RIPON, Wis. — When I got my start in the laundry industry six years ago, as director of marketing for the Coin Laundry Association, I was surprised at the lack of technology being used by the industry.

To someone in her late 20s then, the idea of a technology-enabled experience for owners and customers seemed like a no-brainer. Even today, a large percentage of stores keep operations “low tech” and stick to coin payments. In the age of “mobile everything,” this is an interesting dichotomy — especially, when compounded by the high number of millennial and Generation X households using Laundromats.

For industry veterans, the high number of coin-only locations and low implementation of technology is not surprising, given the length of time that equipment lasts, the cost and return on investment of many payment systems, and the wide array of customers who use Laundromats.

In the past few years, however, there has been an explosion of modern technologies for both machines and payments introduced into our industry — some by equipment manufacturers — with demand being driven by the new equipment replacement cycle and the growing number of new investors from outside the business. This trend was clearly demonstrated at the 2017 Clean Show, and I expect we will see even more technology at the 2019 show. (Editor’s note: This column was written prior to the just-completed event in New Orleans.)

Similar to the automotive industry, commercial laundry has gotten the memo — the era of connected machines is here.

INTELLIGENT MACHINE CONTROL TECHNOLOGIES: FROM THE OWNER’S PERSPECTIVE

This confluence of technologies is serving to make the prospect of investing in and operating a multi-store laundry business increasingly viable and enticing to new investors. Intelligent machine controls, featuring Wi-Fi connectivity and cloud-based management systems, now make the laundry business a scalable venture.

Owners can gain business insights and maximize revenue by monitoring and controlling several operations (down to the machine level) remotely, and in real time, from anywhere with an Internet connection. They can also see how much revenue (via coin, electronic payment, card, etc.) each machine generates and what cycle modifiers are being used.

They can gauge throughput as well, by examining the stop times of wash cycles in relationship to start times of tumblers, and other data. If an owner is operating more than one store, these management systems allow them to compare performance across stores and to set goals accordingly. In effect, owners now have access to data that they can leverage to increase efficiency and revenue, strengthen their store’s value proposition and boost their customers’ overall experience.

In addition to monitoring and managing their equipment fleet, owners can utilize fully integrated mobile payment apps that provide a convenient and cost-effective alternative to coin and card. When evaluating payment systems, owners often realize that there are a lot of other things they would like to do with technology. Some of these activities can be somewhat satisfied by third-party payment systems, while other requests are impossible without writing all of the machine programming.

These activities often include:

  • Easily and quickly changing prices or reward programs;
  • Having a single source of data that connects machines, revenue, and customer information;
  • Accessing customer trends like which customer is using each machine, how many machines they use when they visit, and how much they spend in a month’s time;
  • Being able to receive real-time notifications about a slow drain, a machine stuck in cycle, or a customer who never came back for their clothing; and
  • Remotely viewing and modifying programming presets for features like water levels, time-of-day pricing, or low power mode.

Operationally, it has never been easier for owners to run their business the way they want to and intimately understand their store’s overall trends.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!