(This edited article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Coin Laundry News)
Coin is the first name of the Coin Laundry Association and synonymous with our industry. Every year, CLA’s national survey reaffirms coin’s standing as the perennial leader in payment, welcomed at some 86% of machines, including two-thirds that vend quarter-only.
Generations of patrons from all walks of life embrace the simplicity of the coin-operated, self-service laundry — a successful business model replicated by an overwhelming majority of store owners.
Coin made headlines recently in the pages of Coin Laundry News with the release of a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study highlighting new findings on the feasibility of replacing one dollar bills with dollar coins. Unlike the GAO’s last go around seven years ago, this updated study projected unfavorable net benefits to the government if there was a switch from paper to coin.
As part of its analysis, the government watchdog interviewed ten stakeholders, including the CLA, which remains neutral when it comes to the dollar coin.
On Capitol Hill, legislation containing a proposal to scrap the greenback for “golden” dollars — the COINS Act of 2017 — co-sponsored by the late Sen. John McCain, sits in committee.
While dollars get tossed around as a political football and some sit on the sidelines, it’s Game On for laundry with the $1 coin. Across the country there’s an organic movement among forward-thinking store owners big and small, attended and unattended, to make use of the billion-plus minted dollar coins readily accessible though banks.
Having served the laundry industry for decades, I prefer to put my faith in those who provide places to wash a ton, not in Washington.
You can rest assured that as long as the paper one dollar note circulates, its coin equivalent will remain an oddity. But that doesn’t diminish how well this higher denomination coin fits into today’s — and tomorrow’s — self-service laundry.
By circulating dollar coins through changers and accepting them at equipment, laundry operators are bringing coin value more in line with pricing. That $8 wash takes eight coins instead of 32 quarters, and a buck multiplies a seven-minute dry into a 28-minute full cycle with just one insertion.
Pioneering laundry owners blazed the dollar coin trail many years ago and today’s progressive-minded operators are following suit and reaping the same benefits.
Those who employ the bigger coin enjoy longer intervals between collections, increased money box and changer hopper capacity, and a significant overall reduction in coin handling by themselves and their customers. They’re not bidding a final farewell to the quarter, just giving it a new golden big brother.
Manufacturers are accommodating dollar coins to meet the demand. Most brands of newly-purchased washers and dryers can be specified coin-ready, giving store owners the option to install a custom drop by themselves or through their distributor or independent technician. Retrofitting both new and existing machines with multi-coin acceptors capable of handling dollar coins, quarters — even tokens — is a common sight in markets across the country.
Changer manufacturers have long been dollar coin-ready, having served vending and other industries where the higher denomination coin was called into action early on. At laundries, changer payouts of dollars or dollar/quarter mixes are programmed to sync well with dollar coin-mostly formats, as well as those with quarter increment pricing schemes and cycle modifiers.
As mentioned above, vending machines were the first devices to adopt dollar coin acceptance and laundry owners may be surprised to learn their own machines’ built-in capability.
Reluctance by the government to pull the dollar bill from circulation and push the dollar coin should not serve as a bellwether for the coin laundry industry. As owners ride the wave from small to large capacity machines, they can move beyond the lower denomination quarter by introducing the higher denomination dollar.
Big iron on the floor demands big coins at the pay inlet. It just makes sense.READ MORE
Coinless pay at every washer and dryer. Credit card friendly. Big bill bonuses. In-and-out collections. All topped by a sweet float. Sounds appealing?
Get ready for the year 1984. That’s right, 1984. Van Halen topped the charts, McDonald’s sold 50-cent burgers and everybody loved their Calvin jeans. It’s also when the token-operated laundromat made a big splash.
On the east side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the newly-expanded Wash Tub Laundry Center was an oh-so-trendy sudsy emporium, sporting “Olympic-size” front loaders, a decorative water fountain, kids corner, TVs and — would you believe — an indoor putting green.
But what thrust this local laundry onto the national stage was its innovative pay format — a token-op, not a coin-op. I watched it happening in real time. You see, the Wash Tub was our family’s laundromat.
A little background is in order. Before tripling in size from 1,200 to 3,600 square feet, The Wash Tub ran on coins and had my dad ferrying nearly 8,000 of them a week between the laundry, home and the bank. Hauling coin bags hurt his back, and the prospect of adding thousands more to his workload with a bigger store weighed heavily on my mind. I knew there had to be a better way.
I found the answer in Philadelphia, where quarter-valued tokens had beaten the urban assault on laundromat coin vaults. The bad guys with crowbars wanted nothing to do with brass coinage, but the patrons sure did.
Those ingenious Philly operators knew how to build loyalty and get people spending. Customers had baggies of tokens and why not? Buy more to get more freebies. Washer price? Three tokens sounds way cheaper than 75 cents.
I was sold — the coins were gone and the cash kept flowing. All I had to do was sell dad.
Jack Cohen wasn’t a newbie when it came to alternative pay. Plastic tokettes and tickets? He’d been there, done that. And the very thought of what his son now had in mind for the five-store-chain’s flagship made this laundry vet chuckle. “Tokens? You gotta be jokin’!”
Going all-in, all-token
I ticked off each box in my checklist on converting every bill changer, Maytag, Dexter, Wascomat, Huebsch, Gold Medal and Vend-Rite in the house. And my drive out to our token supplier in Kentucky showed him I was dead serious.
I pitched my father and convinced him to go all-in on all-token. To this day, it remains the toughest sale of my life.
Wash Tub customers dug the new pay format — changing bills for tokens on the wall or handing over credit cards for wrapped rolls at the counter — and started plunking away at the machines.
And then there were the promos. Big bills triggered a bonus, while a lucky random blue token kicked out from the hopper or tucked inside a paper roll was worth four. Happy Hour from 5 to 6 p.m. had $6 token rolls priced the same as time on the clock. Seniors got their free tokens each weekday morning.
Best of all, dad handled stacks of notes, not sacks of coins. Changers were cash registers — just grab the bills and out the door. With the money in hand, vault collections were done at his leisure.
Six months in, my father asked for the token company’s phone number. Turns out our initial 20,000-piece inventory was running low and thousands were missing in action. Needless to say, at eight cents each and a tidy 17-cent profit realized with every quarter-valued token walking out the door, it was one check he gladly wrote. The float alone paid for the store conversion in no time at all.
Not your father’s laundromat
Fast forward 35 years to the present and it’s easy to dismiss The Wash Tub as strictly old school. After all, who would dare mention tokens in the same breath as laundry pay’s uber-hip networked gadgetry and smartphone apps?
Today’s token-op isn’t my father’s laundromat. It’s debit/credit card-to-token dispensing, dual value formats, real-time reporting, automated promotions and cashless wash-dry-fold — delivered 24/7, no expensive babysitter required.
From northern Minnesota to the California coast and points east and south, progressive operators are teaming up tokens with dollars and quarters or using them exclusively as their private money system. They’ve got a true hybrid, but without the heavy hybrid price tag.
Hear that? It’s the sound of laundry coming full circle. Hey dad, it’s tokens and I’m not jokin’!
Laundromat operators are facing a critical space shortage. Most cope the best they can, but not without sacrifice. Others are deciding whether it’s time to give up running a coin-op.
This kind of real estate crunch has cycled through the industry before. In fairness, most laundry owners can be forgiven for not knowing the best way to deal with the latest bubble. The same can be said for any distributor or sales pro who doesn’t have a few decades under their belt. After all, this one has been building since the 1990s.
Nearly 30 years after the last dime was pulled from collections, the quarter continues to dominate self-service pay with 86% of machines accepting them, and six-in-ten operating quarter-only, according to the latest Coin Laundry Association national survey.
Your own store likely boasts big machines and commands high vend prices, yet you find yourself saddled with a small, low denomination coin. The 32 quarters your regulars drop in for an $8 wash accumulate fast and guess who’s left holding the bag.
Every square inch of your laundromat’s money vaults become packed, dragging you out of bed to empty them just to make it through the weekend. And over at the changers, the insatiable appetite for small coins calls for more and more hoppers filled to the brim. The bills being inserted may have grown in denomination, but not the coins paid out. A twenty is traded for a whopping 80 quarters.
It’s those tiny parcels of prime real estate built to handle cash flow where you feel the crunch.
Getting boxed in
Laundromats have long grappled with payment space constraints. The early horizontal coin slides — where quarters, dimes and nickels were laid down or even stacked in slots — served the industry well, but eventually ran out of room.
The advent of the vertical coin slide kept the push-and-pull vend going until they maxed out, ushering in the era of roll-down style coin drop acceptors fitted to top loaders, front loaders and dryers.
While the coin drop became the industry’s new workhorse and offered a viable, long term solution at the point of purchase, limited capacity money vaults soon boxed in owners space-wise.
Those clinging to the quarter discovered a bigger box wasn’t the answer. Some washed their hands completely of coin operation, pledging loyalty instead to a card system.
Hybrid pay trumpeted in a new bid to rid coin-ops of quarters. The menu of credit/debit and loyalty cards, digital wallets and smartphone apps offer an array of tantalizing options, but falls short when it comes to customer adoption.
Give your patrons a choice paying at machines and coin always wins — plunking beats swiping and tapping.
Who’s holding the bucket?
Most hybrid reader/coin machines are quarter-only. The result: Owners still collect and recirculate bucketfuls of them.
Bring up the subject of coins with hybrid fans and you’d think the government stopped minting at 25 cents. In fact, cashless pay leapfrogged past the dollar coin, leaving behind in its wake a ready supply of space-saving legal tender.
The math is simple: One “golden” dollar replaces four quarters. The smaller coins can still come along for the ride through your laundry, but they’ll be taking a back seat. Sorting is a non-issue with today’s lightning-fast electric units.
Keep in mind that laundromats progressed from dimes to quarters without pain. If the thought of circulating a higher denomination coin at your store makes you uneasy, take comfort knowing it has stood the test of time.
Better yet, look at our industry’s forward-thinking operators. How did they solve the real estate crunch at their laundromat? They picked up room by picking up the dollar coin.