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Handling of Refunds Varies by Laundry Owner (Part 1)

Some refund/restart machine without questioning, others seek cause of problem first

CHICAGO — Refunding a customer’s money is sometimes necessary when a washer or dryer doesn’t operate the way it should. But just as individual laundry operations can have unique qualities, the way in which store owners handle refunds also can vary.

American Coin-Op recently surveyed its trade audience about this topic. Respondents were polled anonymously, then the publication followed up with select owners who agreed to speak further about their refund policies and what influences them.

The nature of a laundry operation can influence how and when refunds may be issued. Attended stores frequently issue them quickly while it might take a bit longer to get money back from an unattended store, maybe even by check through the mail.

Among respondents to the unscientific survey, 36% operate an unattended store, 38% operate an attended store, and 26% operate both types.

Who in your store is authorized to issue a refund? Those polled were asked to identify any position having that authority. Among respondents, it’s the owner(s) (82.4%) and/or any attendant (45.1%), the general manager (19.6%), store manager (19.6%), senior-level attendant (13.7%) or “other” (13.7%, including cleaners and technicians).

Some owners readily give a customer a refund or restart a machine, often with no questions asked. Here’s what some respondents in that camp had to say:

  • “Our rule is generally give the refund, as it is not worth the bad will, even if it’s a customer error (which is the majority of the time). If it’s a machine issue, we have them move their wash to a different (comparable) machine and then we pay for the new machine.”
  • “We just give back the money. Not too many refunds (are) requested.”
  • “They leave a note, we mail a refund.”

Rich Peot, owner of attended 24 Hour Meadowthorpe Laundromat in Lexington, Kentucky, gives refunds most of the time, even when it’s the customer’s fault. It’s not worth the argument or bad relations to do otherwise, he says.

“I’ve had the Laundromat 10 years now,” he says of the coin-only venue featuring 27 washers and 14 stack dryers. “I quickly learned that arguing over refunds created too much ill will. … Instead, I tried to use it as a learning opportunity, to show folks how to use the right amount of soap, and also warn them that we’re not responsible if it happens again.”

John Geyerman owns JP Coin Laundry in Arlington, Texas. His attended store has 57 washers and 44 dryers, all vended by coin/cash. He or his staff look for obvious equipment issues or malfunctions but generally take the guest’s word for it when a refund is requested.

“I would rather not quibble over a couple of dollars to keep the loyalty of a long-term guest,” he says. “Obviously, if we identify that somebody is abusing this, we politely address it.”

Enrique Del Rivero is operations director for six Los Lavaderos stores in the Los Angeles area. Two of the six attended stores accept coins and mobile payment; the business is in the process of adding mobile payment to the remaining locations.

“We (would) rather lose the refund amount than lose a customer and the persons they may talk to about how he or she was treated at the Laundromat,” says Del Rivero.

Other owners like Tane Smith, who runs two At Your Service Laundries (one attended, one not) and the 5th Street Laundromat (unattended) in Dayton, Ohio, look into each situation a bit more deeply.

“When a customer calls regarding losing money in a machine, I ask a series of questions about how the money was lost,” Smith says. “I then ask the customer to text me their name and address and (I’ll) tell them after I have reviewed the cameras. If I concur they lost money, then I will issue them a refund. If the cameras reveal they never even put money in the machine (which happens quite often), then I call them back and review what I watched on the cameras.”

Still other store owners do not refund money spent:

  • “No refund. (We) start another machine.”
  • “No cash refund! Ever! If that person is not happy, I offer to rewash their clothes. I often offer them soap to do so if they take me up on the offer. … Then toward the end of their wash cycle, offer them money to cover drying for their inconvenience. I cannot tell you how many people just wanted the money and did not accept my offer.”

Check back Tuesday for the conclusion!