectic lifestyles might also drum up business, he added, as some pool a week's worth of dirty clothes and go to their outlets to get them washed in an hour, instead of having to do their laundry daily.
"Demand has not caught up with supply yet. But there is still a big percentage of households who do not use these services, so there is potential to grow," said Tan Tiong Peng, 54, franchise owner of Wonder Wash and SQ Laundromat with more than 50 outlets combined.
"As the population gets more affluent, they will not mind spending a few extra dollars to get their laundry done," he said.