MANILA - Washing machines whirred and a detergent smell perfumed a small portion of a sleeping neighborhood as call center agents coming from graveyard shifts queued for their turn at a self-service laundromat.
Customers at Quicklean's Maginhawa Street branch would rather pay per visit instead of invest on their own washing machines, illustrating the Filipino "tingi" or retail culture that feeds sari-sari stores and other small businesses.
Using reloadable tap-and-go cards similar to the one used in MRT and LRT trains, customers can wash and dry their clothes for as low as P17.50 per kilo, cheaper than a can of soda. Full automatic household washers cost around P20,000.
Abby Ferry, a student and first-time mother, had been coming to Quicklean since her washing machine conked out a few months ago and she has no plans to replace it.
"Mas mabilis talaga... Nagpapalaba ako before sa laundry shops nearby kaso nakukuha ko after 2 days," Ferry told ABS-CBN News.
(It's faster. I used to have my laundry done in other shops but it takes 2 days before I can pick it up.)
It was a slow burn for Quicklean before it found a target market in busy millennials and professionals like Ferry. One of its first branches was located in neighborhoods serviced by laundry women or "labandera."
"We started the experiment and slowly for the first 3 years, we grew to 6 branches... There was a lot of trial and errors also. After that, we knew what works what doesn't. Now we have 60 branches," said Quicklean president Martin Veerayah.
Millennials, especially, "want it their way and they want it fast," Veerayah told ABS-CBN News. "I think this fits the bill for the current generation... Here they have an option."
Veerayah, who started as a supplier of US-made washers and dryers, said few believed his venture would succeed when it started in 2011.
"Sabi nila, Filipinos are lazy, they won't like self-service," he said.
(They said, Filipinos are lazy and won't like self-service.)
In another Quezon City suburb, off-duty professionals and students also make a bee line at Wash-O-Matic for their laundry chores, including Ella Parada.
"Hindi siya nakakadagdag ng pagod. Parang relax lang ang paglalaba. Less stress din," Parada told ABS-CBN News.
(It's not tiring. It makes doing the laundry seem relaxing. Less stress too.)
Wash-O-Matic attendant Armida Conde said clients squeeze in other activities like eating or doing school assignments while waiting.
At Quicklean, Veerayah installed free wi-fi so customers can get some work done online or update their social media feeds.
"I've seen couples coming in, or nagliligawan. I've seen nagtu-tutor or those doing their home works. I've seen mga titas, they do bible studies," he said.
(I've seen couples coming in, some just enjoying each other's company. I've seen tutors, doing homework. I've seen titas. They do bible studies.)
"It's a community-building thing," he said.