Leher Ali, a B.Com student from Mumbai’s Mithibai College, wants to change the way you store your fanciest clothes. Here’s why you may need her ALMARI.Sohini Mitter
How often does it happen that you spend hours rummaging through your closet, and still cannot find the set of clothes you want for that special occasion or that important meeting? Even if you do find it eventually, it is either crumpled or unclean, or has bits and buttons missing. Basically, not ‘ready-to-wear’.
People typically throw tantrums at this stage. Where others saw despair, 18-year-old Leher Ali - a commerce student from Mumbai - saw a business opportunity. After some R&D, she launched ALMARI, a storage and maintenance service for occasional wears, business suits, and premium garments.
ALMARI (which means wardrobe in Hindi), picks up clothes from your doorstep, stores them in a secure place (a “carehouse”), dusts and steam-irons them, and delivers them as and when needed. On special requests, ALMARI also facilitates dry-cleaning services for customers.
Leher's mother, Sanha Ali, joined her as Co-founder, and the startup began operations in Mumbai four months ago.
ALMARI’s concept is undoubtedly new, possibly even unheard of in India. Some might even balk at the idea of storing expensive clothes outside their own houses. But, Founder-CEO Leher asserts that there is a definite need for a service like this, especially in a city like Mumbai where real estate costs are prohibitive, and people live in matchbox-sized apartments that cannot house large, spacious cupboards.
She tells YourStory,
“Many of us, including me, stuff our occasional wear in suitcases or boxes. But, when you take them out, they are in an unwearable condition and you spend hours cleaning and ironing them. It’s an ordeal and you wish there was a service to store these nice clothes in a neat and proper manner. We have places to dump soft toys and stuff, but nothing for dresses.”
That is the gap that ALMARI seeks to fill.
Its core proposition of ‘Dress Tumhare, Space Hamari’ has already wooed about a 100 customers, including men, who are willing to send their business suits, blazers and jackets to the startup’s 800-sq-ft ‘carehouse’ in Malad - a suburb in northwestern Mumbai. ALMARI’s facility can house about 2,000 outfits at any point, and the startup plans to add two more storage facilities this year.
Interest from other cities is also pouring in. Leher says, “We were wrong in thinking that in Delhi, people have large houses to store their lehenga-cholis and other premium wear. We get maximum calls from Delhi, Chennai, and even Ahmedabad and Surat. People want us to launch there soon.”
At present, ALMARI accepts pick-up and drop orders over WhatsApp. There is no app so far. Customers are expected to maintain a 24-hour-window, but exceptions are honoured at times. “We have delivered clothes even at three hours' notice,” says Leher.
For dry cleaning services, ALMARI has tied up with Closet Care - a Mumbai-based laundry startup. Nearly 20 percent of customers request a laundry service. The rest are happy with storage only.
The pick-up and drop is handled in-house. ALMARI owns a delivery van, and a fleet of two people. More will be added as it expands its storage facilities across Mumbai, and other cities. By the end of 2019, ALMARI aims to be servicing 10,000 customers with a presence in two to three cities.
Its revenue model is straightforward. To store one outfit, customers pay Rs 1,799 a year. For every 10 outfits, they pay Rs 9,999 a year. That is a 45 percent discount per outfit for an annual plan For every 20 outfits, they pay even lesser.
Essentially, ALMARI is incentivising customers who store in bulk. It is urging people to store more and store well.
Leher shares, “Just a week ago, we had a lady sending us 60 outfits, and she said she has more to give. So, the response has been very positive so far."
But, some things have been difficult. Trust-building, for instance. Leher reveals that customers’ most frequently asked questions are, “Hamare kapde chori toh nahi ho jayenge? (Will our clothes get stolen?) and ‘Aap kapde rent pe toh nahi de doge?’ (Will you rent out our clothes?)”
“This has been a major challenge,” she says, “to make people believe that we are caretakers of their clothes, and we are responsible for them. If any irreparable damage is done at our facility, we pay them the money.”
While this strategy may be good for building customer rapport, it puts an additional cost burden on the currently bootstrapped startup. To overcome this, Leher is roping in her family members and putting them “in charge of inventories”. “It’s your own family, so these are people you trust,” she says.
Her family also helped Leher secure a loan of about Rs 60 lakh, the initial investment for the venture. It is premature to talk numbers, but ALMARI claims it has sufficient resources to start services in Chennai and Delhi by end-2019.
Ask the teenage entrepreneur about the perils of starting up early, and all she will say is, “I have only got blessings so far. Hope it will continue!”