CHICAGO — Whether a card-operated system is ideal for your store or not is one thing, but you can’t debate the fact that a card system brings many management benefits into play.Wayne Lewis, director of sales at ESD, a manufacturer of payment-system products, recently took the time to answer a variety of questions about card-operated Laundromats.Q: If you knew an operator who was shopping for a card system, what questions would you advise him/her to ask?Lewis: The first set of questions would focus on the manufacturer of the card system.
- How long has the card-system manufacturer been in business?
- How many card-operated stores do you have?
- What type of warranty is provided on your system?
- What type of technical support is provided?
The next set of questions pertains to the type of card system.
- What marketing programs are available through the system?
- What features are available for both managers and attendants?
- What remote-access capabilities does the system provide?
- Can you provide a list of current card-store owners as references?
Q: What are the pros and cons of going cashless vs. partially cashless (offering customers the option of card or cash)?Lewis: The greatest advantage of a full card system is that you don’t have to deal with coins! The collecting, processing and handling of coins, along with the problems that are associated with them, such as jams, and empty or broken changers, are the primary reason that store owners choose to go with a card system.A card-operated store has the advantage of increased customer loyalty. The money card utilized by the location assures that all value added must be used at the store. The diverse marketing programs available through the card systems also assure a repetitive customer base. Another benefit is that you are not allowing the customers to determine whether or not to use the card system but rather positively promoting its use exclusively.A partially card-operated store would simply cause confusion. ESD recommends that a store operate either all card or all coin.Q: Is there an “ideal” location for a cashless store?Lewis: A card-operated Laundromat would be successful wherever a coin Laundromat would thrive. We have provided card systems to stores that are operating in areas that serve all income levels. In addition, diverse ethnic cultures have all accepted and utilized the concept of the card-operated Laundromat. The success of the card-operated store lies in the knowledge of its operation by the customer base.The unattended store is probably the most difficult to operate. However, this can be overcome with extensive, detailed signage and instructions. Many of the unattended, card-operated stores did initially have an attendant during startup. They explained and demonstrated the card-system operation to the majority of the Laundromat’s customer base.Q: Explain “float.” Do owners understand this concept?Lewis: The amount of value remaining on all money cards, which has not yet been redeemed for use, is called the float.Although most card-store owners do understand this concept, there are those who find it hard to comprehend. The float can vary greatly depending on a store’s customer base, but in most cases is calculated as between 3 to 20 percent of a store’s gross income. I believe that the float should be recognized as a benefit of the card system and not relied upon in terms of additional income.Q: What are some of the misconceptions about card-operated stores?Lewis: The largest misconception is the belief that customers won’t accept and utilize the system. Many owners/operators underestimate their customer base with regard to card-system usage. The ease of operation is widely accepted and preferred over inserting numerous coins into a machine, especially with today’s higher-capacity machines and corresponding higher vend prices. The variety of marketing programs available maintain customer loyalty and interest in the system operation. Customers also use the card system for budgetary purposes to assure funds are available when needed. Q: What are the most underrated factors about going cashless?Lewis: One of the most underrated factors is the amount of work necessary to manage a successful card-operated store. I know that this could be said about all Laundromats, as the theory of “Open it and they will come” does not hold true in most cases. Although card-operated stores do not deal with collection, processing and handling of coins, they require cash collection, filling of card dispensers, maintaining bill-to-bill changers (if utilized), marketing, and successful management.Q: How has recent technology impacted the cashless store?Lewis: The advancements in hardware options, along with enhanced software changes, have brought more features and marketing programs to the card-operated Laundromats. The Touch Screen VTMs provide the customer with multilingual display options, including voice prompts, customer registration, banner texts, ad settings, machine database and attendant functions. The Cyberwash Account Manager software includes multiple daily specials, wash loyalty programs, wash-dry transfer program, mystery vend, out-of-service feature, and cycle-based pricing structures as standard marketing features.An increasing trend in today’s card-operated stores is the acceptance of credit and debit cards as a means of adding value to the store’s money card, which has provided an additional form of revenue. Remote-access capabilities provide the owner/operator with the ability to monitor all facets of their operation, including system program changes from any location that has Internet access.Q: If a competitor goes cashless, how can this impact your store?Lewis: If the owner doesn’t take advantage of the marketing features and capabilities of the card system, there may be little or no impact on your store. I have seen coin stores convert to card operation for the sole purpose of eliminating the collection, processing and handling of coins. However, if the extensive marketing capabilities are aggressively utilized, there could be a dramatic effect on the store. Many of the programs available not only draw customers to the card store, but also maintain their loyalty over time.