Giving coin a run for the money
The race is on for second in laundromat pay.
As always, first place goes to coin — dominating self-service vended laundry ever since trailblazers Eugene Farney and Arthur Percival accepted it at their Bronx storefront back in 1944.
So which competitors hope to give coin a run for the money?
Stored-value cards are enjoying a bit of a renaissance thanks in part to contactless payment technology. Tapping — as opposed to dipping or swiping — is boosting the appeal of loadable plastic.
Contactless also has quite a few owners and distributors passing up big ticket hybrid loyalty/credit card readers. That’s not to say bank-issued plastic is on the wane. It’s just seeing more and more action at kiosks.
Then there’s smartphone app and mobile wallet digital pay. Much like contactless card, this platform has lowered the initial investment for operators seeking a workaround.
And let’s not forget central pay, the universal kiosk and network that facilitates one-stop transactions.
Every one of these alternative formats has been heralded as a game-changer, transforming the good ol’ fashioned coin-op wash and dry experience into something beyond loose change.
Yet none has ever achieved the lion’s share in laundromat pay, let alone come close to challenging coin’s top ranking.
Let’s see those stats
The numbers tell the story.
Facebook polling data reveals loyalty card offered at the machine level trails not only coin, but smartphone and credit cards as well.
For owners with digital apps on the menu, six-in-ten achieve less than 30% of machine revenue via handheld devices, including two-in-ten below 10%.
When asked which generates the majority of sales at their washers and dryers, 67% of operators report coin — double that of loyalty cards (20%), credit/debit cards (8%) and phone apps (5%) combined.
Over at American Coin-op, self-serve laundry’s longest-running trade magazine, store owners are surveyed annually on payment offerings. And year in, year out, coin comes out on top.
The latest tally: Coin at 75%. No other category hit the 50 percent threshold, even with all card transaction types lumped together.
What coin isn’t
If you’re wondering why pay alternatives always lag behind coin, perhaps it’s because the latter is different.
Coin isn’t complicated. There’s no screen time, multi-step process, fees, chargebacks and holds.
Coin isn’t about customers managing online accounts or operators overseeing complex networks.
And coin isn’t about the necessity to discount services just so patrons will adopt it.
Coin has held first place without lifting a finger. It doesn’t sponsor lavish association cocktail parties or go on big spends.
November’s American Coin-op and Planet Laundry magazines saw full-page ads for alternative pay outnumber coin almost three-to-one.
And remember this: The U.S. Mint and Federal Reserve don’t have to sell laundromat owners on how great their products are.
Decades of disruption
As someone who chronicles the business I get a kick out of those who think disrupting coin acceptance is new. It isn’t.
The first-of-its-kind Temco-matic central laundry pay system was promoted inside a 1960 issue of Coin-op magazine.
Two years later, plastic pay was ushered in with Maytag’s revolutionary ticket-operated equipment.
The goal then was the same as today: Eliminate coins at machines.
Coin pay’s simplicity and reliability wasn’t broken, yet many believed it needed fixing. Over the course of seven decades they kept rolling out solutions in search of a problem.
Here we are entering 2024 with coin still the easiest and most universally accepted form of laundromat payment, bar none.
It has adapted to changing times with higher denominations and cashless coinage. Yesterday’s nickels and dimes became today’s quarters and dollar-valued tokens. Another reminder that running stores successfully on more than one coin is as old as the industry itself.
I too marvel at pay technology, but know full well patrons expect to walk up to a washer or dryer and spend cash. An estimated one-in-five arrive at laundromats clutching quarters, yet dedicated value-added card stores steer them toward a kiosk with no coin slot.
Contactless loyalty card might be quick, but it doesn’t necessarily streamline the customer experience. Bank cardholders transfer plastic-to-plastic at the kiosk — an extra step compared to the one-and-done hybrid machine reader.
Ditto for dual contactless/app, where a customer loads their phone before it serves as an intermediary.
What the majority hears
The runners-up in laundromat pay continue to evolve and carve out a niche.
But while those disrupters bang the drum for change, a majority of store owners quietly enjoy the sound of coins dropping into their money boxes.