A coin-laundry chain has launched a smartphone information service to help customers make more efficient use of laundromats as the industry enjoys a resurgence in demand from people juggling hectic schedules.
Wash Plus introduced its Smart Laundry service last month in Chiba Prefecture. Using registered smartphones, customers can check whether laundry machines are in use, find out if their clothes are ready for pickup and make payments. The service is also targeting other businesses, such as hair salons. Receipts are issued via email.
Depending on their yearly usage, customers can set certain details, such as washing, rinsing and drying times.
Wash Plus, which runs eight coin-operated laundries in Chiba, Tokyo and Hokkaido, is aiming to make the service available at 100 places across the country.
"We would like to attract more customers by providing services that can give them something extra," said Kentaro Takanashi, the 44-year-old president of the Urayasu, Chiba-based company.
In recent years, many coin-operated laundries have opened to meet growing demand, particularly from double-income households that normally have little time to do housework on weekdays.
In addition, self-service laundries are considered relatively easy to start because they do not require staff to be stationed inside regularly and are open 24 hours a day in many cases.
Government data show there were some 16,700 laundromats in Japan as of March 2014, representing a 1.5-fold gain from about 15 years before.
In another sign of the trend, FamilyMart Co. plans to open 500 laundromats adjacent to its convenience stores by February 2020.
Tomohiko Nakamura, a professor specializing in regional economies at Kobe International University, said the market is already approaching saturation from the surge in self-service laundries.
"Operators need to avoid attrition from price competition through such measures as offering quality services and cooperating with other industries," he said.