CHICAGO — While industry surveys continue to show that the vast majority of self-service laundries in the United States are coin-based, it’s clear that the share of cashless stores—“coinless” may actually be a more apt description in many cases—is growing larger by the year.
American Coin-Op interviewed store owners from around the country whose operations use cashless systems offered by some of the industry’s best known vendors. Depending on the system, customers can transfer a dollar amount to a “store card” or “loyalty card” (using cash or a credit/debit card; systems vary) which is then used to start the vended washers/dryers in that particular store, or can use a credit, debit or EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card to start a machine. Some systems enable stores to accept coins, credit card, loyalty card, or any combination.
A card-based system may not be right for every self-service laundry, but the store owners who were interviewed on this topic can’t see running their businesses any other way.
One distinct advantage of cashless payment systems is the ability to track and produce equipment usage and revenue data on command.
For Munim Yono, who owns a supermarket and liquor store besides Millennium Laundry in Lincoln Park, Mich., the management tools offered by his Greenwald Industries cashless payment system help him keep track of things through just a few keystrokes.
“I can go to the system and look up each machine, what it did, what time, and how much money was generated,” Yono explains. “It makes life so much easier.”
Calculating turns per day is quick and painless for Bruce Dixon, co-owner of the Big Wash Tub in Columbia, Tenn., unlike the days before cashless payment.
“We used to measure turns per day by machine by putting the quarters in a bucket and weighing the bucket,” he says. “We would estimate, based on the vend price, how many turns a day that machine, or that particular size machine … were doing a day. The system was so labor-intensive, we did that only maybe three times a year. Now I can do it in five minutes.”
He also uses his Setomatic system to track business and determine the best times to visit and “tidy up” the store.
Kevin Beggs (no relation to the author), owner of nine Brockton, Mass., area Superwash stores, once experienced a drain overflow at one of his locations. By using the data available through his Card Concepts (CCI) system, he was able to determine that the problem was caused when a customer started 14 washers simultaneously. He’s also used the system, in concert with his video surveillance system, to help customers track down lost items.
DOES IT MAKE SENSE?
The store owners interviewed acknowledge that deciding to install a cashless payment system requires a sizable investment, and the size and scope of a self-service laundry plays a factor in determining if the projected return on such an investment makes sense.
“I’ve always said that our particular business model may not work in every store,” says Rob Sussman, co-owner of Spin Spa Laundry, San Diego, Calif. “It’s really a case-by-case basis. As a general rule of thumb, with the way things are going these days, everything is cards ... Some laundry owners are operating on a really tight profit margin, so I can see why [the installation cost] might be a deterrent. But a lot of times, you have to think outside the box. You have to think, ‘Am I going to get increased business because of it?’”
Don’t expect the transition to happen overnight. “If you’re converting a [coin] store, expect a learning curve with your current customers,” says Alan Stuart, owner of the New Scrub Board Laundromat & Car Wash, Stephentown, N.Y. “If you’re starting a new store, people won’t know what to expect when they come in anyway, so I think it will be much easier.”