Making bank at the dryer bank
Dryer pricing resembles limbo dancing: Lower the minutes and you might take a tumble.
The bar sure isn’t set very high when it comes to minutes-per-quarter on a 30-pounder. So I’ll ask: How low can you go? The majority of laundry owners shimmy down to six, possibly five.
But we all know tinkering with dry time is risky business. Operators typically move instead to their washer coin drops and raise the bar, not lower it.
Dryers are keeping the self-service laundry industry stuck in a time warp. While five-and-dimes graduated to dollar stores and car wash vacs went to a buck, neighborhood coin-ops remain largely quarter affairs. Walk into the laundromat and 25¢ still rents out a $6,000 dryer.
Paying to dry with quarters reigns supreme at eight out of ten stores, according to a recent online poll conducted at the Laundromat Owners Showcase Facebook group. And those big rotating hot pockets aren’t going anywhere price-wise.
Statistics reveal just how stagnant things are. For the fourth — yes fourth — year in a row, six minutes per quarter was the most popular tumbler vend price reported in American Coin-op’s national survey. The 28.6% of poll respondents at six minutes barely edged out the 27% who shaved down to five.
Patrons have long grown accustomed to paying little or nothing to dry and have backed owners into a corner. Fearing backlash from regulars who perceive dryer adjustments as sneaky, store operators take the path of least resistance by instituting washer price increases.
The resulting imbalance is pronounced. A drying department typically pulls in roughly half the income of washer banks, yet occupies a larger overall footprint than their wet counterpart when floor space devoted to machinery, service area and folding is taken into account.
Here’s a look from another angle: The same amount of time doesn’t translate into the same amount of money in the laundromat world. That $6 you collect for a half-hour wash-rinse-spin in a 60-pounder trumps the $3 or less rung up for delivering simultaneous 30-minute cycles on a stack 30’s top and bottom pockets.
Up the minutes by upping the coin
Truth be told, the drying department is the laundromat’s most neglected profit center. And much of the blame lies with the reliance on quarters as the pay format. Operators are locked in with a low denomination coin that inhibits revenue growth.
The solution to the dryer dilemma is easy: Up the minutes by upping the coin.
I’m old enough to remember laundry’s decades-long transition to all quarters. Washer coin slide design supported a mix of nickels, dimes and quarters. Coin drops welcomed quarters. But over at the dryers there were plenty of holdouts — original mechanical knobs that turned on a dime.
Inside our family’s store chain, time on a Huebsch had tumbled down to a mere five minutes per dime. Maintaining that level wasn’t an option for my dear ol’ dad. He retired those ten-cent meters by simply heading over to the supply house and picking up new ones that accepted a larger coin. It was goodbye five-for-a-dime and hello ten-for-a-quarter — double-digit minutes and a healthy price bump. A full half-hour cycle brought in 75¢ compared to 60¢, equating to a 25% increase.
Fast forward forty years and many of you find yourselves at a similar crossroads. Do you hold at the five-minute-per-coin mark or follow the proven — and profitable — path forward with a higher denomination coin?
The math is straightforward for those at or near five minutes: Offer a 15-minute dry with one $1 coin or a full 30-minute cycle with two $1 coins. On a per minute basis that works out to 6.67¢, and delivers a half-hour dry for $2 versus $1.50 — up 33%.
A one-third increase sounds steep, but bear in mind this is calculated for a multi-load capacity machine. Boosting mid-size front loaders by 50¢ is quite common nowadays.
Moreover, using fewer coins lessens the impact of a dryer rate hike. Customers perceive you’re giving them lots of time per insertion and, in turn, greater value for their money.
Two $1 coins for a 30-minute full cycle hits a sweet spot by drying most average loads. Patrons of stores equipped with high g-force extraction washers might get the job done in half the time with just a single $1 coin.
And with the flexibility of today’s dual acceptance coin drops on the market, dollars roll in tandem with quarters to satisfy top-ups as well as the entire vend price.
That’s right, go ahead and give customers what they want — more minutes per coin. Raising the bar will spin profits back into your dryer department. All it takes is a dollar.