Evolutionary Changes in the Coin Laundry Industry
As someone who has been in the laundry industry as long as myself (almost 40 years) you start to witness different changes and trends within the industry. I currently recognize significant trends and have witnessed evolutionary changes within the vended laundry industry. We are fortunate to be seeing one of these evolutionary changes as I write this article. To set the evolutionary timeline, I have attached my top seven picks for significant (or evolutionary) changes within the vended laundry industry.
1. Front load washers – The advent of the front load washer has changed the scenery of the laundry environment. The front load washers were a change from the traditional top loader washer that changed the primitive landscape by creating a better, cleaner wash and by using less water. The front load washer produces a cleaner product by vigorous tumble action along with 5 different water changes to really clean the clothes. Philco Bendex was one of the first front load washers which was quickly followed by the early Wascomats. The front load washers were the first real evolutionary change that caused the death of the Top load washer dinosaur.
2. Multi Sized Washers - The creation of the front load washers allowed the Laundromat owner to have different sized washers for different sized loads. Amteck and Wascomat was a couple of the early manufacturer of the “large capacity”, multi-sized washers. The large capacity washers allowed the customer to pick a washer by the size of the laundry to be washed. The large capacity washers help the Laundromat owner by providing washers that was not available in the home and that increased the revenue of their Laundromat. The larger capacity washers have a high vend price and would increase the revenue of the Laundromat. This trend still continues today with many Laundromat having 80#, 100# and even 125 # washers in their stores. The multi-sized washers lead the coin laundry industry out of the dark ages and into the dawn of the modern Laundromat.
3. Stack Dryers – The stack dryers have revolutionized the laundry industry by doubling the drying capacity and doubling the revenue of the dryer. American Dryer revolutionized the laundry industry by introducing the first 30 # stack dryer. The 30 # stack dryer gave the modern Laundromat the ability to match a pound of drying to a pound of washing. No longer were the customers required to wait in line to dry their clothes. Now the modern Laundromat had enough drying capacity to get the customers in and out of the Laundromat as quickly as possible. The stack dryer was quickly embraced as a revolution in the laundry industry and currently every Laundromat we equipped within the last 15 years has been 99% stack dryers.
4. Card Systems – The card system has had a long gestation period throughout its development. The card system although not quickly embraced had the long lasting qualities that could not kill a terrific idea. The advantage of no more coins and the ability to have penny increment washers and dryers proved too great a concept to die. Over the course of decades the card systems have evolved to become the standard of the “Mega Laundromat”. The multi-store operator could only handle 12-16 stores before just processing quarters became a 7 day a week job by itself. The accountability of the card store forced the evolution from the mom & pop type cash operation to the corporate owned Mega Store operator. Now Laundromats can be monitored and audited on line and all you need is a trusted body to collect the “paper”. The scale-ability of card stores is un-limited and the features and benefits of the card stores keep on continuing.
5. Large Capacity Stack Dryers – The ability to have 45-50 lbs. Stack Dryers again has changed Laundromat landscape. With two different sized stack dryers in the same Laundromat has given birth to the Laundromat with more drying capacity than washing capacity. This is a minor technological jump first started by Alliance with the 45 lbs. stack dryer, but significant evolutionary change none-the-less. Now Laundromats can eliminate the dryer bottleneck and whisk the customers through the drudgery of doing their laundry. No more fist fights in the Laundromat where dry only customers are verbally assaulted when they went to dry their clothes. No longer should any Laundromat have too few dryers.
6. Energy Efficient Washers - Energy costs and water & sewer rates keep rising to new highs every day and the suave Laundromat owner is recognizing this challenge and installing Microprocessor controlled washers and High Speed extract washers. The addition of the Microprocessor gives the Laundromat owner the control & flexibility to minimize the amount of water used per cycle. No longer is the 5 water change front load washer acceptable. The new standard is 1 wash and 2 rinses with a savings of up to 50% of the water and sewer costs. In some cases this savings can cover a huge portion of the loan cost for the new equipment. In effect the utility savings can discount the cost of the machines by up to 50% (not too bad). In addition, the high speed extract washers (200 G-force and higher) will remove up to 25% of the water from the clothes. With 25% less water, the dryers will consume 25% less gas and the Laundromat owner saves on very expensive gas costs. Smart Laundromat owners recognize that they can either pay the utility companies or pay themselves with the utility cost savings. Utility costs will only increase over time. We witness constant increases in water & sewer rates. The smart operator can buy themselves relief by investing in the most energy efficient equipment and reduce their operational costs.
7. Networking – We are seeing the real adoption of the completely “Networked Laundromat” where all of the washers & dryers are accessible via the internet. This is being led by the machine manufacturers who have access and control of the washer & dryer microprocessors. (Third party Card systems just have access to top level access of pricing and some simple cycle modifications.) The manufacturers allow the store owner to not only control pricing and see the revenue data but now allow a deep dive into accessing more of the power of the machines microprocessor. Some of the remote functions available for each machine or for an entire group of machines are:
a. Get the cycle program, (and upload a new program),
b. Start a Machine,
c. Get an Audit,
d. Pause a Machine,
e. Stop a Machine,
f. Clear a Partial Vend,
g. Rapid Advance a Machine,
h. Rapid Advance to the End of the Cycle,
i. Clear Errors,
Today’s washers & dryers are taking another Evolutionary jump that will radically change the Laundromats of today. Now just about anything needed to help a customer is now available remotely via the internet. You can very easily have a customer service representative working from home access hundreds of Laundromats with networking, video cameras and 2 way communication. You can now have attended Laundromats where the attendant is working from home and monitoring and controlling 2 to 200 Laundromats remotely. Networking & technology have already begin to change the landscape of today’s modern Laundromats.
The Laundromat industry will continue to change and evolve as new ideas and inventions are embraced and adopted in the industry. I have tried to include all of the significant changes within the industry and give the reader a perspective of the evolutionary timeline. If anything is certain in the Laundry industry, there will always be change and evolution. The driving forces that have made significant and long lasting changes within the industry have been solutions that have maximized the store owner’s profits or have minimized the labor or expenses of the Laundromat. The future looks good for the nimble and visionary owners who will embrace change.