THEY were once a place to catch up on neighbourhood gossip over soap powder and suds, but have dwindled in number in recent generations thanks to the advent of affordable home washing machines.
But now, the tradition of taking your clothes to a launderette could form part of Britons’ weekly shopping routine, courtesy of plans to install laundry machines and dryers in supermarkets.
In a move which would see major retailers usurp yet another service which was once a staple of the nation’s high streets, a firm is in talks to launch the coin-operated devices in supermarket chains.
The move would allow shoppers to drop off their dirty washing before grabbing a trolley, stocking up on food, then picking up the freshly laundered clothes after leaving the checkout.
The head of the trade body for the country’s remaining launderettes said that ordinary consumers would welcome the service, but admitted that the venture could send smaller firms to the wall.
The idea of installing the machines in the likes of Tesco and Asda branches is the brainchild of Photo-Me International, a Surrey-based group which has already enjoyed uccess from installing passport photo booths in supermarkets up and down the country.
After nearly three years of successful trials and tests in supermarkets in France and Belgium, the company is “aggressively” rolling out the laundry machines in Europe, and hopes to launch next year in the UK, with the possibility of units being installed in shopping centres as well.
The company aims to have 3,000 machines in operation by the end of 2015, having already installed more than 180 in France and Belgium – 160 sold and the remaining 23 operated by the group.
Francoise Coutaz-Replan, the financial director of Photo-Me, said: “If the results that we have seen on this small number of machines are repeated on a larger scale then we think that this product will become a significant contributor within three years.”
While the supermarkets who might enter into a partnership with the firm have yet to be identified, prospective customers can expect to pay around £6.45 for a full wash, and 80p to use the drier, according to the pricing structure of Photo-Me’s operations in Europe.
The plans could spell bad news for traditional launderettes, which have endured a tumultuous time in recent decades as more and more people use domestic machines to wash and dry clothing and bedding.
When Britain’s first opened in 1949, it was hailed as a revolution which consigned the mangle and washboard to the museum.
After peaking in the early 1970s, the industry has suffered a steep decline, with only a few thousand remaining in the UK, according to Bruce Herring, chair of the National Association of the Launderette Industry.
“The idea is a very good one. Everyone in the area with a double duvet would be a potential customer at least once a year,” he said.
“In its heyday, Britain had around 14,000 launderettes, but it’s down now to around 2,500.”