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Blueprint for Self-Service Laundry Success (Part 1)

Iron out these layout, design details before ‘breaking ground’

CHICAGO — Like many service businesses, it benefits a vended laundry to be designed such that it’s comfortable for customers to move around in yet functional so they can easily and quickly wash, dry and fold their laundry. But there’s much more to laundry design than just scribbling locations for washers and dryers on a piece of paper. Visibility, workflow and security are just some of the variables that impact store layout and design.

This month, American Coin-Op invited representatives from several industry manufacturers and distributors to address the issues that an investor building a new store or an owner renovating a current store must face before “breaking ground.”

Q: What are some basic store design ideas that a new store owner or investor should keep in mind?

Chris Brick, regional sales manager, Maytag Commercial Laundry and ADC: There are many design aspects a new store owner or investor should consider when designing a store. Safety should be the foremost concern. Patrons, the bulk of whom are often female, want to feel comfortable—no matter where they are in the store, or what time of the day it is. Incorporating numerous, large windows is a great first step in meeting that need. In addition, designing aisles to run parallel to the front of the store allows an unobstructed view and can also assist with the flow of traffic. Finally, a well-designed store allows customers to move easily from washers to dryers to folding stations with minimal travel.

Russ Arbuckle, president, Wholesale Commercial Laundry Co., a Continental Girbau distributor: Basic designs should incorporate wide aisles, and large washers at the front of the store.

Dion Marcionetti, owner, Laundry Concepts, a Continental Girbau and Huebsch distributor: An investor should keep in mind that the size of the store is critical; building a store that is too small or too big for the location is very costly. A store that is too small will adversely affect the gross profit and will invite other competitors. A store that is too large will be more costly and will not increase your bottom line. So, along with your distributor and all the data that is available, determining the proper size is the starting point.

Kyle Pethke, laundry design specialist, Speed Queen: Don’t overfill your space. The idea is to have 21-23% (+/-) of the square footage utilized by machines. The rest should be open for aisle space, rooms, amenities, etc. Using more than this percentage leaves little room for aisles and will make your customers feel cramped in your store; using less means your space is not being fully utilized for optimal profitability.

This is why it is also important to find the right location for a Laundromat. If you have an equipment mix in mind before you find a location, make sure to take this into consideration when looking. Otherwise, you may have to be open to change later in the process.

Q: Should a store be designed in a specific pattern to optimize the movement of clothes and customers throughout? If so, what does such a pattern look like?

Kenny Hebert, vended laundry specialist, Pellerin Laundry Machinery Sales Co., a Milnor distributor: The equipment layout should be balanced, with customer flow in mind for operational efficiency. Having a symmetrical layout on paper will translate over to the look of the store.

Arbuckle: Absolutely. Traffic flow within the store is critical to your customers’ comfort. Obviously, the building footprint affects the layout, but, ideally, customers will enter the store, head to the changers/VTMS, then go to the washers, on to the dryers and finally the folding tables without having to fight “traffic” within the store.

Marcionetti: A well-designed store that will maximize the earning potential is all about equalities—the number and pounds of wash must have the availability of the proper amount of dryers, which in turn needs the proper amount of folding tables and laundry carts. The washer banks are normally kept together and placed in the middle of the store; keep in mind that the largest washers should be placed closest to the front doors. Dryers are normally placed against the wall; they require a service area behind them, so using a wall makes it more economical to get the proper service space. In that space, you also need to have the proper fresh air and the utilities that are required to operate the dryers.

Pethke: Many store owners want to have washers facing windows to showcase them. It makes for an appealing visual when looking from the outside in. Placing dryers on the sidewalls allows for easy maneuvering from wash to dry. Once a wash cycle is complete, customers can walk straight down the aisle to the dryer. If the dryers are placed in the rear of the store, then you create a potentially small disturbance by forcing the customer out and around the washer banks to dry. One way to keep this disturbance small and sometimes unnoticeable is by making sure to keep washer banks short—perhaps having two or three separate banks in a row rather than one long one.

For dryer banks in the rear of the store, some store owners like to have the washer banks run perpendicular. This allows for the convenience of moving from wash to dry straight down the aisle. This also allows for extra security, as you can better see down each aisle from the outside. The one negative is that by turning them, your washers are not as visible to the front of the store. Some will compromise by capping off each bank with one to two large machines. They will showcase a couple machines while still maintaining aisle space perpendicular to the dryers, as well as that straight-line access and extra sight security.

Brick: It’s also important to consider the layout of washer, dryer and folding tables, in that order. Because folding takes most customers 10-15 minutes, it is not recommended to have folding tables in high-traffic areas. This will make the laundry feel smaller and customers less comfortable.

Q: How should washers and dryers be spaced? Can they be positioned anywhere in a store, or should they only be placed in certain spots?

Arbuckle: Again, the design is driven by traffic flow. Typically, large washers [are] at the front and dryers placed along demising or exterior walls.

Marcionetti: Most washers are installed with a gap between them. Dryers are installed with no gaps. The spacing between bulkheads is an important measurement and should not be altered just to add more bulkheads. If you think how customers use a laundry, they are either using a laundry cart or are filling the washers from their laundry bag. If a customer is bending over to load a washer, the cart and the door opening require a considerable amount of room, and you must make the customer feel comfortable—that requires space. You have the same situation on the dryer side, where customers check their dryers fairly often. Now add a folding table that they stand and fold in front of and that requires additional space.

Pethke: One option is to have all your large washers in the front of the store to showcase them. Also, the large washers take large loads; by having them in the front of the store, you reduce the amount of steps it takes to get to them, thus making it easier for your customers. The downside of this is if your matching dryers are in the back, then your customers have a wet load of clothes (weighing even more now) and a greater number of steps to the dryer. Thus, some store owners prefer to have the large washers in the back so it’s easy for the customer from wash to dry to fold.

When you have a smaller store, the number of steps is reduced naturally. You can have the large washers in the front as a showcase to customers while still having a manageable step count to the matching dryers. Once you start looking at bigger stores, we like to try to have a side dryer wall so that we can bring some large dryers down toward the front while keeping the larger washers in the front. This allows for a machine showcase and a convenience of easier in-and-out for customers using these machines.

Brick: The placement of washers and dryers should be carefully thought out. For example, if equipment is only placed on a single side, a 5-foot aisle is recommended; if there is equipment placed on both sides, a 7-foot aisle is recommended. It’s important that dryers are installed by an exterior wall to ensure optimal exhaust and make-up air needs are met.

Hebert: Dryers should be placed on an exterior wall, with plenty of folding tables nearby. Washers should be positioned near the entrance because it’s the customer’s first stop. It’s also important to have your change/card machines and drop-off counter near the entrance, as well.

Check back Wednesday for Part 2: Equipment maintenance considerations, folding areas, seating and more

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected] .