By Bob Eisenberg | Feb 01, 2010
Laundry cards most definitely have a future of the self-service retail laundry business. The number of card-operated laundries grows every year and, in my opinion, will continue to grow for many reasons, which I will try to expand upon in this article.
First, why change from quarters? They have served our industry for many years; however, coins are becoming a nuisance to our customers and a cumbersome burden to our banking. How many quarters are “trapped” in your coin changers? Does your bank charge to handle loose change? Do you see your customers lugging around huge quantities of them? It was different years ago when the typical wash cost about $1. But, today, with larger washers that vend for anywhere from $5 to $10 or more and shorter and shorter dry times, it requires a large amount of quarters and valuable customer time to start the machines.
How do you market with quarters? How do you run specials? How do you give free wash coupons? How often have you hesitated to raise prices because you have to raise an entire quarter at a time? Who do you leave the keys to when you want to go out of town when there is little or no accountability?
For all of the above and other compelling reasons cards lend themselves to our industry. With cards, you can calculate your store’s cash on hand immediately – and from anywhere in the world, as long as you have Internet access. You also have remote access to store data. Reduce your collection time. No more quarters in the coin changer. Run vend price specials for certain machines on certain days. Increase your prices in one-cent increments. Enjoy dry time and price flexibility, such as 10 minutes for X cents… or 30 minutes for $X.
Many card systems can accept credit and debit cards. And when I owned a card-operated store, it was my experience that customers spent more money using a card than they did when using cash – and they often left a large balance on the card. That “float” left on a card is money the customer has not used yet – and may never use.
Cards also enable laundry owners to create a database of customers for future marketing campaigns. Know which machines your customers really like and which to consider replacing. Also, most card system software allows laundry owners to track:
• Wash-dry-fold operations
• Commercial accounts
• Over-the-counter sales
• Machine maintenance
Learn valuable information to help you run your business more effectively and more profitably.
There are currently two different types of card systems – smart cards and debit cards. In short, a smart card has a microchip built into the card and carries the information, including the amount of money on the card, within itself. A debit card is typically networked to computers that run the store and house customer information. There are advantages to both, but that is a detailed topic for another day – and certainly for an in-depth conversation with the card manufacturers and your distributor.
However, there are some caveats that you need to fully understand beforehand. Card systems require you to educate some or all of your customers; you must plan for this.
Also, if you use your card system only to replace cash, you may be disappointed. Card systems are more accepted by customers when you use all of their marketing benefits – at the very least establish a frequent customer reward program.
Of course, a card system also adds costs when building a new store or installing a system within an existing store, so you must weigh the pros and cons of a card system for your specific business and marketplace.
What’s in it for your customers? Rewards, recognition and time savings. And, for many customers, time can be more important than money. After all, who really wants to spend more time doing laundry? Your customers won’t have to lug all of those quarters. And some customers will actually budget their monthly laundry when they have the money.
This self-service laundry industry is growing and continuing to provide a better service to its customers than in the past. Alternative payment systems are part of providing better service, while at the same time providing you better tools to run your business.
Business evolves and changes. It’s up to each owner to recognize change and decide what is best to meet his or her particular challenges. The self-service laundry business began more than 50 years ago – first taking nickels and dimes, then quarters. It’s gone from offering its customers predominately topload washers to now offering mainly frontload machines. Larger, destination-type stores are replacing smaller laundries. And, now… from coins to cards?