We interviewed Marta Pérez and Gerard Navas, owners of LABAR, a new concept of bar-laundry that is triumphing in Barcelona and that this April has just opened its second location.
1- What inspired you to open this new concept of self-service laundry and bar?
GERARD: We were users of self-service laundries, especially when we travelled and we realised that the time you spend waiting for your clothes to be washed is time that you are not taking advantage of and that it is also very boring. And it occurred to us that we had to find something to fill this time and we thought of a bar. I think it’s a perfect idea that combines the daily activity of doing the laundry with being able to socialise, meet up with friends, and have a coffee…
2- How long have you been in the laundry business?
GERARD: It will now be five years since we opened the first one, in June we opened LABAR in Consell de Cent Street in Barcelona, and now we have opened the second one.
3- What challenges have you encountered during the process of opening the laundry?
MARTA: A lot, especially because we combine the two activities, laundry and bar. The laundry was perhaps easier for us, but basically the main challenge was the fact that we had to open both activities at the same time, so legally we were told from the start that it was not possible, and in terms of customers, people find it difficult to understand that you can do both activities in the same place.
4- And legally?
GERARD AND MARTA: Yes, legally it has also been quite difficult for us. Now we find more and more things that are two activities together, but when we opened five years ago it wasn’t so common. So, in terms of licences… they told us directly that it wasn’t possible. So, for our account, we had to inform ourselves and start investigating with the help of technicians who had knowledge of the regulations. In the end we managed to make it possible. Although at the licensing level, the issue of the cafeteria has been more complicated because having a laundry licence nowadays has fewer restrictions.
5- What is the day-to-day running like?
MARTA: In terms of operation during these five years, the laundry has been perhaps more complicated than the bar, as it has a more normalised activity. As far as the laundry is concerned, since we didn’t come from this world, we have found things that we didn’t know and that we had to learn. The fact that we are here in the bar allows us to know the needs of the laundry customers and to help them if necessary, unlike a self-service shop where there is nobody to help.
6- What type of customer do you think is the most interested in coming to your laundries?
GERARD: Our customer is the neighbourhood resident. Contrary to what people think, our target is not tourists, our business ends up building loyalty. Obviously we also have tourists, but they are far from being the majority. Our client is a neighbour who has to wash a duvet and has no space at home or who comes to do the laundry every week and takes the opportunity to have a coffee. In addition, we also offer other services and amenities such as air conditioning, wifi, music… we try to make the place pleasant and make people feel at ease and this makes people want to come back.
MARTA: What we are trying to achieve, which I am very excited about, is that people normalise the fact of using self-service washing machines, even if you have a washing machine at home, and that they see it as a complement. For example, when you go on a trip and come back, you have a lot of clothes to wash and that can mean three washing cycles. Also, most people don’t have a tumble dryer or don’t have enough space to hang their clothes. On the other hand, you come here and in half an hour you have it done and you can have a coffee while you’re at it.
GERARD AND MARTA: We want people to understand that it makes your life easier and also saves you time and money, as it is much cheaper than washing clothes at home. We want to ensure that even if you have a washing machine at home, you want to come to Labar to wash your clothes while you have a coffee or a beer.
MARTA: I think this is a market that has yet to explode, in the United States, for example, it is already a very mature market, but here there is still a long way to go.
7- How has the public’s response been so far?
GERARD AND MARTA: To be honest, it’s very good, we haven’t been in this new place for long yet, but with the first one we’ve been increasing, there are days when we can’t keep up. And as we said before, our audience is the neighbours who live a maximum of three streets away. We see that people find it difficult to understand the concept of a bar-laundry, some people think that washing machines and dryers are for decoration! But well, little by little they are accepting it and people are delighted.
8- What would you highlight about the PRIMER machinery and technology?
GERARD AND MARTA: What we would highlight most would be its easy operation and the fact that we can customise the machines through the T2 microprocessor. You can do a lot of things and program it according to what you need. For example, lately we have come across quite a few people who want programmes without fabric softener, especially due to allergies. Thanks to being able to program the washing machines, we can offer our customers these programmes without softener.
9- Do you have plans to expand the business with more LABARs?
MARTA: It’s the idea, but not for us to do it ourselves, at least for now. But obviously it’s a business idea that is very replicable, not because we want to grow a lot, but because the potential customers are very localised in the neighbourhood, so you can open them and they will all have their audience. We want to be the first reference brand in this type of business. When people say “Labar” they already mean this new concept of laundry and bar. I don’t know if it’s a dream, but I would like it very much.
10- Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to open a self-service laundry?
GERARD AND MARTA: First of all we would tell them to look at electricity and gas prices, to see what suits them best, then to do a good market study and above all that it should be a residential area, not a particularly touristy area, which is better if everything can be combined, but I would recommend a mainly neighbourhood area. We believe that more and more people will combine the washing machine at home with the laundry. It is also very important to create a welcoming place, aesthetics is very important. Although it is not a laundry bar, it is important to take into account the decoration and above all that it is clean.
Thank you very much Marta and Gerard for your time. It was a real pleasure to talk to you and we hope to see you again very soon.
We wish you all the best of luck in your new project.