Two Dubai-based eco-entrepreneurs are the force behind a car-wash technique that uses a biodegradable spray and cloth - but no water. The Kohli brothers Rishi, 35, and Sanuj, 26, expanded their circuit-board business, Laser and Electronics Middle East (LEME), into WaterWise Car Washing. They are now looking to expand their waterless car-wash technique into cleaning skyscraper windows.
q What made you diversify into a car-wash company after the electronics business?
a Rishi: What used to irk us was that so much water was being wasted [in washing cars]. … The initial plan was to sell the [car washing liquid, which is made from tree sap and is biodegradable] to existing car-washing operators; but with their reluctance to actually spend money and change their operational methods, it became evident that the only way was to start up the service of the business.
Sanuj: Many businesses in Dubai and the UAE diversify due to the competition. It is difficult to stay in one line of business … in general, government procurement has also slowed down by 40 to 50 per cent.
How do you plan to expand the car-wash business?
Sanuj:We are looking at how to clean other things without water, such as buildings, using robotic technology. We are expecting to do that within 12 to 18 months. We plan to start with one of the major skyscrapers. By the end of this year, we hope to officially launch waterless urinals in safari camps and corporate buildings in mainly Kenya as well as Tanzania.
How did you get funds for the start-ups?
Rishi: The initial capital for LEME, when we set up in 2006, for the circuit board side of the business came from our father. For WaterWise, it was a mix of money from LEME and … a local bank. Getting finance then and now is still very difficult unless you want to pay high borrowing rates, which defeats the purpose. Banks do not lend to start-ups and are very non-supportive. We have had some limited support from a local bank, but at times that has proved vital.
How much of the UAE market does the car-wash business control?
Sanuj: We distribute the car washing liquid to two car dealers: Lamborghini Dubai of Al Jaziri Motors and Al Habtoor Motor's prestige car division. WaterWise now controls 20 per cent of the UAE [car-wash market], but Dubai-wise [it is] around 40 per cent.
How has it grown?
Rishi: We started [with] trading the [liquid in] 2008 to dealerships and individuals through home kits … Our first major retail site [was] Souk Madinat Jumeirah in November 2010. We also re-export [the liquid and the microfibre cloth] to [the Arabian Gulf region], India and Africa.
Sanuj: Initially WaterWise had five people, including Rishi, my father and I. Today we have around 45 people.
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