Banking on Brass
You can count Kyle Behmlander among the newest generation of laundry owners embracing technological change.
Inside the gleaming new Saucon Valley Laundromat in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he showcases state-of-the-art machinery boasting touch screens and interactive management software.
But unlike many of his millennial counterparts, this 32-year-old multi-store operator also embraces a different type of change — the kind that jingles.
Behmlander uses coinage to anchor his laundry’s hybrid pay platform.
It starts with a dual hopper changer that takes in cash and kicks out cashless dollar-valued tokens. Just ten are needed to power up one of the massive 80-pound front loaders.
Quarters? Customers bring them in along with any loose dollar coins and spend away. Cold hard cash is always welcome here.
The same goes for credit and debit cards. Yep, at Saucon Valley, there’s an app for that.
Behmlander’s hybrid is designed around options and redundancy. On top of that, the golden brass currency he circulates remains under his control.
COVID and coins
It was the pandemic that spurred Behmlander’s interest in alternative pay.
For years, quarters had fueled sales at his father Steve’s two thriving Bethlehem area self-service laundromat-car wash tandems. When Behmlander stepped away from a career as a gym teacher and into his dad’s shoes, he ran up against the coin shortage.
“COVID was the tipping point, but even before that it was getting to the point where I was getting a pit in my stomach every time someone put a twenty into the changer,” he recalls. “I was sick of people lying to my face.”
Behmlander knew dispensing tokens would stop non-patrons from walking off with coin inventory that was getting harder to replenish back at the bank.
He also got the math: One dollar token equals four quarters, adding up to a whole lot more hopper and vault capacity.
‘I am my own bank’
The laundry-car wash combos served as proving grounds for token operations. Father and son converted not only the washers and dryers, but every bay and vending device to accept changer-dispensed dollar-valued tokens, along with carry-in quarters and dollar coins.
Tokens worked for Behmlander. He never ran short on supplies. “COVID taught me I don’t have to rely on the bank for quarters or even dollar coins. I am my own bank.”
By design, the token employed at the tandem operations is the same one used at Saucon Valley — three locations with universal cashless coinage good at every machine in the house.
Vend prices for the 16 front load washers at the new laundry are in whole dollar increments, ranging from $5 to $10. Cycle modifiers are $1.
The ten 45-lb. stack dryers deliver 16 minutes for $1, but can be fired up initially for as little as 25¢. The four 75-lb. tumblers run 12 minutes for $1.
Installation of Imonex multi-coin/token drops on Speed Queen Touch equipment was performed on-site by the father-son team. The pair got familiar with the fit after purchasing similar models a few years back for one of the combo operations. Behmlander says once he had the routine down “I could do it in my sleep.”
App offers flexibility
The owner isn’t surprised seeing customers arrive with coins. “In this day in age you’re crazy not to take quarters.”
But Behmlander also recognizes some patrons, especially those of his generation and younger, rarely carry cash. “I knew going forward with the new store to appease everyone. The app is a good idea. I wanted to offer that flexibility.”
Loyalty points are rewarded to encourage use of the Speed Queen smartphone app.
Adoption is growing, he says. One month in, the digital app accounted for roughly 25% of total machine income.
Meanwhile, a breakdown of coinage revenue saw tokens registering the lion’s share — 75-80% — and the balance in quarters, the operator reports.
Picking up quarters
Behmlander is a fan of app-based laundry pay, but not the elimination of coinage. He points to two competitors in his market who don’t accommodate walk-in quarters at kiosks and machines.
“They alienated a big chunk of their crowd,” he says. “I gained a bunch of their older customers who don’t want to deal with the app. They’re done learning the technology part. They just want to be able to put quarters in the machine or get something in their hand like tokens.”
Hybrid that makes sense
Growing up around car washes taught Behmlander about the crucial role redundancy plays in operating systems. His dad’s first build included a touch-free automatic that went on the fritz from time to time. With the only automated unit down, customers could wash in a manual bay or return another day. The problematic bay was later converted into a 15 washer/24 dryer laundry.
Behmlander wanted to cover all the bases with his new store’s hybrid platform. Whether a Canadian quarter got lodged or the app went offline there would be a backup. Sure enough, just days after opening, digital pay was temporarily interrupted, impacting both he and his coinless competitors. But Saucon Valley kept washing on.
“Using the Imonex system I bulletproofed my store. When the s**t hits the fan I’m still operable. I don’t need to be connected all the time. This system makes the most sense to me.”