Cash Isn’t King at Cleveland Car Washes

American Pride has switched from cash-based operations to tokens, and customers are coming back stronger than ever.

By Howard Riell, Associate Editor.

Brian Costa operates five American Pride car washes in the Cleveland area. All told, there are 29 self-service bays and six touchless automatics. Until early 2000 each location was quarter-based. Then, when the dollar coin came onto the scene, Costa switched over, figuring that a couple of dollar coins were easier for his customers to handle than a whole fistful of quarters.

But while the dollar coins may have been easier to handle, getting the dollars was no easy task. “You could spend dollar coins anywhere, but you rarely get them back as change,” Costa said. “So they were a bit of a novelty. Some customers come to our sites to buy extra coins just to give to the grandkids or to keep.”

That was back when the only dollar coin was the Sacagawea dollar. With today’s presidential dollar coins, the novelty factor has increased.

While Costa was not averse to having unique mementos for the grandkids, putting additional dollar coins into circulation was not helping him with his car wash operations. The changers were often running out of dollar coins, which meant more trips to the bank and more time spent on fewer washes sold.

Finally, after struggling with having an inadequate supply of dollar coins for four years, he made the switch to dollar tokens.

“We decided to go with a token that was slightly larger than a Sacagawea dollar,” Costa said. “We also wanted a token that would be memorable and give us a branding opportunity to play up our American Pride name.”

American Pride added high security CTX tokens from Van Brook, featuring the Statue of Liberty on one side and the monetary value on the other.

“The biggest challenge at first was the coin slots for our vacuum face plates and other coin machines,” Costa said. “So these required a lot of filing with a hacksaw blade or a rotary tool to modify them.”

Universal Acceptance
All of their coin acceptors—whether on the vacuums, the self-serve bays or the vending machines—will accept quarters, tokens and dollar coins, providing customers with plenty of flexibility.

With any radical change, Costa was worried about customer acceptance and whether this was the right move for his American Pride locations.

“I’m not sure that a lot of customers realized that they were tokens when they first got them,” Costa said. “They are the same color as Sacagawea dollars, which we’d been using for about five years. But, honestly, I wouldn’t say that we’ve had a whole lot of complaints.”

Costa initially purchased 30,000 tokens for his five locations, and has replenished the supply with some smaller orders since then. The tokens are durable enough for years of usage. In fact, the only time that they need to be replaced is when customers purchase tokens but do not use them all. These “walkaways” can be a significant source of profit because each token that sells for a $1 represents a 70-cent profit margin since the tokens cost about 30 cents.

“We had a lot of walkaways the first year,” Costa said. Although he does not see a pattern in the walkaways, he readily admits that it is a viable revenue stream.

Another great opportunity with tokens is that they also serve as mini billboards for the American Pride brand. When seen with their pocket change, the dollar tokens not only remind his customers that it may be time to clean the car, “the coin tells them where to go,” Costa said.

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