CHICAGO — Laundromat customers waiting for their laundry to finish have often found ways to pass the time thanks to the spare change in their pockets and the convenience and comfort of vending machines.
Snacks, beverages, laundry detergents, small toys and trinkets, and even video games have been at the disposal of laundry customers. But as the times and technology have changed, so, too, does customers’ vending needs.
American Coin-Op reached out to vending experts, who dispensed a wealth of information on the state of the vending industry, the changes and challenges that it faces, and opportunities Laundromat owners can capitalize on to raise their store’s vending game.
THE CASHLESS TREND
As more and more customers rely on cashless payment methods in the retail realm, companies, like Cicero, Ill.-based Vend-Rite Mfg., manufacturers of laundry soap dispensers and vending machines, have had to follow suit and reflect the trend in its own product line.
Mark Gies, vice president of sales at Vend-Rite Mfg., explains that its large-capacity Vision Vendor not only answers the demands of customers wishing to pay with plastic, but also streamlines the inventory and vending sales process for operators.
“Our Vision Vendors [satisfy] the need of being able to sell … larger items out of a closed environment where you now have the ability to manage the sales of those items, and can actually identify, by product, how many items you sell on a monthly basis, and how much money was taken into the machine on a monthly basis,” he says.
Can laundry customers expect to see more cashless vending machines in the near future? Gies believes it all depends on the laundry owner.
“You’ve got a lot of laundry owners that are comfortable with using coins, and you [also] have laundry owners that are basically leaning toward new technology,” he says.
Regardless of where the cashless trend is going, Gies highlighted Vend-Rite’s vending machines’ adaptability through conversion kits.
“Our machines have the ability to accept two types of payment systems, so if you wanted, you can put a card reader onto a machine that has a [coin mechanism] on it.”
THE CHALLENGE OF CASHLESS
Evolving payment technologies present “an enormous opportunity” for the vending industry, according to Roni Moore, vice president of marketing and public relations at the National Automatic Merchandising Association. However, adapting to customers’ changing payment methods is a “worldwide challenge,” says Angela Olson, marketing manager at Freeport, Ill.-based Seaga Manufacturing. As consumers and retailers alike are not only opting to go cashless, they are also exploring “plastic bills and different coin metal configurations.”
“I think that that is a big step in the laundry world, as well, to go cashless, and it is definitely a big step in vending,” says Olson, who believes that cashless payment is where the industry is trending.
Because of this, she explains that operators must be “nimble” in doing business.
“They need to work with their customers and the technology available to them; I think they need to embrace it,” she says. “They always have to have it in their [thought] bubble, and to work with their equipment supplier to implement these changes because they are definitely going to become the standard someday.”
And despite recent headlines on the security flaws of cashless payment methods, Olson believes the “reward is much higher than the risk,” acknowledging the advantage Gies outlined in mitigating the inventorying and selling process for operators.
“All of your transactions and all of the sales that you’ve made have been made with cashless payment, and so for the operator of the machine, it is definitely a huge bonus and something to be embraced.”
Knowing your Laundromat’s location and customers is key when it comes to selling vending, according to Olson.
“[Look] at your location, [which] gives you a demographic on the folks that are in your store and what they might buy if they were sitting there waiting for their laundry,” she says. “If there’s a convenience store, that’s your direct competition, obviously. If you don’t have what they want, they’re going to hoof it down the street to the convenience store.”
So how can Laundromat owners push their vending products to customers? Olson points to “basic ‘Vending 101.’”
“Keep your machines loaded [and] lit up nicely, maintained, and keep your products fresh so they don’t have any reason not to look and consider buying your products,” she says. “Keep your machine in good working order and loaded with fresh products, and keep a good variety that appeals to your location.”
From his segment of the vending industry, Gies explains that Vend-Rite is “staying consistent” with the laundry industry in order to provide end-users with items they need.
“With Laundromats going from a top-load industry to a front-load industry, from going from a 20-pound washer to [an] 80-pound washer … [customers] are not going to buy five to six boxes [of a single-use product],” he says.
Though there will always be a need for single-use items, according to Gies, the company believes it has addressed the demands of customers looking to buy vend products for higher-capacity machines.
“We’ve positioned ourselves, with the Vision Vendor, to take it into the next decade of being able to satisfy a laundry owner’s needs for concentrated products,” he says. “[Owners] now have the ability to provide [customers] with that concentrated product that’s high efficiency [for] larger machines.”
Moving forward, Moore believes the industry as a whole is “uniquely suited” to meet consumer needs because vending is a “24/7 business able to provide consumers what they want [and] when they want it.”
Business owners, like laundry operators, must refine their relationship with customers to meet this on-demand aspect, according to Olson.
“The interaction with both the customer and the machine owner will need to become more and more sophisticated so that the machine owner knows what the machine has sold … what needs to be restocked, [so] the customer can have a good experience when they step up to the machine to make a purchase.”