Whether initiated by a new investor or an industry veteran, when a new self-service laundry goes up, the decision to go cashless remains a key question.
While the cashless concept has been around for some time, some operators still have questions about it. What cashless myths exist? Is the cashless option only beneficial for larger stores? What mistakes can owners make when implementing a cashless system?
American Coin-Op recently posed these and other cashless questions to Steven Marcionetti, Card Concepts Inc. Marcionetti’s family has been involved in the self-service laundry industry for more than 35 years. He joined the family business full time in 1999, and in 2000, in conjunction with his father and brother, started Card Concepts, a manufacturer of debit card and automation systems for self-service laundries.
Q: Five years ago, did you think there would be more cashless stores in 2009?
Marcionetti: Yes. Five years ago, there was no doubt in my mind that we would see an increase in the number of card stores. I don’t think anyone could have guessed how many card stores there would have been. I think it’s still a safe statement to say that during the next five years, the percentage of new stores built each year with card systems will continue to increase. Laundromat investors are sophisticated and want technology to help them run an efficient business, and card systems are a big part of how a successful laundry is operated.
Q: Is cost still the greatest deterrent when it comes to deciding to go cashless?
Marcionetti: I think so, but not because the systems cost too much, but because many people do not understand the return on investment (ROI) that a card system provides. Utility expenses required to operate a store will always be variable, but without the flexibility of a card system to maintain a consistent profit margin, coin operators are at a big disadvantage. The “float” that is accumulated is often underestimated, not just in how much money is never redeemed, but in the loyalty that is created, and the encouragement customers receive to return to spend unused balances.
Q: What are some of the basic questions a laundry owner should ask when considering a cashless store?
Marcionetti: Customers should ask about system redundancy and availability of tech support. Adding a card system adds a lot of technology that the storeowner may or may not feel completely comfortable with. The system should be backed by tech support that works for the schedule of a coin laundry.
Q: Are retrofitting options available?
Marcionetti: Retrofitting, in most cases, can be easily cost-justified by increasing vend prices a few pennies per cycle. With many financing options available with reasonable interest rates, a card system can easily pay back the cash investment in a few short months. For small stores with less than 50 card readers, there is a “lite” system available that can save some storeowners as much as 30%.
Q: Is the cashless option only beneficial for large laundries?
Marcionetti: The ROI for a card system typically gets stronger as the store gets larger. If you require more than 50 card readers, then you should seriously consider a card system. If you require less than 50 card readers, you might want to consider a “lite” system, depending on how much volume the store generates and what features the owner desires.
Q: What’s the greatest myth about going cashless?
Marcionetti: The greatest myth is “my people” or “my customers” will not like it or will not understand how to use the cards. Too many storeowners don’t give their customers enough credit. The truth is that our society is already card-based. The Laundromat clientele are not sheltered from this reality. Walk into any McDonald’s today and you will find the option to pay with a credit card.
Q: What’s the most underrated factor in going cashless?
Marcionetti: The loyalty driven by convenience is the biggest value. One of the not-so-surprising facts about customers who frequent a card store is that they become accustomed to it. They begin to rely on it. It’s not uncommon for some families to budget their monthly laundry money by adding value to their card for the entire month. Many storeowners have told me that they have seen customers walk in, add $50 to their card, and walk out. When asked why they did this, they simply say that they want to make sure they have money to do laundry that month. This is true loyalty. Where else is that customer going to do laundry that month?
Q: Is there a common mistake owners make when implementing a cashless system?
Marcionetti: Lack of customer education can sometimes cause card-store retrofits to have a rough start. It’s not that the systems are difficult to use, it’s that when making a change to a customer’s routine, it’s always a good idea to have someone give them the “once-over” on how to use the system. This makes people more comfortable with the change. If you let a customer draw their own conclusions on why a store converted from coin to card, you don’t know how they will perceive it. If someone introduces the system and all of the benefits to the customer, customers are much more likely to accept it as a good thing.
Q: Is it more important today, for any reason, to go cashless?
Marcionetti: Utilities and marketing are the reasons. Once you have picked a location for your store, that’s it. Now it’s time to arm yourself with the appropriate tools to make the store profitable. Building a new store with coins drastically impairs the owner’s ability to maintain a consistent profit. Utilities will always be a variable. Without a system for making easy penny-incremental changes, stores will sacrifice a profit. Then, how do you make your store more attractive when compared to the competition? Card systems give you many more options to develop marketing campaigns and drive traffic to your store. The best part is that the systems can manage your marketing campaigns and provide results data to help you determine what works best for your market.
Q: How should an owner promote a cashless store?
Marcionetti: I would utilize the features of my systems to promote my business. Advertising only the fact that a store is card-operated is not necessarily effective in itself. It’s what you do with the abilities of the system that will attract customers. Campaigns such as free dry, big-bill bonuses, wash-to-win, coupons, and birthday discounts are all examples of unique marketing tools that a card system can easily add to a store. More importantly, these tools will separate your store from the coin competitors.
Q: Five years from now, will there be more, less, or the same percentage of cashless stores?
Marcionetti: No question, there will be more card stores five years from now. The interest level is higher than it’s ever been, and as new investors see more stores going with cards, it will proliferate into those new investors insisting on going cashless. As the cost to build a new store increases, it will require investors to have more start-up capital. The new breed of investor is already comfortable with technology, and is able to easily identify with all of the positive benefits of using a cashless system.