BELLEVUE, Wash. -- A machine that does what a growing number of banks are refusing to do is becoming a mini gold mine for a handful of West Coast retailers, including Raley's, Save Mart Supermarkets and Quality Food Centers.
The machine accepts, sorts and counts loose coins -- about 800 a minute -- for a slight fee and dispenses a voucher redeemable for cash or groceries, as well as manufacturer coupons.
Consumers like the machine, called Coinstar, because it allows them to empty out coffee cans, jars and purses filled with change. Retailers like it because it generates traffic and increases the disposable income of shoppers.
"It's great," said Louie Buennagel, a store director at one of two locations of Olson's Food Stores, Mountlake Terrace, Wash., which has the machine. "Customers really like the convenience -- and I think it's bringing new people into the store."
The machine can also save time at the checkout lines, since it's a lot easier for a cashier to enter in a voucher amount than to wait for customers to count out change, he said.
About 100,000 customers have used the machine to process about $1 million in coins, since its first test market -- a four-store pilot by Safeway, Oakland, Calif., which lasted a few months and ended in early 1993. Since that time, five additional retailers have come on-line, bringing the total locations to 21, said Jens Molbak, president of Coinstar here.
The retailers include Raley's and Raley's Bel-Air Market, West Sacramento, Calif.; Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif.; Quality Food Centers, here; and Olson's Food Stores, Mountlake Terrace, Wash. Safeway reportedly plans to place the machine in two additional stores this month, bringing its total to six.
Although a few customers at the Olson's location have turned in more than $1,000 worth of coins during a visit, Buennagel estimates that the average amount is $60 -- and about half of it is spent in-store.
"I definitely think we'll keep the machine," said Buennagel, adding that he'd like to create a charity promotion around it.
The machine, which is part of a dark blue and green display that stands more than 6 feet in height, comes at no cost to retailers, who simply agree to place it in their stores.
Coinstar generates revenue by assessing a 10% charge on pennies, and a 5% charge on nickels, dimes and quarters placed in the machine; and by selling coupon advertising to manufacturers.