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    INDEPDENDENTS REPORT: Change for the better

    At Coinstar, front end service goes far beyond nickels and dimes.

    When I think about my favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving, so many family traditions come to mind. One in particular always took place at the Olszeski dinner table, after the turkey wishbone was snapped, the dishes were cleared, take-home plates were wrapped, and the sounds of NFL football could be heard from the television in the family room.

    That's when I'd watch my dad stroll through the kitchen with a big smile on his face, his hands tightly holding a gallon-sized glass jar full of loose coins. He'd place the jar on the dining room table, unscrew the lid, and invite his six young grandchildren to gather around. Even my daughter, Catherine, who was still in diapers and participated by sitting on top of the table, knew the once-a-year routine -- it was time to hand-count and wrap all the change that her Papa had saved during the past 12 months, and decide what special something she'd be buying for her brother, Evan, for Christmas with her $60 to $70 take.

    Not surprisingly, the counting would last for hours, at least long enough to enjoy a second round of Grandma Beeda's homemade pumpkin pie.

    Excited about creating fond holiday memories with his grandkids, I'm guessing that my dad wouldn't have been particularly interested in knowing that his collection of loose coins was a miniscule part of the $10.5 billion in change sitting unused in U.S. households every year.

    But Bellevue, Wash.-based Coinstar, Inc. was indeed interested in that truly huge chunk of change. That's why the company's green automated coin-counting machines have been popping up in supermarket lobbies across the country over the past decade.

    A multinational company now operating in more than 60,000 locations, Coinstar is helping retailers, including supermarkets, drug and convenience stores, mass merchants, and others, to maximize performance at the front end by providing not only those popular coin-counting machines, but also a variety of other traffic-building products.

    Innovative programs

    At the same time, this industry leader is making waves through its recently launched "4th Wall Profits" program, transforming how retailers can do business with the approximately 56 million U.S. households operating without bank accounts. (For more details on Coinstar's 4th Wall program, see the writeup within the Category Captains Awards section.)

    Also introduced late this year is a program that's receiving great reviews from retailers: "Money Transfer." Averaging 200 million remittances from the United States every year, the global money transfer market is valued at approximately $250 billion to $300 billion per year. Coinstar is quickly capturing its fair share of this market, which is growing at a healthy rate of 10 percent.

    "Our program is designed to meet the growing needs of not only underbanked individuals, but the 44 million immigrants living in the U.S.," explains Richard Davis, who works with Coinstar's Money Transfer team. "The influx of immigration presents a huge opportunity for money transfers. Our customers can transfer and receive money within minutes via supermarket point of sale or PC Web-based systems from more than 140 countries."

    He adds: "The store earns commissions on every send transaction. It's fast, reliable, and very easy to use. Additional customer service options include cash-to-bank account and home delivery in select locations."

    According to Mike Skinner, Coinstar's v.p. of sales and marketing, retailers should consider four areas when installing or fine-tuning their prepaid products to drive profits in the coming year. "The right portfolio of products, a cohesive technology platform that can be seamlessly integrated into the retailer network, targeted product merchandising, and effective promotion are critical," he says. "All must be tailored to fit the demographics of each individual store."

    Coinstar's unique emphasis is that the front of the store shouldn't be at the back of a retailer's priorities. "The area between the cash drawer and the front door is typically 'forgotten space' that represents untapped opportunity," says Skinner. "Our process involves providing performance metrics and analysis which distinguish which categories will provide the highest and lowest destination services for each individual store. We continue to challenge the definition of 'self-service.'"

    Independent Retailing Editor Jane Olszeski Tortola can be reached at [email protected].

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