CHICAGO — For many years, the self-service laundry industry has operated on the simple premise that a customer can wash or dry their clothes by placing a predetermined number of coins into a mechanism connected to a washer or dryer and insert them into the machine.
Yes, payment by coin continues to be the preferred method used in Laundromats today, but the times are—pardon the pun—a changin’. The share of cashless stores—“coinless” is probably a more apt description—is growing larger year by year, it seems.
Depending on the payment system, customers can transfer a dollar amount to a “store card” or “loyalty card” (using cash or a credit/debit card; systems vary) that is then used to start the vended washers/dryers in that particular store, or can use a credit, debit or EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card to start a machine. Some systems enable stores to accept coin, credit card, store or loyalty card, or a combination.
And gaining traction in the industry are app-based payment platforms that allow customers to pay for laundry services using their mobile devices.
Store owners seem to be taking notice of the expanded payment choices, but will there come a time when cashless finally overtakes coins as the preferred payment method used in Laundromats?
Let’s hear what some experts have to say about today’s payment trends and where they see things going as consumer preference and equipment technology evolve.
THE BENEFITS OF CASHLESS
What benefits can a hybrid coin/cashless system or a fully cashless system offer a laundry owner?
“The benefits are many, and, for most, making more money while spending less time ‘working’ their laundry is enough,” says Card Concepts Inc. (CCI) President Steve Marcionetti. “For others, the marketing opportunities that the right payment system provides can turn an ‘OK’ location into a ‘great’ location. … hybrid systems owners benefit from offering convenience to retail customers through credit and debit card acceptance, full audit capabilities, and a mobile application to help implement marketing programs. Full card system owners benefit from the same improvements with the addition of penny incremental pricing, central collection, and improved float [the unused value or funds left on a loyalty card], which asks retail customers to pay in advance for wash and improves customer loyalty.”
“The benefits of both type of systems are really too numerous to list,” advises Setomatic Systems President Michael Schantz, “but a few major ones are cash control (accountability), loyalty programs, and to differentiate your laundry from your competitors.
“Most millennials never have any cash on them at all, so to limit to only coin acceptance is excluding a big potential customer base. Allowing every payment option allows you to market your Laundromat to every demographic.”
“There are some variations even between those two designations,” ESD Sales Manager Wayne Lewis suggests. “The hybrid system operator which is still accepting coin but yet bringing in an additional means of payment, whether that be credit card only, whether that be store loyalty card only, or even combinations of all three, the benefits they’re bringing in by adding some of that is that newer technology, that newer user who is more inclined to use their card over cash. I think the ones who are doing that are seeing increases in revenue.
“The fully cashless operator, they have the benefit of penny-based pricing, variable pricing, because they’re not tied to quarter denominations. Once you eliminate that coin, your pricing flexibility changes dramatically.”
MOBILE ON THE MOVE
“Mobile has certainly changed the game for vended laundry,” says Paresh Patel, Ph.D., founder and CEO of PayRange, an in-app mobile payment service for automated retail. “While card systems for laundry have been around for a couple decades, they have not gained as much adoption in part due to the high costs of purchasing, maintaining, and operating such systems.
“With mobile-based payment systems, the cost of getting into the system is about 1/10th the cost, and the ongoing costs are affordable. Moreover, the system can continue to evolve, and new features are easily added without have to revisit laundry rooms simply by updating the mobile app.”
Washlava is a mobile technology startup that launched the world’s first exclusively app-enabled Laundromat (no coins or cards are used for payment) last year in Tampa, Fla. In coming months, other Washlava-enabled locations are scheduled to launch in New York, Atlanta, San Francisco and Miami.
“From my perspective, mobile payment platforms have (had) very little effect on the laundry business so far,” says Jamie Sewell, chief revenue officer for Washlava. “These platforms have not reached critical mass, which I attribute to a lack of consistency within national retailers.”
“My feeling is that mobile applications work well as a complement to card solutions,” says CCI’s Marcionetti. “We have offered a mobile application for many years and although we see increased usage on this platform, the majority of transactions are still running coin or card.
“I anticipate that mobile usage will continue to grow but more traditional card systems will continue to grow as the norm. Our industry seems to be slow to adopt change. This, like many other new offerings, will take time to become ‘normal.’”
Coming in Tuesday’s conclusion: What to ponder if considering a switch, and predicting the future