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Bottlenecks and How to Manage (Avoid?) Them

Retired multi-store owner Paul Russo, shown here circa 2005, found that putting big mirrors on the wall above and behind machines makes it look like the mat has twice as many. Here, he takes a photo of his reflection. (Photos: Paul Russo)

Bottlenecks and How to Manage (Avoid?) Them

Russo suggests that you post your normal “busy” and “slow” hours so customers can choose when to visit and avoid becoming part of a bottleneck.

Bottlenecks and How to Manage (Avoid?) Them

A hanging counter is just like one you have on the floor, only it’s securely suspended from the ceiling so you can store drop-offs or anything else you may need to keep handy but out of the way.

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Bottlenecks and How to Manage (Avoid?) Them (Conclusion)

Pointers from Paulie B: Perception of laundry space just as important as reality

GLENDALE, Ariz. — When a mat’s floor plan is being considered, traffic flow is sometimes overlooked.

For anyone who is considering their first mat, whether buying existing or building from scratch, the choice, number and mix of machines should be paramount in your mind to consider smooth traffic flow when the mat will be at its busiest. You want to maximize machine use so you can make as much income as possible, but it’s also very important that your customers don’t feel crowded.

We’re talking about “proxemics,” the amount of space a person believes they need between themselves and others.

On average, personal space of less than 24 inches is uncomfortable for most people. In these days after masks and lockdowns, people may want more than that, so the need for space is more important than ever.

So how does one balance the need to maximize sales while maintaining a smooth traffic flow of happy customers?

PERCEPTION OR REALITY?

To some people, perception of a tight mat can be just as important as reality. Some mats just look cramped, even when they aren’t. If a customer thinks your mat is cramped, then for all intents and purposes, it is.

You can tweak this with big mirrors, high ceilings and light colors. For example, when placed properly, large wall mirrors can give the illusion that your mat is bigger than it really is.

I found that putting big mirrors on the wall above and behind a bank of washers makes it look like the mat has twice as many washers! Besides, most people like to check themselves out in the mirrors.

If placed on a wall behind a folding table, they can see everything behind them. This helps to give people a sense of security. I found it also helps crew members monitor what’s going on behind their backs.

Extending your operation to 24/7 is a great way to spread your customers away from busy times, provided that your market can support you being open around the clock. No matter when your store is open, have your normal “busy” and “slow” hours posted as a reminder for customers.

Seniors typically can come to the laundry any day they want, so give them a “senior discount,” an incentive to visit on your slowest days instead of a busy weekend.

Stacking equipment can help free up space. Most mats in New York City now have stacked dryers for that reason. There is a smaller footprint but customers can get cramped at these dryers because they’re not as spread out as a single dryer bank.

Customers often choose the upper pocket so they don’t have to bend down for the lower one. When the mat gets busy, other customers will take the lower dryers. So a scenario comes up where one customer wants access to the lower pocket while another customer wants access to the upper, causing not only cramping but actual bumping into each other. The best solution I found was to split up the bank of dryers by putting a folding table in the middle of the bank. This creates a recessed area where people can scoot out of the way of the traffic.

Speaking of folding tables, customers naturally tend to spread out at them, so adding a shelf over each one adds space. Customers do use these shelves, mainly to neatly stack folded items before they put them in their bag.

Hanging racks, either on tables or carts, help to keep clothes on hangers from being spread out on tables and chairs, saving room and giving customers convenience as well. (They also give customers a place to hang their coats.)

Folding tables are not nearly as deep as washers and dryers, and big washers can really jut out into a narrow aisle. Narrow NYC mats will often place a folding table opposite the big washers to allow more space in the aisle.

If your mat is getting too crowded overall, it may be time to raise prices.

If you’re in a temperate climate, you can get your storefront built so that it opens like an accordion, giving your mat a bright, inviting feeling. You see this all the time with stores in big shopping malls.

Back rooms can end up filled with junk you don’t really need. Maybe yours can be used to make room for some carts, or unclaimed drop-offs, rather than those things taking up space out front.

Have you heard of a “hanging counter”? It’s a counter just like one you have on the floor, only it’s securely suspended from your ceiling so you can store drop-offs or anything else you may need to keep handy.

Speaking of drop-offs, posting a sign that reads “Please Pick Up Your Laundry Within 5 Days,” coupled with calling customers who have left laundry more than 30 days, can keep the flow of goods moving.

And if you need some extra storage for drop-offs, have you thought about using bulkheads?

Some mat owners build mats with the plumbing and electrical service wide open behind the washers to allow quick, easy shut-off in case of emergency. But all kinds of trash can end up behind the washers, and anyone can reach behind and screw with your water and electric. If you finish off the service areas with shelves, you eliminate those issues while giving your mat some storage space at the same. Just make sure you have shut-offs for easy access at the end of each washer bank.

If you have the option and ability to do so, expand your mat. When the space next door to one of my mats became available, I grabbed it! That store was screaming-busy at the time, so expanding was a no-brainer. It was one of the easiest mat constructions I ever did, and it nearly doubled my floor space. The empty store was under construction for about four months, and we only had to close the existing mat for one day to knock down the walls.

Finally, I think video games, pinball games and claw machines are more trouble than they’re worth. You can make more with one “Quarter Pusher” (if allowed in your area) than multiple other games combined. Most machine footprints are around 31 by 24 inches.

If your store develops bottlenecks from time to time, don’t be discouraged. You have options, both physically and operationally, that can help you spread out the crowd.

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.

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