People have often compared the self-service laundry industry and the car wash industry. I’m sure some of you have dabbled in both industries at one time or another.WashCard Systems has dealt with cashless acceptance systems in the car wash industry for nearly two decades. Its customer loyalty program has received the Leadership in Innovation Award from the International Carwash Association, says Ryan Carlson, WashCard Systems director of marketing.When WashCard started researching other predominately cash-run industries, the self-service laundry industry was on the top of the list. After three years of market research, and a visit to the Clean Show in 2007, it was clear that there was a strong synergy between the two industries. The goal would be to take a cashless product that cut its teeth in the car wash industry, and apply those lessons to a system that addressed the needs of self-service laundry owners, operators and customers.LAUNDRY RESEARCH“Our research found that cashless-system manufacturers were missing a vital (and important) part of the equation that pertains to the self-service laundry industry,” Carlson explains. “The classic cashless system in the self-service laundry industry was developed for the OPL [on-premise laundry] route business, and then added to self-service wash locations. The missing component was in developing something that consumers wanted to use.”The market research of self-service laundry customers shows that (given the option) consumers are broken into two clear demographics insofar as spending preference, Carlson says. “Consumers (upwards of 30% of them) will only use cash to wash their laundry. They specifically will not use a stored-value card, a token, or a credit card.”The second category found that more than 60% of consumers would go out of their way to use their credit card (includes bank cards, check cards, and standard credit cards) if offered directly on a machine. Self-service laundry locations that were in high-crime areas were solid candidates for a completely cashless business to reduce theft and machine vandalism, he adds.“Cashless operations will work for self-service laundries, but our research suggests that consumers will gravitate towards the business that offers them the highest degree of convenience. Cashless systems that create more options for a consumer will win out every time over a cashless system that limits consumer options in how they can spend their money.”Simply, the research done in the car wash industry shows that self-service businesses offering multiple payment options far outperform those that only accept a single form of payment, Carlson adds. “Cashless is a necessity since our society is trending towards that direction at an exponential rate. We are a society of card-carrying citizens, and those businesses that fail to follow that trend will become less relevant in the consumers’ eyes every year.”NIGHT AND DAY?While you now may have a better idea about what one company’s research on customer payment preferences indicates, comparing the two industries certainly adds to the discussion.“The car wash industry and the self-service laundry industry are so very much alike and very different,” Carlson opines. “From an operations perspective, and as a cashless-system manufacturer, the two industries are very similar. The biggest difference between the two industries is that a car wash is competing for a consumer’s discretionary income. [The car wash operator’s] biggest competitor is the fast-food restaurant down the street, or the retail outlet having a big sale.“You don’t have to wash your car, but people (thankfully) do have to wash their clothes. The self-service Laundromat provides a necessary service to those within their community who live in apartments, dormitories, rental properties, or houses with washing equipment that is not large enough to wash drapes, rugs, or other specialty items.”GETTING IN THE GAMEWashCard provides laundry owners the capability to add card readers to any of their machines, and immediately start taking credit cards as a form of payment. In addition to credit card and bank card acceptance, the company also offers a full range of additional advanced options for marketing, customer loyalty, invoiced business-to-business accounts, and custom Web sites for laundry business.Carlson says the company stands alone, by offering the only laundry retrofit that will accept and process a credit card at any washer, dryer, or vending machine in the store.Every machine does not have to be outfitted with a reader or be limited to a specific manufacturer’s line of equipment, according to Carlson.The system is built on 100% WiFi technology. Installation (or a retrofit) averages only 8.5 minutes for each machine, he says.FULLY CASHLESS DEBATEShould a laundry always keep some type of cash acceptance? “With the exception of high-crime locations in which keeping cash in a machine is a security risk, yes.“Laundromat operators who don’t want to leave money on the table, alienate customers, and want to appeal to the widest number of consumers as possible, absolutely need to keep some type of cash acceptance. Our market research shows too many customers who will only ever use cash.”While Carlson strongly favors some type of cash acceptance, he admits that fully card-based stores are not all “gloom and doom.”“There are many incredibly successful stores that are entirely cashless, have wonderful facilities, exceptional customer service, and well-maintained machines. A successful self-service laundry has so many other variables involved beyond how payment is handled.“There are cashless businesses that are marketing their stores to maximize the appeal to their customers. They create incentive programs, marketing plans, and build promotions around their stored-value cards that compel customers to spend more, and perhaps wash that additional load of laundry.“It takes hard work and dedication to educate customers to the fact that going completely cashless means you will not be all things to all customers,” he explains.“A properly run cashless store will be successful as long as the focus is on improving the customer experience.”Click here for Part 2 of this story.