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Turning ‘dead metal’ into duty free spending power

Automated airport service exchanges leftover coins for duty free vouchers

 

Almost everyone who has ever travelled abroad knows the story; you’ve been on a romantic city break in Budapest or a sun holiday in Split and you come home with pockets full of strange coins in currencies you can barely pronounce and will almost certainly never use again.

Coindrum founder and 2016 Irish Times Innovation Award category winner Lukas Decker encountered this problem all too frequently on his travels throughout Europe and had often pondered a solution to it; one which would turn all that waste metal into usable money without having to travel back to its country of origin.

His lightbulb moment came at a motorway tollbooth: “I am an entrepreneur at heart”, he says. “I was always coming up with a new business idea of the day. I was paying a motorway toll one day by throwing coins into a basket and that was my eureka moment. I said to myself that this is what they need in airports for people to make use of their leftover change.”

And so Coindrum was born. Decker developed a machine which takes unwanted coins from travellers in up to four different currencies at once and gives them a printed voucher that is worth 10 per cent more than the value of their coins in return. The voucher can then be spent in airport duty free outlets.

“It’s a real win-win solution for everyone involved”, says Decker. “The key business metric for duty free operators is airport footfall and the percentage of this that the turn into shoppers. Anyone who gets a €5 or €6 voucher from a Coindrum machine is likely to spend €40 or €50 in a shop using it. That’s how we are able to give travellers an extra 10 per cent. The duty free companies are happy to pay this to their customers to get the additional business.”

He worked with technology partner Scan Coin on the technical aspects of the innovation and got financial backing from Ryanair co-founder Declan Ryan in the early days. The first fully functioning self-service Coindrum machines were unveiled in Dublin Airport in a trial in August 2014 and met with immediate success. The results of the trial were particularly encouraging as the location chosen for the machines didn’t appear very promising at the outset.

Further success quickly followed and Coindrum signed up Dufry, the world’s largest duty free operator, as a customer. Dufry has 1,300 outlets in over 60 countries and is responsible for 25 per cent of all duty free transactions globally.

“We are now in seven airports across Europe and have many more in the pipeline”, says Decker. “We are also at the signing stage of an agreement with another of the world’s leading duty free operators.”

Increased demand

This is likely to lead to increased demand for machines and the services to support them. “We obviously have to rise to the occasion and next month will be adding two people to the payroll bringing our total number to six. We also completed a funding round in January. We had aimed to raise €1 million but actually raised more than €2 million as a result of strong interest in the market.”

Signing up new duty free operators and airports is just one part of the equation, he adds. “Key for us is the education of the people who will use the machines. We need people to know about and understand the service. People are very wary of being ripped off particularly when it comes to foreign currencies. Many people are aware of the machines in shops that turn coins into notes and the heavy commission they charge. We need to let people know that they will actually get 10 per cent more from us and explain how we are able to do that; how we are turning dead metal in their pockets into real money that they can spend in airport shops.”

While international expansion seems assured, Decker still has ambitions in Ireland. “We are in Milan, Berlin, Brussels, Belfast, Venice, Knock and Faro airports and we will be adding several more in the coming months. But we are still hoping to get back into Dublin Airport again. It is an Irish innovation after all so it would be good to be back in there.”