ASAP is conducting an ongoing series of interviews with Members and Business Partners around some of the major themes that are exercising both ourselves and the Serviced Apartment sector, to find out how they see developments for their own businesses, and for the wider industry, over the coming years.
This week we are focusing on co-living, and its effect on the serviced apartment sector, in an interview with Philip Laukart, Co-Founder and CEO, WeWash GmbH
Here in the UK, the rise of co-living has almost come out of nowhere. But its popularity worldwide, especially with millennials seeking an affordable way to live which comes with the added bonus of a ready-made, like-minded community, cannot be ignored.
Now the increasingly short tenancies on offer – some as low as a fortnight in London – are making many in our sector start paying attention.
Here we discuss how WeWash fits with this trend, and what insights Philip has to share.
- WeWash is a German company. Do you see differences between Germany and the UK when it comes to laundry?
In Germany, and across much of Europe, renting your accommodation long-term and sharing communal areas, including laundry facilities, is far more common than in the UK, so perhaps I come at this from a slightly different angle from my British colleagues.
Indeed, it is quite common in Germany for serviced apartments themselves to have communal laundry rooms; apartments there tend to be smaller, and shared facilities larger. And it’s becoming more common to find laundry rooms very much on show – in reception areas, or on floors high up in a building, rather than stuck away in a basement.
Whereas there’s a tendency in Britain to keep laundry out of sight, even in residential homes – in utility rooms, bathrooms, or sometimes when they are in the kitchen, they’ll even have doors on the front of machines to hide them away.
- Why was WeWash born?
I am an industrial engineer by training, and in 2013 I joined the strategy team of the BSH Home Appliances Group, part of the BOSCH Group and parent company to brands such as BOSCH, Neff and Siemens. And here I acquired an in-depth knowledge of international laundry appliance markets and the underlying needs of the consumer.
But very quickly I realised those needs were changing. Increasing urbanisation, the power of the sharing economy, digitisation, and the influence of millennials and the way they live, were influencing everything. After all, millennials now make up pretty much a quarter of the population – and an even higher proportion of purchasers and travellers.
Everything seemed to be pointing towards a new, sustainable approach when it came to washing and drying in urban areas, especially where space was at a premium. And this led in 2016 to the launch of WeWash, as a smarter way of doing laundry. As part of the BOSCH Group we are in the very fortunate position of running an agile start-up but with the backing of this leading global brand.
- How does this work?
The WeWash system streamlines the process of using shared laundry rooms by allowing the user to manage much of the process remotely. They can check whether machines are available, book a slot, get an alert when their machine is free or the programme has finished, and pay automatically without cash or tokens, all via the WeWash app. This can be on a smartphone or via a web browser, or even by phone; we didn’t want to discriminate against less technology-minded customers, so a phone alert will do the same job.
When it’s just another notification on your phone, suddenly laundry becomes every bit as modern, as simple, as tapping a card machine for a coffee, and as shareable as cinema rooms, communal cooking and exercise space. WeWash is a simple, attractive app like any other on your phone.
- If people use the system do they keep having to register?
We’ve made it simple to register to use WeWash machines, and we’re partnering with numerous organisations so the payment process is simple and seamless. The app moves with the guest or consumer to another site with our machines, no need to register again.
We can even add the use of machines to an overall stay, so payment is part of a guest’s final invoice, and archives previous uses. It cuts out the need for anyone to handle cash or buy special tokens, and it removes the risk of theft from the coin dispensers. And if guests are regular users, we can set up monthly payments rather than single-use – as everything’s digital, we can adapt with the trends we see in consumer needs.
- Where does this fit with co-living?
We thought at first that our major customer base would be among traditional markets such as student halls of residence, in elderly care and council-run buildings with basement laundry rooms. And they are indeed customers.
And we are also starting to make inroads into the serviced apartment market, including some ASAP Members. Of course, many apartment operators offer in-room laundry facilities, but increasingly new developments are making shared facilities part of the planning process. It gives back more space, and means if a machine hasn’t drained properly or isn’t used much and gets musty, it won’t be sitting in an apartment kitchen.
But we are certainly now also finding growing interest from developers in the co-living space, as our system sits perfectly within the communal mindset. When in-room space is at a premium but shared space needs to be efficient, we are appealing to the tech-led millennial mindset. It is interesting that co-living is gaining a foothold in the UK – London is one of the fastest-growing markets in Europe – as it feels quite familiar to a lot of Germans. It’s certainly a viable option to get younger people away from home and closer to where they work, as well as offering a ready-made community.
And in fact, we’ve found that having the machines in the heart of a co-living community, such as on the ground floor, sits especially well with the design-led, industrial feel of many new urban buildings, and adds to the sociable, community space feel. Some of our most innovative partnerships have been in communal areas that are half coffee shop, half laundry zone, and quickly become the most popular place to make and meet friends.
- Finally, another of our key current threads is sustainability within the hospitality industry. How does WeWash sit with this?
There are several ways communal laundry is good for the environment. For one thing, fewer machines are manufactured in the first place if we’re sharing them! Then there’s how people use washing machines. Drums are getting bigger and bigger, and consumers tend to go for the largest they can afford. But statistics show people in their own homes are actually running smaller more frequent loads, whereas in communal areas it’s the opposite – they wash larger loads so it’s much more efficient.
And while we can retro-fit any brand of existing machine to use WeWash (by fitting our compact WeWash Box), where we supply new machines, they’re BOSCH’s energy efficient premium quality machines. With our WeWash Care option we ensure availability of those machines with customer support 365 days/year.
So even if we say so ourselves, we feel WeWash is a truly modern solution to something that is a necessary part of life, but one that fits in with the general trends; communal living, the digital management of everything and cost-control, all with a focus on sustainability and efficiency, reliability and the reassurance of being part of the BOSCH Group.