Inside Dropless, the app shaking up the £1bn car wash trade
What is the origin story of Dropless?
Despite our increasingly automated and technology-led lives, the world of car washing evidently missed the memo. We recognised this when trying to book a car washing service that fitted around our busy schedules proved to be almost impossible. After searching endlessly online it was clear there wasn't an appropriate solution.
Genuinely amazed by how an industry that was doing so ‘well’ (an estimated £1bn is spent on car washing in the UK every year alone) could be so far behind when it comes to technology and customer convenience, the seed of an idea was planted for Dropless, our app-based mobile waterless car washing service.
Whilst increasing customer convenience was important - allowing users to book mobile car washes and repairs in a similar way to how you might book an Uber - as we dug deeper we soon realised there was a more sinister side to the car washing industry that we also needed to address.
Why is waterless car washing a big deal? The traditional car washing industry is in desperate need of an overhaul
A single, traditional car wash can use between 150-200 litres of water. Our waterless car wash, on the other hand, uses just two litres of water diluted with a chemical-free, eco-friendly nano-solution which effectively lifts dirt from the car’s paint without the need for copious amounts of water. We’ve saved over 20 million litres of water in the last year alone.
The traditional car washing industry is largely unregulated, meaning anyone can set up shop, and with no rules designed to protect workers or the environment. And, because there are no rules or regulations related to the products used or rules around drainage, pollutants used through traditional car washing that are harmful to animals, plants and humans alike, are washed into our water systems untreated.
There’s also an estimated 8,000 hand car washes engaging in illegal activity and the Environmental Audit Committee recently warned many amount to “modern-day slavery in plain sight”.
The traditional car washing industry is predominantly comprised of Tesco ‘Wave’ like providers (supermarket drop-off car washers) and ‘Mechanised’ providers (drive through washers at a standard petrol station). In a recent report we commissioned with a group of Oxford and Cambridge PhD students, we found our total emissions to be around 0.57 kg CO2 per wash whereas for competitors, that figure reaches between 1.27 and 1.55 kg CO2 per wash. While our figure is lower than competitors we’re committed to using the insights gathered from this study to further drive down our carbon emissions.
Where is the business today?
Four years on since our conception, we’ve built a team of over a hundred people and operate consumer-facing services in London, Surrey, Cardiff, Bath, Bristol and Manchester, with more planned. We also service tens of thousands of fleet vehicles for business customers such as Amazon and Royal Mail. Our customer base has grown significantly, especially since the lockdown, and we have plans to roll out nation-wide very soon. We’ve also expanded our service offering to include a more cost-effective and convenient mobile maintenance & repairs service aka ‘mobile mechanic’ and have launched Hydroloop - our pioneering water recycling system for mobile HGV fleet cleaning. We’re particularly excited about Hydroloop,with its potential to save 296 million litres of water and £14 million each year for the HGV industry.
What is the secret to making the business work?
Our success thus far can be linked to our philosophy of simply putting convenience through technology at the heart of everything we do. We’ve taken an otherwise totally analogue industry and adapted it to the more modern, digitally oriented and sustainably conscious consumer appetite which has seen Dropless become a force to be reckoned with within this space. We’re constantly thinking of new ways to better service our customers through technology and in time hope to reshape the way drivers interact with their cars entirely - making staying on top of the entire health of their cars as easy as a few clicks on our app.
How do you market Dropless?
We use a combination of earned and paid media marketing. Getting visibility via traditional media channels is important to us but we also funnel a lot of energy into our SEO efforts. We really understand the value of investing in creating a strong online presence. In terms of messaging, because we’re the first business of this kind in our industry, a lot of the marketing we do, especially in the ‘earned’ media space, is centered around educating the general public about the more ominous side of the traditional car washing industry, and how our waterless, app-based alternative can be seen as an antidote to that.
What is the future vision for Dropless?
In the years to come, we’d like to shift public perception of us from ‘just’ a car washing service provider to a tech and data business that is actively trying to simplify the way people manage their vehicles as a whole. We have a team of 20 developers in Bristol working very hard to improve the usability of our platform and build features designed to revolutionise the way we look after our vehicles.
In time, we’d like for our app to draw data on the health of the entire vehicle and then use those information points to provide real time diagnostics and resolutions to any problem that may arise.
Essentially, we are using AI technology to help us understand our customers’ vehicles better so we can start pre-empting what service they need without them even having to think about it. For example, we can anticipate when you will need to change your tyres, prepare your car in advance of an MOT, or provide a quote for a scratch that we’ve identified. This is totally new terrain for the industry and we definitely have our work cut out for us but we’re beyond excited to be capitalising on our ‘first mover advantage.’
Our aim is to revolutionise the car health and car care industry in the same way that Uber has revolutionised transport and food delivery. This does have its fair share of significant challenges since we’re implementing a foundational change to the market as we know it, but the pay-off for consumers, businesses, workers and the environment all makes it worthwhile.