Is It Done Yet?

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College students living in a dorm know full well what it's like to wait late at night to lug a few loads of laundry several floors to grab one of the limited numbers of washers or dryers just to find nothing available. Otherwise, they may have the option to find another facility to get available, but bad, machines or dryers that are too hot. These dorm dwellers understand how valuable it is to know when a machine is free. A handful of universities are now enabling their resident students to do just that through the eSuds online laundry service. The service is provided through Caldwell & Gregory, a company that operates dormitory laundry facilities for 130 colleges and universities in the Northeastern United States. Owner John Gregory says that his firm is always on the lookout for new and innovative technologies to augment the company's services--supplying coin-operated, smart card operated, commercial laundry equipment, parts and service for higher education institutions, condominiums, and laundry stores. These new and innovative technologies help keep the company's retention rate at better than 99 percent in what Gregory calls a growingly competitive business. So as technology providers started offering monitoring systems to solve some of the challenges of knowing when machines were available, Gregory saw the technology as another way to solidify his customer base. "It's frustrating when you get to the laundry room and nothing is available and you don't know when anything will be available," Gregory says. "At Carnegie Mellon [where Caldwell & Gregory installed the system earlier this year], we had a nice facility before, but it didn't offer the convenience that it has now." He looked at a few solutions, but eSuds.net, a service from USA Technologies, offered synergies and capabilities through partnerships that many of the others didn't. USA Technologies is a partner of Blackboard, which provides college payment cards and other e-commerce services for institutions of higher education. Many colleges use the payment cards for students to pay for campus services, like dormitory meals, laundry, and copying fees. The eSuds system includes a point-of-sale payment device that doubles as a monitoring system, eliminating the cost of a second device. That saves Gregory about $1,500 to $3,000 per laundry-room installation. That may not seem like much at first, but it becomes a significant figure when considering that college campuses have dozens of rooms apiece. "Providing this system supports our philosophy of providing leading-edge laundry services," Gregory says. With eSuds, the student simply goes online to see if a machine is available. The monitoring system notifies a student--via email or text message to a computer, PDA, or cell phone--not only that a machine is available, but also that the student's laundry is finished. So there's no need to baby-sit the machines."It's a very stable, reliable platform," Gregory says. "A lot of other companies offer a lot of gimmicks to college students. We wanted something that was reliable and that would work." The technology also gives Gregory's firm the ability to monitor the machines for service needs, meaning the company can fix a machine before receiving several irate customer complaints that it's broken. Gregory says he provides the extra service at no additional cost to the higher education institutions. He figures the customer retention benefits outweigh the cost, which he declined to disclose. "eSuds is a significant enhancement to our laundry service, and we are already planning to expand the service to many more of our partner colleges nationwide," Gregory says. "Many of our customers have been waiting for the service, and can't wait to get online." Caldwell & Gregory recently announced that Temple University would add the technology and has proposals before another 20 higher education institutions. Other colleges and universities, served by other distributors, have also announced installations this year. "The technology provides a state-of-the-art convenience for our customers," Gregory says. "The students adapt to it very easily." The Pauoff By employing eSuds.net from USA Technologies, Caldwell & Gregory has been able to:
  • maintain customer retention rates above 99 percent;
  • offer a capability that differentiates it from the competition; and
  • save $1,500--$3,000 per laundry room by offering payment and activation capabilities from a single device.
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