Quarters made sense back when wash used to cost a few dollars, not eight bucks. The supersized machines of today may hold a lot, but the money boxes sure don’t.
Scott Badarak in San Diego saw the writing on the wall. He’s a lot like you — smart, industrious and knows his way around the tool box. A general contractor by trade, he rolls up his sleeves turning around old laundromats and is providing a nice livelihood for his wife Tina and their family.
As his chain expanded and more big iron hit the floor, he faced what you do — the quarter dilemma. Scott was trying to cope with the problem of too many small coins.
His machine vaults were filling up fast and the bill changers had an insatiable appetite. And then there’s the apartment dwellers who’d stop by to bank coins for use back at their building’s top loaders. Ahh, the joys of owning quarter-only laundromats.
Scott knew he had to solve the quarter conundrum, but what were the alternatives?
Hiring staff and running up a payroll at his unattended stores so he could go cashless loyalty card certainly wasn’t in the cards. What about a credit card hybrid at every machine? How many would opt for that and what would be the price tag to install, operate, maintain and replace them? What else may be out there or over on the horizon?
The crossroads where Scott stood is the same one that active and would-be laundromat owners inevitably reach at some point. Which way do you go to get beyond being just a quarter laundry and discover new revenue?
Customers are the driving force
Payment is more about human nature than it is technology. People become conditioned to using something and like to stick with it. Changing things up doesn’t go over well.
It’s the customers paying to wash and dry who ultimately determine if your laundry can get beyond a quarter laundry. They’ll take the journey if you lead them on a simple path without roadblocks.
New and different ways to pay interrupt a customer’s routine and challenges them. You may be dazzled by what goes on in retail by putting your faith — and hard-earned money — behind gadgets, believing card readers at every machine will do the trick. The reality is that when patrons are given a choice of coin or credit at the laundromat, the overwhelming majority stick to plunking rather than swiping.
Next time you hear someone boast that 15-20% of their base use credit card readers, keep in mind they’re still left holding the bag on a quarter store that’s 80-85% full.
Phone pay calls in
The new laundromat smartphone pay craze has enough apps to fill an iPhone screen. While still in their infancy, these downloads are streaming in at a time when big names in mobile pay are experiencing a failed connection with the American consumer.
JP Morgan Chase, the country’s largest bank, is pulling the plug on the much ballyhooed Chase Pay standalone app after just three years. The platform’s demise will join the likes of Citi Pay and others to the graveyard.
Reading between the lines, these big financial institutions couldn’t convince the public to change habits and pull out their phones.
What about other giants like Apple Pay and Walmart Pay? A recent online article by pymnts.com revealed the Apple app getting tapped nationwide only 6% of the time, while Walmart’s is being used in 3.6% of transactions at its own brick-and-mortar checkouts.
Will laundromat pay-by-app follow suit and plateau with similar low adoption rates, leaving owners sitting on hold with a quarter-mostly coin-op? Or will mobile at the coin-op outdo those big guys, who poured millions into campaigns hoping to get the public on board only to wind up with dismal results that can’t even hit 10% years later? Early reports from the field are not encouraging.
Hybrid that hits the mark
Meanwhile, back in San Diego, Scott made a decision to go hybrid, but with a unique one-two punch. He’s enjoying less frequent collections employing dollar-valued tokens and is credit card-ready storewide with just one reader.
Scott took a simple path that his customers follow with ease. Watch how he went beyond being a quarter laundry owner in his own words here.
For him, the quarter dilemma has been solved!
Few are fortunate enough in life to have business mentors. I’ve been blessed with many.
My father taught me four quarters make a buck and I learned how to parlay that into much more from my uncle.
In Thailand, an entrepreneur took me under his wing to fly high with American-style car washes in a land of buckets and sponges, while back home a shopping center owner showed me the ropes to become a better cold call salesman than he ever was.
Then there’s my mentor who’s an inventor.
The good folks at American Changer steered me toward him four years ago walking the Clean Show laundry convention. I was clueless as to his claim to fame.
He manned the booth wearing a distinctive bolo tie, not a plain polo shirt. His pitch — if you can call it that — was soft and measured, peppered with a few y’alls to punctuate Texas roots.
The event was winding down and we talked for what seemed like hours. Launching a token-operated laundromat was on my mind that fateful day and he was reportedly the man who could make that work. As our conversation went on and he described his innovation I didn’t see one laundry, I envisioned thousands. My startup would wait. This was a once in a lifetime chance to be taught by a master.
We connected right away and seemed cut from the same cloth. As kids, we’d both worked for our dads — for me, a childhood around laundry machines, and for him, vending machines.
It was on his vending route stops that he grew frustrated by coins getting jammed in the old cradle system acceptors. Most guys his age would see those stuck coins as a little found money, but not him. He had bigger plans. If there was a better way to get those coins flowing from the inlet into the cash box everyone would be happier.
The family garage became a workshop to toil away into the wee hours until he had perfected something ready for the market. That early success led to more and more innovations. Pretty soon the vending business gave way to a manufacturing enterprise with patented devices and customers clamoring for them across the globe.
Pay phones, juke boxes, vacuums — heck, even coin-op toilet paper dispensers — were working flawlessly day in, day out thanks to his brainchild.
By the time we crossed paths, he’d already gotten his feet wet in laundry, catering to a pent-up demand for an alternative to quarter-only vends.
Relating my experience running the family laundromat on quarter-size tokens back in the 1980s didn’t surprise him one bit. Turns out he had customers nowadays doing just that, but with two tokens and two coins to boot. My jaw dropped as he rattled off the names of laundry titans employing his product.
He seemed as passionate of his design as its impact on those who embraced it. True to the heart of every inventor, life was made a just little easier and, in this instance, dropping coins into machines a lot more reliable.
When I came into his employ and worked from a distance, we relied on long and frequent email chains. His 12-hour workdays grew even longer as he tutored me from afar. You see, when your mentor is an inventor, grabbing hold of the theory is the key takeaway.
I was all ears as he covered all the nuances of how coins and humans interact with one another and the tiny bit of real estate he had to work with to make things flow right.
My sales calls had me knocking on doors he’d walked up to earlier — sometimes with the same result, other times not. But there was a message that came through loud and clear: It was one helluva product as was the man behind it.
The biggest kick one gets being mentored by an inventor is watching them light up sharing their latest prototype. And as much as this guy liked selling and marketing, you always knew his first love was innovating.
With a thousand miles between us, FaceTime calls would have to suffice. But he could never hide his excitement as the phone screen shook describing the next “really awesome” development phase we were about to enter.
A business mentor who’s an inventor. Who would have dreamed up that idea? I guess I’m just lucky.
Happy Birthday Butch Bruner!