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.
BOTH ENDS OF SPECTRUM
Kevin Beggs (no relation to the author) owns nine Brockton, Mass., area Superwash stores ranging in size from 1,600 square feet to 3,300 square feet. He first used a cashless system in the 1990s and believes his was one of the first.
“It was probably a little too early to do that sort of thing, because the technology really hadn’t caught up with what people needed and how it really needed to work,” Beggs says.
He’s since shifted to using a CCI (Card Concepts) system, putting one in all nine of his unattended stores between 2007 and 2010. “We don’t have a coin slot anywhere,” he adds.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the experience spectrum, Jay Bovarnick is new to the industry, having purchased and renovated his first self-service laundry within the past six months.
Speedwash Laundromat in Buzzards Bay, Mass., opened under Bovarnick’s ownership in November (there had been a coin laundry at the site for decades, he says), and within three months he had transitioned the coin store to one based on an ESD card system.
“I absolutely love it,” says Bovarnick. “It seems like the coins were a generation ago for me.”
He elected to go the card route in part because he found coin collection to be a tiresome, time-consuming process. “I would have to be there every other day just to empty the large machines, because the coin box hasn’t changed in 50 years. You have a large machine that’s taking $8.75 [per cycle], you just can’t put that many washes in it before the coin box is overflowing.”
QUARTERS NO MORE
Indeed, dealing with fewer coins or none at all was frequently mentioned among the benefits that cashless systems offer these store owners. And they say this benefits customers as well.
Bruce Dixon co-owns the Big Wash Tub in Columbia, Tenn., with his father-in-law Kenneth Cherry. A small staff works hard to keep the 32-year-old store looking brand-new, and they’ve offered a Setomatic Systems payment system since 2011. There are credit card readers on a little more than one-third of the 150 pieces of equipment—“on every size machine except top loaders,” he says—in the 4,500-square-foot store.
Aside from seeing cashless payment becoming a growing trend, the Big Wash Tub owners chose to install a system for customer convenience, Dixon says.
“First of all, they have to make sure they have money in their pocket. They have to convert it to quarters. For some of the bigger machines, it takes as long to put the quarters in as it does your laundry and detergent. When you have a 100-pound washer, and you’re vending it for 12 and a quarter, it takes a long time to put all those quarters in there.”
Alan Stuart owns the New Scrub Board Laundromat & Car Wash in rural upstate New York (Stephentown is between Albany, N.Y., and Pittsfield, Mass.). His store uses an RFID-based IDX payment system installed three years ago.
Saving customers time and effort was part of the reason for the shift away from coins, but Stuart was also interested in making his life a little easier.
“That’s just more quarters you have to count all the time,” he says. “To be efficient, you gotta cut back where you can so you can spend more time making you money … Because we’re in a rural situation, the bank was 16 miles away, and I used to have to go a couple times a week. I only have to go once now. I don’t have all those quarters to lug off to the bank.”
Rob Sussman, co-owner of Spin Spa Laundry, San Diego, Calif., was moving approximately $700 in quarters a month between coin receptacles so employees could use them to operate the equipment for the store’s wash-and-fold business. Installing the cashless system offered by Standard Change-Makers under partnership with BCC Payments eliminated that requirement, as employees now each have their own dedicated card.
“It seemed like the easier and better way to get the job done for us and our customers,” Beggs says of his decision to go completely cashless.
Check back Wednesday for Part 2!