Low-key laundry man Jojo Asis attributes the strong and steady growth of Metropole Laundry and Dry Cleaners to the education and proper training of his people


MANILA, Philippines — Like other trades, the laundry business has grown considerably with time. Today the greater part of the work is done, not by individual washerwomen working on their own account, but by institutions composed of laundry professionals, with the workprocess much more complicated than it used to be.

Every day, clothing manufacturers introduce new articles of clothing, where almost as often some new thing or design of an old one is reinvented. For these reasons, doing laundry is no longer as simple as hand-washing  or pushing the buttons of a standardwashing machine and expecting it to do all the work for you.

Today, laundry requires brains and intelligence—a quick eye, a steady hand, and an inventive turn of mind. A modern laundry man knows how to  iron and starch, can tell the difference between real dry cleaning and that of one employing the use of Shellac, and how to maximize efficiency.

Old School Wisdom Meets Technology

As a third-generation laundry man who grew up in the business of cleaning up after clients, Metropole Laundry and Dry Cleaners founder and president Jojo Asis has seen how the laundry industry has both changed and remained the same over the years. “You don’t have to invent the wheel in doing laundry,” Asis says, “the way my grandfather did it 60 years ago, and the way I do it now…it’s the same. The only difference is now we don’t use hot water, we use technology, and our modern machines talk with a Japanese accent.”

Indeed, if you visit the 12 branches (out of Asis’ 49-strong laundry biz) using the new washing machines Asis purchased before the Japanese quake and tsunami, you would be amazed to find that the machines actually talk. “When you put in your clothes,it will tell you how heavy the load is, how much water it will use, and how much energy it will consume,” Asis informs.

The best thing about these talking machines? They’re as small as a mini refrigerator. “Unfortunately we won’t have supply for the next six months, but magaling talaga,” he shares, “I was skeptical when I first heard about it, but now we have 12 branches using it and my staff is very happy about it.”

When it comes to technological innovation in the field of laundry, Asis is quick to invest. “If you have something new in Asia Pacific, expect it to be in Metropole in two to three weeks—you have to be that fast if you want to stay on top of your game,” Asis shares.

No Short Cuts

Five years after Asis and his wife, Zaida, opened the first Metropole branch in 1993, a seminar by Butch Bartolome convinced the couple to open Metropole to franchising. “We got 400 applications during that show in ’98, and we approved only three out of the 400—two of whom are still with  us, while one migrated, so we bought back that branch,” Asis shares.

Today, only 14 out of Metropole’s 49 branches are franchisees. “I realized that franchising wasn’t my cup of tea because when you build something and you see somebody doing shortcuts to make more money, you want to strangle that person,” says Asis, half-jokingly. “Your business is something you work hard for. It works, and then somebody decides to pay less by not using pioneer employees trained by the head office— it put me off.”

Much of Metropole’s branches are located in Metro Manila. While most businessmen would  be quick to expand a business model that has proven to work well, Asis doesn’t share the same mindset. “People who do that just want to make more money in franchising, but realistically you can’t provide support—they won’t have supervision or the advantage of the main plant (which is located in Antipolo) nor the competition with other Metropole branches,” Asis shares. “Honestly if I wanted to have 100 branches in one year, it would’ve been easy, except I’m too hands on. You’ve worked on it for so long and you open a hundred, and 50 close down. Why be in a hurry andmake a mistake?”

The Importance of The Care Label

What sets Metropole apart from its competition is the value it places on its people. “In Manila, the window of employment is small for people past the age of 30, but that’s the people we want,” shares Asis. “We’re the only laundry that requires that for you to wash and iron clothes, you have to be second year college level. That’s my secret—my people are educated andthey’re paid right.”

More than investing in technology and detergents like Ariel (“those are gravy,” says Asis), the company places a huge primer on the quarterly training of the staff. “We teach our employees the importance of reading the care label—what the care label says, we follow,” shares Asis. “Our belief is that laundry can only be as good as the clothes you send us. If you  send us ukay ukay clothes, don’t expect us to be perfect.”

As with any trade, disgruntled customers are part of the business. And Metropole, which handles 3,500 customers a day, isn’t exempted. “One percent—35 people—will not be satisfied for whatever reason,” shares Asis. “It even happened recently when a customer sent in a striped shirt that bled, but my people just follow what the care label said. Was it the fault of my staff who read the care label, or that of the manufacturer for putting the wrong care label?”

In any case, Metropole clients have the advantage of Metropole’s main plant in Antipolo that takes care of the more complicated laundry processes that a regular branch cannot. “If something gets stained, it’s sent to the main plant; if it’s one single item that’s above 40 kilos or if the care label says ‘dry cleaning only’ or the staff doesn’t know what to do, then it’s sent to the main plant,” Asis shares. “We’re a number of branches, and all these branches benefit from the support of  the main plant. That’s our secret for success—we’re integrated.”

Published in the May 9, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section