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JEDDAH: When Abdulkareem Rafeeq took over the family laundry business in Madinah six years ago he began implementing new modern technology.

And despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic denting his ambitions in the short term, he put in place major expansion plans and has set a goal to have 50 branches within five years and 500 throughout the region by 2050, catering to the private and public sectors, and the hotel industry.

His father Mahmoud started the business in 1982, with the first branch of the Princes Express Laundries providing services to residents in the Madinah area.

His son joined the company in 2015 and launched the first branch of the Rafco Laundry chain, which incorporated modern working and processing methods and also offered free home delivery and disinfection of clothes.

Rafco Laundry now has 10 branches covering the majority of neighborhoods in Madinah. Still a family business, with his father the chairman of the board of directors, Rafeeq told Arab News he had big plans for the future.

The company’s goal was to expand to 30 branches in Riyadh and 20 branches in Jeddah and other parts of the Kingdom.

He said: “We plan to have 50 new branches in five years in the Kingdom that reach different regions. During the past two years, we opened 10 branches in the Madinah region. “It is the only laundry shop that has a franchise agency. Most franchises are cafes and restaurants, we decided to think outside the box and create a laundry franchise. “We made eight contracts so far with more than SR6 million ($1.6 million) and established these laundry shops. It takes us two months to open a laundry shop with its key and trained staff,” he added.

However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year affected the company’s plans. “There was a decrease in growth, but the company fixed it and we saw the strengths and weaknesses in the market,” Rafeeq said.

His idea to offer free disinfection of clothing was a key component in helping the business to recover, as during the pandemic many customers were concerned about the spread of the virus, especially in the early days when little was known about it.

“We brought in consultants, and the solution was to bring equipment from the US — ultraviolet (UV) machines that disinfect clothes, carpets, and such.

“We began to wash, iron, and disinfect. The disinfection (service) was for free, and we did a lot of marketing for it — through social media and the posters we handed out along with the clean clothes. People started coming to us, we created an opportunity out of a crisis,” he added.

Rafeeq said the innovations his team introduced had earned Rafco Laundry a good reputation as a modern establishment that had expanded its service offerings.

“We provided a shoe washing division. We also wash women’s handbags and students’ schoolbags. We have UV disinfection machines and clothes and sheet fresheners,” he added. The company had been planning a mobile app in 2019, but the digital boom brought about by the global health crisis accelerated its development and growth. The number of app users rose quickly during the pandemic, and it currently has around 1,500 regular customers. Rafeeq said: “The electronic app was not active when we first launched it, but during the lockdown and when everyone was at home, we relaunched the app and we made very good sales and depended on it essentially during the pandemic.”

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