In an attempt to address the abuse of coin changers, a number of operators have considered tokens. There is some merit to this, but there are also a number of obstacles. Let us consider the various stumbling blocks to implementation of a change, and see just what you might be getting yourself into.
First, let’s take care of a common question. NO! You cannot purchase tokens the same size as a quarter ! No reputable mint will provide such an item. It is not legal to produce a token that is within .030″ of the size of a quarter. A quarter is nominally .954″. So the next token size up is .984, and the smallest one close to the size is .900″. It is possible to make a coin chute that will accept both .984 and the quarter, but this means any trash of a diameter in between those sizes will also pass through the mechanism. So a secure conversion will entail replacing the coin mechanism.
The next hurdle is to select which token you wish to use. There are several variables to consider here. If there is a mix of equipment, some using push/pull mechanisms, and some using drop mechanism or Quartermaster Mechanisms, you are restricted to round tokens. In round tokens, the following sizes are generally available: .800″, .880″, .900″, .984″, 1″, and 1.040″. There are a few oddball sizes out there, but they are usually proprietary, that is, dedicated to one specific user. Before you consider doing this yourself, be aware that there are substantial tooling costs to be paid up front, and a minimum order of 10,000 pieces from most mints. And the coin acceptors to take them may not be available.
Before you make your selection you should first examine the acceptors on your equipment. Some drop mechanisms can be adjusted to accept the new token. Others must be replaced. Not all manufacturers make acceptors for all sizes of tokens. Some manufacturers no longer exist. This will impose some limitations on your choice. And the same make or style of acceptor is not used in all machines. You will find such names as AirPax, Greenwald, Set-O-Matic, Hanke, Mueller, Keltner, SlugBuster, and others. Each with its own mounting dimensions, and they are generally not interchangeable. This is the point where many lose confidence in changing to tokens, but it must be done if the conversion is to take place.
In selecting a round token one should also consider what is being used nearby. If an arcade or establishment such as a Chuckie Cheese is nearby, then you will want to make certain that you are not using the same size tokens. If your token has a nominal value higher than theirs, you will find their tokens in your machines. If their price per token is higher, you will be constantly replacing the tokens which wind up in their machines. This increases your cost, and doesn’t make you any friends there.
Top load machines are not quite so difficult. All three manufacturers of coin slide offer mechanisms to accept the round tokens. And the chutes from any one of them easily replaces any one of the others. These all have essentially the same mounting style and use the same operating extension. In addition, there are some tokens that eliminate the complications of round tokens. Some of these tokens are plastic tokens, which break into useless pieces when put through the mechanism. However, these breakable tokens cannot be vended from a change maker.
There are also tokens available that rely on unique shapes to avoid the acceptance of bogus tokens. (See inserts) These work in lay down chutes only, so are of no use to those with a combination of drop and push/pull style mechanisms. For small laundromats that do not offer larger machines these may be an option. However, you must take into consideration that the value of the token is fixed. The dryers and the washers must vend at the same price, or a multiple of that price. For example, the token vends at 50›. The washer will take two tokens, a dryer may take only one. But it would not be possible to have the washer take tokens to a value of $1.00 and the dryer at a value of 75›. That would involve a totally different token, one for washer, one for dryer.
In addition, there is currently only one source of a change maker to vend the odd shaped tokens, American Changer Corporation in Fort Lauderdale. Their units have a unique dispensing device that allows the unusual shapes to be passed and counted. Other change makers cannot accept the odd shapes as they jam in the dispensing process. They can be converted to round tokens, but this will involve changing the throat plate made for the specific size to be used. Consult the distributor/manufacturer of your make of machine for this.
After all of this, it would seem tokens are not a very good choice. This is not necessarily true. Tokens can be an ideal solution for many problems, but there are attendant costs and headaches involved in setting up a system compatible with your equipment and needs. Once the hard part is over, you have created a system which offers additional security, as each machine will contain only tokens good in your facility. You also gain added security as you need only fortify one point – the changer. Your rates become flexible. In effect, your patrons are entering a new country, where you set the rate of exchange. You can change pricing by adjusting the changer to vend according to how you wish the pricing to go. This will not prevent phony bills from being fed to your changers, but the forger will receive only a hand full of brass.
Tokens will also allow you to create promotional or pre-selling programs. For instance you may offer a token for a wash through a local store, one token with each box of soap for example. The tokens MUST be used in a facility which accepts the token. It has no value elsewhere.
Refunds are much simpler. If they receive a token, then it must also be used in your store. The scam artist hates this aspect.
You may offer those on a fixed monthly income an opportunity to purchase tokens at a discount each month. If the tokens are used, it is well and good. You have provided a service, gained a customer, and leveled out your usage for the month. If the tokens never get used, then you reap the profit of the price difference between what you paid for the token, and the price you received for it, with out any wear and tear on your facility.
Tokens are ideal for many apartment complexes. The mix of equipment is generally top load washers and side-by-side dryers, both using push/pull mechanisms. Most laundry rooms are unsupervised, so vandalism and break-ins can be a problem. By having tenants buy the tokens from a property manager, all cash is eliminated from the machines. This will also restrict the usage to those who actually live in the apartments, and keeps un-authorized outsiders from using the machines.
In passing, it is also important to point out that the need to change to tokens might be minimized if the problem is addressed at the changer. As with anything else, you get what you pay for. Bill Validators for the changers can run as little as $120.00 to as much as $450.00. The least expensive ones offer the least security. Better units offer high sampling and greater resolution to detect bogus bills. Consult your Distributor, and plan on spending money to make and save money by selecting the highest quality validator you can find to fit your machine.
As with any other project, you will have to weigh the cost and aggravation of changing to tokens against the potential benefit. It is not the solution for everyone, but can be of immense value in the proper setting.