Esther Lennaerts is the founder and executive director of Pressto, a unique service that provides premium drycleaning and "cobbler" services to discerning customers.
With 42 flagship stores in prime Indian locations such as Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore, Pressto Drycleaning & Pressto Cobbler services have made an indelible mark on the minds of India's new breed of fashion-conscious consumers.
This is an Exclusive Interview with Esther, as a part of the #TimesStories initiative by The Times Blog.
What inspired you to launch a business in the dry cleaning industry?
There was no player catering to the emerging needs for quality services in this segment. When I was in Mexico, I remember reading about Zara and a lot of other 'premium' fashion brands entering India, but there was no professional player available to care of maintenance of these garments, shoes & bags.
I mean sure, you can buy Zara, but how do you maintain a dress like that in India?
Having lived in India for eight years at the time, I could personally relate to that need. I started by testing a lot of drycleaners in Mexico and Pressto turned out to be the best among all of them. So I approached them to set up Pressto India, to which they eagerly agreed. We joined hands with Radha Kapoor, Founder & CEO, DoIt Creations to setup the India operations unit.
When did you launch the firm, and what challenges did you face initially while going about it?
Pressto dry cleaning was launched in India in 2008, with one flagship store at Juhu. A lot of people whom I met within the initial phase did not really believe this concept, and were skeptical about how well a business like this will perform in India. They suggested traditional routes to this industry, but I was determined to make a mark.
We faced a lot of challenges - starting with real estate, trained personnel and price point indicators, but we were lucky with an impactful entry into the sector. The product was received well. And then in 2012, we started Pressto Cobbler because there was no professional player in the market for cleaning and repairing of shoes & bags. Pressto Cobbler was an even bigger challenge, as I started it from scratch including the development technique and maintenance processes.
We developed it with assistance from shoemakers based in Holland & the UK.
How did your family react when you told them you wanted to get into the dry-cleaning/shoe business?
My husband – Mr Yvo Metzelaar (now the MD of Pressto), was extremely supportive, and started taking over areas that he could bring his expertise in, such as finance, leaving me free to focus on core business aspects such as operations & development.
How important was the acquisition & targeting of a niche audience for Pressto? How did you go about it?
We were always in the business of catering to an audience that understood what value we offered. These were decidedly premium customers. What helped us initially in Juhu, was the prominent location of the store and the look-and-feel of the store was very attractive and radically new for our customers.
We at Pressto have always believed that offering the best quality possible for every enlisted service, was the best advertisement for our firm. We excelled in operations, and that drove the necessary word of mouth which eventually helped us scale up.
What are the Top 3 Business Takeaways that you did not know when you first started out?
1. Stick to your vision
2. Execute rigorously
3. Hire passionate people
Have you raised funds for your business?
The private equity fund ASK Pravi pumped Rs 25 Crores into our business in 2014, and we are optimistic about raising funds in the future to scale up further.
Any words of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs in the customer-servicing industry?
You need to be very clear about what you want to build, be process-driven and operationally very strong, keeping your target customer in mind.
Is there a product or service that doesn't exist yet, which you wished existed? To help your business?
For me, what matters most is to be able to source raw materials and service units locally - so that would help a lot!
How much of a role does consumer marketing/publicity play in Pressto's sales numbers, in your opinion?
Being in the service industry, publicity is very important. Word of mouth has really worked very well for us, supported by PR, advertisements and hyperlocal consumer-engagement activities.
Is there someone whom you would like to thank on our platform?
I want to convey my gratitude to Radha Kapoor and her family. Without their support, it wouldn’t have been possible to build and scale this business. And also - our customers and employees, who have helped us get to the top spot in this industry and stay there for the last ten years!