When Stabroek Business arrived at Stall A3 Giftland Mall on Wednesday it was as if a small squall has just passed through the cramped space.
Everywhere, there were black plastic bags crammed with what we subsequently determined to be washing waiting to be done. What little room remained in the stall was occupied by a number of washers and driers, one of which had been partially dismantled by a couple of probing technicians. Diana Austin, a slight, young woman and another member of the Double Bubble Team were operating in a small space which appeared to be the area in which the cleaned washing was folded prior to collection by customers and where the administrative work was done.
Our awareness of the premium on space had dawned on Diana so that the discourse between us began with the steady growth in patronage and just how quickly Double Bubble had outgrown A3 Giftland Mall. Expansion to the neighbouring stall was under consideration but at 27, the former Queen’s College and University of Guyana student had become a sufficiently consummate businesswoman to ‘do the numbers’ so to speak as part of the process of contemplating her expansion plans.
Double Bubble had started two years earlier out of business premises on the University of Guyana at Cummings Lodge. The idea had arisen out of Diana’s own careful assessment and, she says, her own experience, of the challenges associated with ‘doing the laundry’ in Guyana…………water supply and water quality challenges, unreliable power supply, unpredictable weather as well as the fact that with a population that comprises greater numbers of working women the washing has become an increasingly time-consuming challenge.
The opportunity afforded by what she determined to be a potentially lucrative market coincided with Diana’s own entrepreneurial ambitions though not, with the preferences of her Phd. father and his strong wish for her following in his footsteps. She prevailed, she says, because of her persistence and these days, because of the strides which the business has made, it has become less of an issue between them.
Diana has learnt, quickly it seems, to streamline Double Bubble into a set of simple and efficient procedures. The company receives, washes, dries and returns clothing, costs dependent on the weight of the ‘bundle.’ It is, understandably, a pursuit that is not without its challenges. People who entrust their washing to contractors can be idiosyncratic about their expectations. Diana wants it to be known, for example, that each ‘bundle,’ however small, is laundered separately and that there is a post-cleaning inspection exercise which she frequently undertakes after which washing that does not meet the agreed quality standard is re-done.
Double Bubble does not offer dry cleaning or ironing services.
The cost of the service ranges from $900 for bundles weighing from one to nine pounds to $12,100 for 100-pound bundles. Customers can usually pick up their washing within 24 to 48 hours of dropping it off.
The service has grown, she says, because she has placed the highest possible premium on good customer service. It is that sort of business, she says, where “good customer service” has to be contemplated as much more than a common catchphrase. If what you deliver fails to match up with what you offer there will probably be no second chance and you could find yourself out of business very quickly.
Evidence that the business has worked for Diana is reflected in the fact that the level of customer patronage has long passed the point where aggressive advertising is any longer necessary. Diana readily admits that Double Bubble is fast approaching a point where any contemplation of expanding the customer base beyond the current numbers can only be addressed in tandem with expansion capacity.
It was during a point in our interview when Diana was explaining that her own duties extended from ’running the show’ to helping out with the folding of clothing, when necessary and even trying to get defective washing or drying equipment working again that she disclosed, en passant, that she was a qualified Dentist. She made the disclosure in the same casual manner that she had maintained throughout the earlier part of the discourse, as if she were saying that she had done a crash course in Book Keeping course in order to support the accounting side of her business; and when we sought to enquire into the line of reasoning that would cause a qualified Dentist to set that profession aside to ‘do’ the laundry for perfect strangers she declared that it had worked for her, that apart from her proclivity for entrepreneurship she had always wanted to pursue a job in which she could make “good money” whilst not having to do a routine ‘nine to fine’ everyday job.
These days, she says, her position has been vindicated. Amongst her staunchest backers, are her father and her fiancé Anil, the former she says, conceding these days that he had no idea that ‘doing the washing’ could become a thriving business.
She acknowledges too the support of the Small Business Bureau which, she says, played a key role in helping her secure access to the local banking sector. “Their interest has actually gone beyond that,” she says.
Up to 70% of Double Bubble’s customers are what Diana describes as “regulars,” ordinary people and business enterprises who bring their ‘bundles’ “weekly or monthly” from as far as west of the Demerara River and areas on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway and whose patronage, she says, she values highly. Diana explains that setting aside the fact that hers is the kind of business where customer service “has to be your greatest strength,” ‘doing the laundry” is the sort of pursuit in which you must always be ready to please and, if necessary, placate the customer. “Sometimes,” she says, “the choices are not up to you. If they don’t like the scent of the cleaning agent that you use then you simply have to change it”.