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Loose Change: Company Eases Headache Of Unloading Coins

February 8, 1995

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ The one constant to personal finance, Bruce Stenzel figures, is that people hoard change _ in piggy banks, milk jars, coffee cans and buckets.

Himself a hoarder of spare change since he was a boy, Stenzel has parleyed his passion for pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters into a business that processed $157 million in coins last year.

Continental Coin Processors Inc. takes in coins from vendors, pay-phone operators, video arcades or people who simply have been storing up their change, and sorts and converts them into paper currency within minutes.

The company this month also introduced self-service sorters _ dubbed automatic coin machines, or ACMs _ at banks, where people can dump in their change and get cash or deposit it directly into their accounts.

Continental Coin charges a 1.2 percent commission for processing coins at its warehouse in Buffalo, and the fee for the new self-operated machines is 5 percent. The privately held company declined to disclose its profit and revenue figures.

``People have fetishes. Some people collect cigarette lighters or matchboxes or salt-and-pepper shakers,″ Stenzel said. ``I saved change. And the thought I always had was, there’s no way for me to get rid of it.″

No way except the tedious chore of counting, rolling and hauling his change to a bank. Stenzel figures that’s too burdensome for many people, so they just let their change pile up at home.

Founded in 1991, Continental Coin operates out of a Buffalo warehouse that’s a coin-hoarder’s paradise, filled with old-time safes, penny gumball machines, canvas sacks of change and dozens of piggy banks.

The company has expanded to Rochester and Albany, N.Y., and licensed its name and equipment to a California group that opened a coin-processing center in Los Angeles last year.

James Chiswell, the company’s executive vice president, was in Las Vegas on Tuesday scouting the market for a coin-processing center there.

``This city’s awash in coins,″ Chiswell said.

Large vendors often have their own coin-processing setups, but small ones could make good use of services like Continental Coin’s, said Tim Sanford, executive editor of Vending Times, a trade journal that estimates Americans spent $28 billion in vending machines last year.

Some small vendors have their own outdated coin-sorting machines, and ``they’re sick and tired of having Mama crank through the change all day,″ Sanford said.

For Continental Coin’s regular customers, weighed down by thousands of dollars of change each day, the idea was a blessing.

``We used to carry sacks of quarters into the bank, and they were none too happy to see us,″ said Randy Bergman of video-game operator Darrt Amusements, one of Continental Coin’s oldest customers.

Even banks and armored-car companies, faced with high overhead to store coins, have farmed out their change processing to Continental Coin.

J.C. Pearl Ltd. of Buffalo, which operates 300 pay phones around New York, used to count its change with a clunky, old coin sorter, then lug it to the bank. The money would be tied up for as long as five days while the bank processed it to verify the amount, said company owner Carmine Pearl.

Now, Continental Coin handles the change, cutting a check that Pearl can deposit at the bank the same day.

Continental Coin ``took a no-brainer and turned it into one hell of a marketable item,″ Pearl said. ``If you put an hourly rate on my time, it’s really been worth it to have them sorting the coins instead of me.″

Automatic coin machines were installed at three Citibank branches in western New York this month, and Continental Coin said it plans to have 100 or more in banks and supermarkets by year’s end.

Inflation has eroded the value of coins so much that people don’t bother cashing them in, said Sandy Minoian, manager of a Citibank branch in Niagara Falls where one of the machines was installed. The machine makes it quick and painless, she said.

``It’s fun watching them, because they act like it’s a slot machine,″ Minoian said. ``They act like they’ve won something, even though they’re getting back their own money.″

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