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Advances in Laundry Equipment Technology (Conclusion)

With evolution comes greater service flexibility and store management

CHICAGO — Doing laundry is the third most time-consuming household activity for Americans, trailing only food preparation and cleanup, and interior cleaning, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey.

Millions of Americans wash and dry their clothes at Laundromats every year. The self-service laundry industry has certainly come a long way since C.A. Tannahill opened the first one, called a Washateria, in Fort Worth, Texas, in April 1934. He purchased and installed four electric washing machines in the same building and charged people by the hour to clean their clothes.

Through the decades since, laundry equipment has leapt forward in its labor-saving capability. The commercial washers and dryers of today are engineered and built for high performance, durability and ease of use. Payment necessary to operate them that once was limited to coins or tokens now includes card, contactless and mobile options. Available technology combines equipment controls and programming into full-store management systems.

As the devices and systems used within the laundry industry continue to evolve, customers gain greater service flexibility while store owners can more easily program, monitor and audit their operations.

In Part 1, we briefly examined washers, dryers and their controls. Today’s conclusion will examine payment methods, smartphone usage and computerized management systems.

Where payment is concerned, the vast majority of self-service laundries accept coins (91.5% in American Coin-Op’s 2019-20 State of the Industry Survey). But while that continues to be the preferred method used, the share of cashless stores is growing larger by the year (42.4% currently offer card and 22% offer other non-coin systems, according to the survey; store owners were asked to identify all that apply to their operations).

Depending on the payment system, customers can transfer a dollar amount to a “store card” or “loyalty card” that is then used to start the vended washers/dryers in that store, or can use a credit, debit or EBT card to start a machine. Some systems enable stores to accept coin, credit card, store or loyalty card, or a combination.

Fast gaining traction in the industry are app-based payment platforms that allow customers to pay for laundry services using their mobile devices.

There are many benefits, whether a store owner chooses a hybrid coin/cashless system or goes fully cashless, Setomatic Systems President Michael Schantz commented for a 2018 American Coin-Op article on payment trends.

“The benefits of both type of systems are really too numerous to list, but a few major ones are cash control (accountability), loyalty programs, and to differentiate your laundry from your competitors,” he says.

“Most millennials never have any cash on them at all, so to limit to only coin acceptance is excluding a big potential customer base. Allowing every payment option allows you to market your Laundromat to every demographic.”

With customers increasingly using smartphones to pay for and utilize services means their influence on self-service laundries is only going to rise.

“With a smartphone being a part of most everyone’s daily life, utilizing this important item for store management (by owners) and for machine operations (by users) will only become more common,” Kevin Hietpas, director of sales, Dexter Laundry, commented for a recent Improving the Industry Roundtable article in American Coin-Op. “The key to maximizing the value, to both owners and users, will be making the use and operation as intuitive as possible. The more intuitive, and “frictionless,” that manufacturers can make their use, the faster we will see greater use — by both owners and users.”

Computerized management systems available from select manufacturers give vended laundry owners a variety of features and functionalities to make remotely operating their business easier and more efficient.

When a situation requires it, an owner can act quickly to remotely vend a machine, reset a control or take a machine out of service, from anywhere they have internet access.

Real-time reporting capabilities offer an in-depth look at business performance, cycle selections, machine usage and more, either in the moment or over a selected period of time.

“The best part about the advancements in today’s technology is that it can help an owner manage their store, even when they’re not there,” Maytag Commercial Laundry’s Nick Koukourakis wrote in an American Coin-Op column last year. “Machines with remote connectivity capabilities are now equipped to help laundry owners do things like adjusting pricing, rates, or cycle modifiers, and providing credits from a computer, tablet or smartphone. This technology can also deliver real-time data, so they’re aware of how their machines are running.”

So how can a store owner justify purchase of equipment or systems that are on the cutting edge?

“You’ve got two angles there, in my mind. First, you’ve got customer acquisition and customer retention,” explains Scott Chiavetta, chief information officer for Alliance Laundry Systems, during the Making the Most of Vended Laundry Technology episode of the American Coin-Op Podcast. “So anything that you can do to make customers happy, or to bring new customers into the shop, is obviously paramount.

“The other side is on the operational side. That speaks much more to the larger-scale investors who will say, ‘Look, if I’m going to have three, four, five or more stores, that’s really where I’m going to get the biggest bang for my buck is building up my scale.’ And in order to do that, you have to have the technology.”

So what does the future hold?

“If I had to sum it all up, the focus is … the service part of our industry, and the customer-centric part of our industry,” Chiavetta says. “That’s really what’s going to drive this and really any other major innovation in our industry. It’s all about how we keep that service component at a really high level and allow growth through that customer experience.”

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.