A Stamford entrepreneur who aims to disrupt the dry-cleaning industry by installing automated drop-off points in shopping centres and railway stations has raised £550,000.
Vicky Whiter has secured investment from the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund, as part of a syndicate which also included Seedrs, members of Lincolnshire Business Angels and other angels.
Vicky developed the concept after buying Peters’ Cleaners, an established dry-cleaning business, and recognising the need to improve efficiency and provide out of hours services. Customers register online and the automated pods enable them to drop off and collect their dry cleaning at any time by simply scanning their membership card.
The company’s first two pods – at Peterborough Station and a local shopping centre – have been popular with customers and the funding will enable the business to install more pods at two other high footfall locations in the area before rolling out the concept across the UK.
As part of the deal, Stephen Harrison, who has previously worked in roles at PepsiCo, Asda and Dolland and Aitchison, has been appointed as Chairman. He is also the former finance director of Sandpiper CI, which operates franchises in the Channel Islands including Morrisons, Marks and Spencer and Costa Coffee.
Vicky, who held business development roles in Hong Kong, Singapore and London before buying Peters’ Cleaners in 2016, said: “I noticed I was unable to access dry cleaning facilities out of hours and saw a gap in the market. The pods are accessible 24/7, providing the perfect solution. They are a modern approach to a traditional service and are a great addition to our existing stores.
“The dry-cleaning landscape has massively changed over the years, particularly during the pandemic when a lot of companies went out of business. It was time for the industry to introduce new ways to provide customers with cleaning services that fit around their lifestyle. We’re delighted to be the driving force behind this change.”
Sandy Reid of Mercia added: “Dry cleaning is a sector where there has been little or no innovation in years, yet businesses have been struggling with margin erosion as costs have increased. Vicky is a driven and ambitious entrepreneur who we are pleased to back. The pods have been well received by customers and attracted interest from rail operators and shopping centres. The funding will enable her to franchise her model to expand it throughout the UK.”
Mark Wilcockson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank, said: “The Midlands Engine Investment Fund was set up to identify gaps in small business funding and to provide support to companies with innovative new ideas that create jobs and help to level up the region. It’s good to see that using the MEIF’s funding, Peters’ Cleaners will be able to expand the business in the Midlands and across the UK.”
Pat Doody, Chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Vicky’s business idea is a great example of how new technology and automation can transform the way we live our lives. The pandemic forced many businesses to reassess how they operate, and we are still feeling the effects of Covid-19 rippling through the economy.
“Entrepreneurs like Vicky are leading the way by using advanced technologies to disrupt their industry, and we’re pleased to see that she’s received significant financial support from the Midlands Engine Investment Fund. We wish her the best of luck in her new venture!”
Russell Copley of Greenborough Management and Laura Mallaburn of Lincolnshire Business Angels provided fundraising advice to the company.
The Midlands Engine Investment Fund is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.