What could be better than cold hard cash at your car wash? Try Tokens! Operators who have switched from coin-vend services to token-vend services are well satisfied with the move for reasons such as heightened security, increased profitability, unparalleled marketing opportunities, and more.
Who Are Your Most Profitable Customers?
Most operators answer this question by saying large fleets or loyal customers who return to their establishments despite the presence of competing car washes nearby. Some may provide demographic information to fit a target customer profile. But most would agree that people who do not use your services are unlikely to fall into this category – but that is precisely what occurs with tokens.
Each day, in car washes across the country, patrons buy tokens and begin to wash their cars. Perhaps they complete the wash cycle before they deplete their supply of tokens, or maybe they get a call that disrupts their train of thought. Whatever the case, each day hundreds of tokens are bought and paid for, then put into pockets, change holders, ash trays or wherever change is stored, never to be seen again. These are called walkways – because they are bought and paid for but “walk away” before the service is vended. They are a hugely profitable segment of the self-service car wash market - estimated to be up to 30% of sales.
Walkways – and the additional profit that they generate - are one reason why operators are singing the praises of tokens.
Token durability is another reason that operators love them. Tokens can last for decades – bringing their per-use cost to nearly that of cash (zero). In fact, aside from marketing promotions (thematic slogans on tokens, etc.) the only reason that operators purchase additional tokens is because of walkways.
In addition to increased profitability, tokens are more secure than cash. Southwestern Ohio operator Kerry Hicks recalled an incident where thieves strung one of his car washes and made off with $852 – every last quarter. The incident clearly had a major impact on Hicks, who vividly recalls the loss which prompted his switch to tokens. After making the switch and posting signage to that effect, Hicks’ car washes have been relatively unscathed since.
Even unsuccessful robbery attempts can leave operators shelling out plenty to replace damaged coin boxes, facings and more.
Tokens provide a natural theft deterrent because thieves and cheats are looking for quick cash and could care less about tokens – which are essentially valueless to them.
Marketing – Marketing – Marketing
Aside from the tangible benefits of heightened security and increased profitability, there are numerous “soft side” benefits of token usage. On the marketing front, operators have huge branding opportunities as tokens can be minted with company name, logo, marketing message, and more. One operator calls his tokens “mini billboards” which are seen with his customers pocket change. This cheap form of advertising keeps your name in front of customers, and can prompt them to action when they are near your car wash.
Increasing the number of vending machines – which are all token-vend – is another marketing tactic that can reap huge financial rewards.
Many operators sell tokens to fundraising and civic groups at a discount. The tokens are then sold at face value – with the fundraising group pocketing the difference. Civic groups earn a stated amount per transaction – purchasers receive a known entity (a valuable car wash) – and the car-wash operator can cultivate new customers.
Rainbow Car Wash in Alberta provides “car wash packages” to civic groups for fundraising socials. The prize packages might include tire cleaner, sponges, chamois and other accessories. They always include tokens with the name, logo and address of the car wash.
Flexibility to Reward Loyal Customers
Tokens also allow operators to reward loyal customers, and offer incentives for larger purchases. Changers can be set to dispense $11 of tokens for every $10 purchase for example. Often the incentive is larger as the dollar amount increases, $23 in tokens for $20, etc.
This serves several purposes – it rewards loyal customers and keeps them coming back to your establishment rather than going to a competitive venue. Since these high volume purchases are not likely to be redeemed in a single session, there is a higher likelihood of walkaways. Another advantage to token usage is psychological - because customers are spending tokens rather than “real money” they are likely to spend more tokens at your establishment.
Operators can also adjust the payout to compel purchases on traditionally slow days or seasons. If Tuesdays are slow, you might want to up the ante and increase the rewards for Tuesday purchases. If summertime is slower, then upping the incentive can increase sales during these periods.
Operators also use tokens to reward customers for their feedback on car wash operations. Korey Brandt, former Rainbow Car Wash operator, used tokens to reward customers for their input on surveys. Others use them for refunds if change machines fail to dispense properly. Hicks admits to throwing in some additional tokens to ease the customers pain and keep them coming back.
The reasons that operators like tokens are as varied as the operators who use them. Getting started is fast and easy.
How Tokens Work
Most coin acceptors can be programmed to accept both coins and tokens. The coin acceptors read the electronic signature of the coin or token and compare that against the acceptable signatures that have been programmed into the mechanism. Tokens that match the signature are allowed – while those that do not match are rejected. Allowed tokens vend a service (a car wash, vacuum, etc.) while rejected tokens are returned to the customer. Programming of coin acceptors is quickly and easily accomplished. Simply open the front cover – turn the rotary switch to one of the “Learn” or “Program” modes – push the test button and insert 6 tokens of the same size and denomination that you are programming into the acceptor (it is best to use different tokens since slight variations from token-to-token are normal). After the 6th token is inserted, the mechanism should indicate that the programming or learning was successful, and that tokens are now ready to be used.
Token sizing and weight are also parameters that the coin acceptors verify. Typical car wash token sizes available include: 0.800”, 0.800”, 0.900”, 0.984”, 1.000”, 1.073” and 1.125”
Varying Security Levels and Costs-per-Token
Various metals are available – from standard brass tokens to special alloys – each with a unique electronic signature – and each at differing price points. The first step to determining which token type is best for your operation involves surveying the neighborhood – looking for other token users like arcades, amusement & family fun centers, batting cages, pizza parlors, restaurants & bars, Laundromats, and other car washes. If you select a size and metallurgy that is the same as a neighboring token user, you facility will likely suffer from cross-acceptance – meaning that arcade tokens will be accepted into your car wash (especially damaging if you vend a car wash for a dollar while the arcade vends games for a quarter!). To protect against this cross-acceptance, car wash owners should select sizes and metallurgies that are unique. Red Brass and nickel-plated brass are excellent examples because each has a unique electronic signature (and they look different from standard brass – which is the industry standard for arcades and amusement venues).
For operators wishing to take further steps to eliminate cross acceptance, high-security tokens are available. One way that this is accomplished is through controlled circulation tokens – meaning that the token manufacturer agrees to sell similar tokens only to geographically distinct zip codes.
Controlled value tokens are another high-security measure to eliminate cross acceptance – and capitalize on the trend toward higher value for car wash services. The TimeSaver™ Dollar Token is, by contract, valued at a dollar. By vending for a dollar rather than a quarter, operators can empty coin boxes less frequently since ¼ of the coins are used. Fewer coins are lighter than the heavier, cumbersome quarters. They are accepted by most coin acceptors and can be counted with standard coin counters.
High security tokens featuring special alloys and an anti-counterfeit prismatic code minted into them are also available. These are on the more expensive end of the spectrum, and typically vend for more than $1. Whatever level of security your car wash demands, there is likely a token to suit your needs and your budget.
You might think that buying tokens to give them away would be not make much sense. But that is exactly what Houston, Texas based CARisma Car Wash does. This express exterior car wash provides a free vacuum token with each car wash. The vacuum stations, which operate with either a token or a quarter, could be a bottleneck if they were offered for free. To keep customers moving, and to keep non-customers from using the vacuums, CARisma buys vacuum tokens and dispenses them with change and receipts for exterior car washes.
When considering the advantages of increased security, unparalleled marketing opportunities, increased profitability and simplicity of use – it is easy to see why cash is no longer king of the car wash. Operators are switching from cash to tokens at increasing levels and are reaping rewards for doing so.