This article was posted on Friday, Jul 01, 2016

Back when my grandparents had their first coin-op laundry equipment in the late 1950’s- there were limited choices in equipment models which made things easy, but in today’s day and age, it’s a different ballgame. They had old 10¢ meters that would start the old Frigidaire washers with a mechanical timer, would often stick in cycle and were designed to last forever. Equipment has progressed from coin slides to controlled water-levels – today’s newer sophisticated washers and dryers can be like buying a new pair of shoes or the as the old adage goes – “Having the right tool for the job ”.

There are a ton of choices – coin slide or coin drop models, hi-efficiency or standard, debit/credit/laundry cards, even leasing or owning … where does it stop – or start for that matter?

As both an apartment owner and as a “vended laundry guy”, it can be tough for even a person who has been in the coin-op business for years to source out the right style washer and dryer to go with.   Here’s a little bit of help for someone who is starting to look at vended laundry in their particular multi-housing setting.

In recent years, the national, state and now local governments have been all over machine manufacturers’ backs in limiting utility consumption, which ultimately leads owners/managers to investigate apartment specific washers/dryers. Few machines are designed and built -commercial/coin-op washers and dryers. (I mean actual commercial built machines- not the ones you buy at a discount store where they put a meter case on a home unit). Machines are now built with not only a focus on being dependable, but have extra bells and whistles to have utility savings and positive tenant experiences as well. Sometimes to get a machine that is going to last is going to cost a couple more bucks that the run of the mill machines – trust me… it’s usually worth it.

Lease vs Purchase
10 years ago, everyone and their brother wanted to just own and operate the equipment. As equipment prices have risen, spare time has become less and less and vandalism have become a large part of the equation – the trend has again focused back to “you take care of it, you’re set up to deal with this – I’ve got other projects to focus on”. Time is such a precious commodity and mainly owners who are truly “active” managers still own and maintain their own machines. Just like clogged sinks, or roof patches, those who elect to own their own machines have to deal with broken belts and coin jams. Many owners and managers have enough on their plate – laundry service companies out there provide high grade equipment, contact numbers and dispatch repairs so owners don’t have to worry about it. It comes down to the owner’s desire to be 100% all in or allocate time to other things.

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Hi-Efficiency vs Traditional Top Load
In many municipalities, the prices of water and sewer are nearing the price of milk or gasoline – it comes down to the cost of utilities versus longevity of the standard top load washer. In Southern California, Top Load washers still reign supreme mainly because users know and understand them with no learning curve, but in NorCal or East Coast markets – try to find one. The reliability of the soft mount front load washer has gotten much better in the recent years, but you still come across tenants who are going to overload, stuff, and cram washers to the max.  Once again, getting a coin laundry-designed machine can make the difference in longevity- plastic vs metal, etc. Given the slightly larger capacity and that they use nearly one half of the amount of water, gas, and electricity, front loaders are becoming a viable choice in multi-housing laundry. Most U.S. built front load washers also comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements – which is also important to look at; especially in larger complexes and lodging. 

Coin Slide vs Coin Drop
Like Grandpa’s old 10¢ coin slide machines, there is still something to say for the simplicity of using knobs, meter switches and coin slides versus that of today’s newer digital LED read-out, timer display coin-drop machines. In many multi-housing settings, especially where there is a low washer/dryer to tenant ratio – just having the timer display on dryers alone is a huge feature in tenants coming back for their clothes and increase throughput (people getting in and out faster). Most coin slides are limited to the number of quarters they can accept and updating to the newer controls can sometimes lead to better foreign coin rejection, audit control for managers and often increased perceived value to building occupants. With low voltage computers and increased water-resistance of the controls, don’t be afraid to look to newer units.

Card vs Coin
Traditionalists look at the card-op vended laundry as more headaches than its worth – and depending on the management style or customer base, might be right. Newer, larger complexes have made the move to card-op equipment and enjoy the benefits of “cashless rooms” to deter break-ins, full cash management, accepting credit/debit cards, as well as on-site customer retention. Unfortunately, for the average 4-plex or duplex owner, the investment to install card operation is often just too far out of their budget, usually the price of a full VTM (Value Transfer Machine) card system can be as much or more than the price of the washers/dryers. With ever advancing technology, brings newer payment systems – phone apps and on-line card systems are leveling the playing field, allowing owners/operators to use modern technology at a lower investment point.

As seen, there more choices today in multi-housing washers and dryers than when Gramps started sorting nickels and dimes- all these advancements have made tenant experiences better and owners have options from leasing services to card-op equipment. If it’s a washer and dryer set for your duplex or a massive laundry room in a 10 story high rise apartment building, knowing some of the basics can help you get a little more information on vended laundry. Either way you go, the end result is happy tenants with cleaner clothes than they started with.

Andy Wray is a principal at ACE Commercial Laundry Equipment Inc, a 3rd generation coin laundry distributor and operator, as well a fellow apartment owner. For questions or comments about this article or various multi-housing vended laundry solutions, feel free to call 877-630-7278, email [email protected]  or visit their website