Deciding to operate a self-service laundry on coins or to utilize a cashless system is one of the major issues every owner faces. You’re probably familiar with some of the pros and cons of the “coin vs. cashless” debate. As the industry continues to evolve, it’s time to look ahead and view this discussion from a different perspective.Wayne Lewis, ESD director of sales, provides insight on the future of card systems in the self-service laundry industry. ESD has offered coin and card payment systems since 1970.Q: How would you describe the progress this industry has made in terms of card stores?Lewis: The overall acceptance has risen, from both an owner’s perspective and a customer’s point of view. Owners are interested in flexible pricing, marketing features, and accountability of the systems that allow them to have full control of their business without having to be hands-on through day-to-day operation. The customers value the convenience, security, and ease of use of the card system, and acclimate well to its use when properly trained in all aspects of the system. The information available on card systems, and their benefits, is more readily available to today’s owner/investor. The publications and trade organizations also provide resources that should allow the natural evolution to continue with increasing numbers of cards stores as our economy moves toward a more cashless society.Q: How has the card technology evolved?Lewis: ESD has responded to both distributor and owner requests in the development of its Cyberwash magnetic-stripe card system, and is the only manufacturer that offers both Smart Card and magnetic-stripe options. Most of the major changes with both the Smart Card and Cyberwash magnetic-stripe card systems have involved feature enhancements. There has also been an increasing trend in card stores to have the ability to accept credit and/or debit cards as a means of adding value.Q: Are card stores better today than in the past?Lewis: Card stores today are larger in size, have higher-capacity machines, and have a tendency to offer more services. There are laundries today that, in addition to drop-off service, offer tanning, over-the-counter sales, Internet stations, amusements and more. Most incorporate ancillary products or businesses that complement the laundry experience.Q: Are customers more comfortable using cards?Lewis: Our entire society is turning toward a cashless environment with the use of credit and debit cards. Colleges and universities promote the use of card systems, as many students who attend have no need to carry cash. Their laundry plan, food plan, identification, and all ancillary purchases are all processed through the use of one card. Upon graduating, many younger people continue with the “cashless” mentality. All demographics are more accepting of cards now, as their use has become more widespread throughout our economy, and most people are exposed to card use at an earlier age.Q: What are some of your company’s major innovations and future challenges?Lewis: We have developed many advanced systems for today’s Laundromats, beginning with the first Smart Card technology for the laundry industry. The Cyberwash Mag-Stripe System provides storeowners with full accountability on every aspect of their business, as well as many marketing advantages over coin stores. The Smart Card backup gives the owner the highest level of security. The newest, and most innovative, product is the EVOS system, which allows for credit-card acceptance directly at the machine. With the ability to integrate with machines currently utilizing coin- and card-acceptance, this system provides customers the ability to use their credit card to start machines. The biggest challenge is to keep progressing with newer, more cutting-edge products, and we will continue to provide new and innovative products.Q: Will we see one card tied to machine usage, vending, etc.?Lewis: Our card systems today allow total card usage for almost any product and service provided. Vending machines, amusement games, and Internet kiosks are all capable of being card-operated and, with the utilization of an integrated POS system, allow an owner to operate a cashless environment for his attendants. This is happening now, as we have a number of stores where the attendant doesn’t handle cash, and all products and services are paid for with the store’s money cards. We believe that you will see a continuing trend for the card system to handle all products and services offered by tomorrow’s Laundromats.Q: Is the new-breed investor more likely to use cards?Lewis: Yes. Many of the new investors own or operate other businesses, and don’t want to collect or process coins. They are looking for full accountability, with detailed reporting capability, while maintaining control of all aspects of the operation. They often request remote-access capability, which our Cyberwash System provides. This provides full access and control of all card-system features from any Internet-accessible computer.Q: What’s the best selling point when it comes to card stores?Lewis: There are many selling points, and you will find that the most important points vary from owner to owner. More responsibility is now placed on the salesperson to determine what is most important for the individual at the time. Pricing flexibility, marketing advantages, full accountability, remote-access capabilities, and time management are all key selling points.Q: How are the “cost” and “customer education” arguments against card usage holding up?Lewis: I don’t believe they hold up. New investors understand that total operating costs include the time to collect and process the coins or cash. The card system’s costs can easily be justified through all the benefits that it offers, not only in time of collecting, but also in the marketing capabilities that the system offers. The often-hidden jewel is the time management and peace of mind that a card store provides the owner.Q: Ten years from now, how many card stores will exist?Lewis: That is a hard one to guess. I believe that the current “guesstimate” of card stores is about 10% of total stores in operation. I would hope to see that figure rise to at least 30-35%. I know that figure is still low in comparison to all stores, but it would represent the growing trend that we are seeing in the industry.If you have questions or comments about this article, contact ESD at 215-628-0860 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.