It’s the same old story that elicits complaints from storeowners across the country: We can’t raise the vend prices high enough to keep up with the rising costs of fuel, oil, gas, taxes, rent and the other expenses associated with running a coin laundry these days.But does that same old story always have to be true? Proponents of expensive, computerized card systems say they can raise prices a few pennies at a time to keep up with expenses. OK, I’ll give them that one. A flick of a few switches or maybe a little programming is required, and yes, the price goes up on their double loaders from $2 to $2.06.But wait, that doesn’t pay the bills. OK, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. Let me back up a bit and tell you how and why I favor using the dollar coin in my coin laundry.AN INTERESTING DISCOVERYAbout 20 years ago, I purchased some new stack dryers. After about three years, while doing maintenance on one of them, I noticed that they were pre-wired to accept two coin denominations. During the same period, I also noticed that the top pockets on the dryers were getting almost twice as much use as the bottom pockets.I decided to take a chance. I took an old quarter drop I had in my scrap pile and put it on the cutting board. I opened the rivets that held it together and filed it, drilled it, and filed it some more so that it accepted the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) dollar coin. I fitted one bottom dryer with this dual coin drop, and reprogrammed the computer with the flick of a switch. I put up a sign explaining that instead of getting 10 minutes for a quarter, users would get 10 FREE minutes (50 minutes total) for each dollar coin used. It worked!It wasn’t long before I had to start vending dollar coins to customers who showed up during hours when no attendant was on duty. I ended up converting all the bottom pockets to accept both quarters and dollar coins. People could even mix and match (a dollar and a quarter gave 60 minutes of dry time). Now customers had a reason to bend over and use those bottom pockets.The next step was to get a new bill changer to dispense dollar coins. Once that happened, I started to convert my washers. The first ones I converted were the 50- and 75-pound units, which needed quarters inserted twice to start (this always resulted in some confusion).Seventeen years later, I haven’t looked back. Now the dryer use — as well as the wear and tear — between the top and bottom pockets is just about even. The maintenance on those previously overused top pockets was minimized.MOVING FORWARDAs fuel costs started to take off, I knew that it was time to raise prices again. I took a chance. I raised my $1.50 washers to $2. Now instead of three coins to start the washers (a dollar and two quarters), two dollar coins does the job. I believe this even seems like less money to some customers. The $2.50 washers went to $3 — again, one less coin. The $4 washers went to $5, and the $7.75 washers went to $8 — and they all start with just one push.There are other advantages to using the dollar coin. The coin boxes don’t overflow, and fewer coins mean faster counting. The changer doesn’t get abused by non-customers. How many of you have people from stores tapping into your quarter supply on weekends and holidays when the banks are closed? And, much like with card stores, when people leave with extra dollar coins, they come back to the laundry the next week to use them.The U.S. Mint is also very helpful. It offers posters, clings and stickers to promote the use of the dollar coins. It will even ship the newest dollar coins at face value (no shipping charge) to storeowners who need them — although the local banks are usually happy to give me all I need. Besides, most coins get “recycled” from the coin boxes to the changers each week.HAPPY CUSTOMERS?I have never had a customer walk out because they had to use dollar coins. Talk to any card store owner and see if he/she can honestly tell you that no one has ever walked out because of the card system.Yes, there are some drawbacks. Most people don’t carry any dollar coins in their pockets on a regular basis. I have three bill changers available, so if one is out of service, I’m not out of business. One bill changer even gives four quarters for each $1 coin, in case someone wants to cash out when they go home, or if they need quarters for the soap machine.I also have a manual changer that I made that gives a $1 coin for four quarters. That way, when a new customer comes in with a handful of quarters, they can change them even if the attendant is not around.Obviously, since I first converted those dryers, I have lowered the time on them a few times. Most recently, I decided to offer eight minutes for a quarter or 32 minutes for a dollar coin. Then, about every other month, I run a special — with plenty of signage — and make the bottom dryers give eight free minutes with the use of a dollar coin (40 minutes total). This keeps everyone happy. People like anything for free.If I were to open a store tomorrow, I wouldn’t think twice about it being a coin store and equipping it with dollar coin use. It’s just the way to go. Let’s face it, what can you buy for a quarter these days? Yes, the quarter made sense back in the 1970s when dimes went out of fashion in Laundromats.It’s almost 2009 folks. The dollar coin is what the quarter used to be. Penny price hikes? Are you kidding me? Or are you kidding yourself?
Bob Getschelowner/manager, Floral Park Village LaundromatLong Island, N.Y.