Face to face: Tolga Soytekin, Ecogreen
Tolga tells why being eco-friendly doesn't have to mean more expensive
Tolga Soytekin, founder of Eco Green, tells Claire Valdini why being eco-friendly doesn’t have to mean more expensive
When Tolga Soytekin tried to book an additional day’s cleaning with his regular cleaning company four years ago, he knew he’d stumbled on a good business opportunity. Rather than get the day he needed, he was told availability was short and he would have to be added to a waiting list.
“When the maid did arrive, I spent the whole time grilling her about how many people worked for the company, when they lived, and after some number crunching it seemed like a viable business,” he laughs.
Four years later, Soytekin has more than 70 staff working for his cleaning business, Eco Green, which in addition to offering cleaning services across Dubai using its own branded eco-friendly cleaning products, also launders for some of the Emirate’s top serviced apartments.
As the name of the company suggests, Eco Green is more than just another cleaning service.
As a passionate advocate for eco-friendly living, Soytekin was keen to ensure his employees used an alternative to the usual cleaning products — which as his market research suggested can cause harm when used over a prolonged period of time — as well as provide a hotel-style of customer service.
“Being eco-friendly is really important to me; it’s where the name of the business comes from and for me really is the core of the business. The second most important aspect was being able to provide a hotel service,” he says.
“At the time [of launching the company] I had been staying in a hotel apartment and I really liked coming home and seeing the toilet paper folded into a little triangle and having the linens smelling fresh so I looked to combine both eco-friendly cleaning products with having a five-star hotel service — both of which make it recognisably different from any other maid service in Dubai,” he adds.
Today, Eco Green, together with its subsidiaries, Eco Clean and Eco Laundry, has more than 1,000 clients across Dubai providing cleaning and laundry services, and also distributes its own-branded environmentally-friendly line of cleaning products in all Spinneys, Waitrose and Carrefour outlets.
Selling green products in a country with one of the highest carbon footprints in the world hasn’t always been easy, though.
“When I first started people couldn’t understand why I was doing it. I wasn’t charging any more than any other cleaning business but I was providing cleaning products too,” says Soytekin.
“But my whole theory was that I wanted to educate people on how to go green. [In addition to the services we offer] I also write in as many magazines and newspapers as possible and word of mouth has helped.
“One of the most comforting things is the speed at which the mentality towards being environmentally friendly is changing in this part of the world,” he adds.
During the early years of operation Soytekin imported citrus-based cleaning products from New Zealand but when a series of delays due to red tape and delivery issues threatened to leave the firm short of cleaning materials, he decided to look for his own alternatives.
Armed with reams of market research and a clear idea of what it was he wanted to achieve, Soytekin commissioned a laboratory in India to create a range of cleaning materials based on a very specific set of requirements. Each of the products, he explains, had to be citrus-based, have a certain PH balance and contain no traces of heavy metal.
“Initially we had everything made in India but more recently all of our products are manufactured locally. As a UAE-based company I want to have as many parts of the supply chain based in the country; it benefits the local economy and reduces the carbon footprint,” he adds.
One of the perks of having a fleet of cleaners meant Soytekin was quickly able to identify any changes that needed to be made to the formulations. “I think the formulation has changed about six times since we first started but each time for the better. All of our market research is done in-house and our maids tell us how effective the products are and what needs to be changed.”
The firm currently has five products — hand wash, dish cleaner, multi-cleaner, glass cleaner and a floor cleaner — that are stocked in Spinney’s, Waitrose, Carrefour and Raw, and another five currently awaiting municipality approval.
Future plans also include different aromas and essences to bring the total number of products to 30.
Having the products manufactured locally helps maintain a competitive price point, says Soytekin. “A lot of people believe that eco-friendly products are expensive or not very good but that’s not true. Our price point is reasonable and we have actually discovered that manufacturing locally is cheaper for us,” he explains.
“In the last five years there has been a lot of emphasis on manufacturing locally, whether it’s for food or non-grocery items so there has been an increase in terms of manufacturers.
That coupled with the fact there is only a five percent import tax means that getting raw materials is actually cheaper than sending it somewhere else because their import duties are high,” he adds.
Much in the same way Eco Green’s cleaning products were born out of necessity, so too was the firm’s laundry service, Eco Laundry. When the firm won its first commercial contract to clean 100 high-end hotel apartments, Soytekin jumped at the opportunity to launch a new division when he was told that the contract would also include laundering.
“I found the same supplier the previous cleaner had used and purchased identical linens. In the early days I used to take all of the laundry to the laundries in Satwa but we weren’t making any money as the amount I was being charged for cleaning was the same amount the hotel were paying us,” he laughs.
Soytekin later joined up with a laundry in Dubai Investment Park whom he managed to persuade to use eco-friendly cleaning products, before setting up his own facility after he won the contracts for the green real estate development Al Barari and other commercial clients.
Most recently the firm signed a contract with Movenpick Hotels in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers to provide a laundry drop box for over 300 residents in its serviced apartments. The service enables customers to drop off their laundry in the box and have it delivered to their home at a preferred time two days later.
Soytekin says it is an area of the business that could easily be expanded across the Emirate.
“We don’t need many staff for it because it’s not a manned unit; you simply drop your laundry in the box and we text you to say we have it and we’ll drop it off in two days’ time. Customers can even give us a window of time when they’ll be home. The Movenpick is the first residential building but hopefully the first of many,” he says. Given Soytekin’s track record,this could be just the beginning for Eco Green.