Clothes are all over the place at the Top Cleaners dry-cleaning outfit in Ilaje, a suburb of Shomolu, in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, while owner Kingsley Ubeh irons. Despite the buzz of activity, earnings are meager. Operators have decided to form an association to protect their interests.
To curb rampant debt and poor customer practices, some scale operators have set up the Fabricare Professionals and Drycleaners Association (FPDA), a newly launched national body that can stand strong and advocate for drycleaners in Nigeria.
Eniibukun Adebayo, chairman of FPDA, at the launch ceremony of the association on Thursday, said, “We have suffered from customers, staff, scrupulous suppliers and vendors as well as unprofessional engineers to mention but a few. But we thank God today, we are all witnessing the formal launch of the association.”
With the aim to work together and promote the common objectives of its members, drycleaning professionals in Nigeria can by this new provision, collaborate, learn from each other, set industry standards, advocate for their interests, and collectively work towards the growth and improvement of the laundry industry.
Revenue in Nigeria’s laundry care market is estimated to hit $1.94 billion in 2023, according to market research by Statista, but the lifestyle of Ubeh and other small-scale operators fail to mirror the fortunes of a sector that has seen its highest revenue since 2017, BusinessDay’s findings showed.
“If we get the money for every laundry we do, we won’t have any reason to complain, even though our bills are increasing,” Ubeh, 38, said.
“Customers that have already gained your trust months or sometimes years down the line are the greatest culprits. You have already become vulnerable to them and are certain they’ll get your money across.”
Ubeh’s days began before the sun rose, bustling around his small laundry shop tucked away in his quaint neighborhood. He picks up clothes from his customers’ residences and delivers the clothes as soon as they are ready.
For Nnaemeka Salem that has to pay the 2 other hands that work for his drycleaning outlet, the story is the same, though he does not pick up and delivers, on his own end.
The fifty-something-year-old man and father of three – John, 19, Olisa, 16, and Ruth, 12 – is faced with other operational costs like light bill, water, etc.
On the back of this, however, the laundry business in Nigeria and Africa is experiencing a surge due to the growing population and urbanisation.
According to World Population Review, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with an estimated population of over 206 million people. This population growth has led to an increase in the demand for laundry services, especially in urban areas where people have less time to do their laundry themselves.
Ibironke Isaacs, a digital banker at a reputable Nigerian bank, employs the services of Ojeje Drycleaning Service to do her laundry.
Her schedule would only allow her time to iron her clothes, so she does her washing at the dry cleaners. She, like several others, are active patronisers of drycleaning and laundry services due to their busy lifestyle.
“Some of these office people make month-end promises that they do not redeem, and cart off with their clean clothes. Mind you, I pay around N5,000 for light (because I use a prepaid meter) at intervals of three days,” Ubeh said.
Through the new association, operators hope to agitate for members’ interests and advocate for policies that will improve their welfare.
The operators also say their association would be a unified platform to address challenges, seize opportunities, and build a more sustainable and thriving sector, as the laundry industry in Nigeria and Africa is highly fragmented, with small and medium-sized businesses making up the majority of the market.