CHICAGO — As an old-school guy, I believed that simple was better. As a result of this belief, I was against computers and technology in the laundry business. That was then and this is now.About 18 years ago or so was the first time a computer-operated piece of equipment was introduced into the laundry business. It was a dryer that had a computer on it that would allow the operator to change the vend price by moving some switches in the controller.There were a lot of features, but the feature that sold me right then and there was the capability to control the temperature and the differential. That meant the gas valve was controlled by a more precise thermostat, therefore monitoring the flow of gas and only opening the gas valve when the temperature was reduced by a specific degree drop. It also kept your temperatures at a level that would dry clothes in a reasonable amount of time to keep your customer happy.What that meant to me was that we could save money on utilities. It was also the first time anyone was concerned about these costs. I made a conscious decision to only sell my customers computer-operated dryers. To this day, I have kept that promise.In my mind, this started our industry’s computer age.TIMES HAVE REALLY CHANGEDThe coin laundry industry has evolved from a mom-and-pop business to one featuring more sophisticated investors. There are many reasons for the change, but clearly it comes down to the major cash investment that is required to open a new laundry.Today, the average cash down payment for a Chicago-area investment is between $150,000 and $250,000, and that’s without owning the real estate.As we look for new investors, we find that people who can afford to be in our business usually have money but are somewhat limited in the amount of time that they can spend onsite managing their business.With this in mind, the ability to get help from a computer greatly enhances the desire for those investors getting into the laundry business. In addition, equipment manufacturers have given the storeowner the ability to add profits to their bottom line by adding features that charge for extra washes and rinses. For now, we’ll refer to this as adder buttons.Those buttons are now on just about all equipment brands. Because of them you have the ability to charge more for hot water than cold; increase the length of the wash cycle for an additional vend amount, or have the ability to charge different amounts for different days of the week or even different times of day. The manufacturers have spent a lot of money, and plenty of effort, to bring these products to the market.MISSED OPPORTUNITY?I don’t think the storeowner makes very good use of the features that will ultimately make him/her more money. I have heard every excuse in the world about how these features won’t work. Here’s just a sampling of these excuses: * “My customers will be confused.” * “My customers might not like that.”Well, of course they won’t be happy if they have to pay more if the only thing you change is the price.We seem to forget that better service costs more money, period. Existing laundry owners seem to look for ways to reduce the quality of service and yet expect to charge more. The economical principles just don’t work that way. I think we all expect to pay a fair price for a good product and I don’t believe the coin laundry industry is any different.I might be a little partial because I’m also a manufacturer of a card system, but I believe today’s card systems are the greatest innovation of this business since the advent of the computer. It’s a bold statement and I would like to briefly discuss why I believe this has started to or will change the nature of this business.BENEFITS TO PONDEROur industry has fallen behind the times. As an industry we do not keep up with our costs. Well, a card system is the only way today that an owner can match his vend price with his costs, to keep the margins where they need to be, so he does not fall behind.There's certainly more than washers and dryers at laundries today. A value station for a card system is shown. Marcionetti believes that you should use the latest technology when entering the business.If you think about it, this alone will pay for the cost of a card system. This control will allow a coin laundry owner to keep with his/her costs and not wait until quarter increases can be justified. New store investors like everything else that comes as part of the benefits of using a card system.Here are just a few of those benefits: * Central money collection means you don’t have to take quarters to the bank. * With penny-increment pricing you keep up with your costs. * Tracking machine usage allows you to add the right size equipment. * Are you familiar with float? All money put on the cards is not use, as much as 18% of your gross. * Up-to-the-minute reporting gives you knowledge of your business cycles. * Let’s not forget marketing. This can be the first time you truly run promotions without being at the store.Have I convinced you? I could go on talking about all the benefits of owning a card system. The truth is that when you invest in a new store you have to install a card system. It has always been my philosophy to install the latest technology when you decide to enter the business. Though you think you will not use all the features, you are building a business that should be viable for 20 years. And since we cannot predict the future, you won’t really know about this until you don’t have it.Dion Marcionetti is president of Laundry Concepts, a Huebsch distributor, and Card Concepts Inc., a Chicago- area manufacturer of debit card systems for coin laundries. Marcionetti, a 35-year industry veteran, is also active in the Coin Laundry Association (CLA).