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Bottlenecks and How to Manage (Avoid?) Them

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Bottlenecks and How to Manage (Avoid?) Them (Part 1)

Pointers from Paulie B: Achieving proper balance between production, proxemics

GLENDALE, Ariz. — When a mat’s floor plan is being considered, traffic flow is sometimes overlooked. Having operated in high-rent New York City for over 41 years, I have some experience with cramped laundromats, so let me share some observations with you.

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.

Arguments and fights break out much more often, and at the least, people feel uncomfortable. Some will not come back. Ask yourself how many times you’ve avoided crowded places.

You ever gotten calls from customers asking if your mat isn’t busy so they can pop in? If this happens often, it could be a sign that your mat is too cramped.

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?


Narrow aisle width is a top cause of bottlenecks. Obviously, this is something to consider before building a mat. For free traffic flow, aisles can be as wide as you want, but not as narrow as you want or you’ll end up with jams.

In big cities where rent is high, laundromat aisles are usually much tighter than those in rural or suburban areas. At a bare minimum, each aisle needs to allow at least two laundry carts to pass, plus have space for people to pass and for washer/dryer doors to be opened. So, figure 5 feet to play it safe, but 6 feet or more is better.

Generally speaking, an aisle of 6 to 8 feet is comfortable. I’ve seen aisles as narrow as 4.5 feet and as wide as 12 feet or more. Not only does a wide aisle make traffic flow more tolerable, your mat actually looks better!

Back in the ’80s, I had a long, narrow mat. After I built up a good customer base, I didn’t like the fit at all, and neither did my customers when it got crowded. I kept it for about a decade because the location was a good earner, but I eventually decided to sell it because of the narrow aisles.

I found that if a mat is wider than it is long, it makes a nice, big impression from the street due to the wide storefront, plus gives you more choices with the layout.

Having too much equipment can lead to bottlenecks. Ironically, having bigger machines can help prevent them.

Some distributors will try to pack as many machines as possible in a mat, but if there aren’t enough folding tables and “people space,” the mat will never be able to operate at full capacity.

You’re better off installing more large-capacity machines than lots of small ones because the larger can handle more laundry in a smaller footprint, using less floor space and therefore leaving more room.

For example, a typical 20-pound washer has a footprint of approximately 26 by 25 inches, or 650 square inches. The largest washer I’m aware of, 120 pounds, has an approximate footprint of 2,016 square inches (42 by 48 inches). So a 120-pounder has a footprint that’s about three times the size of a 20-pounder, but has six times the capacity.

The same can be said for dryers, and if you have more big washers, you’ll need more big dryers.

And don’t forget that choosing washers with high extract speeds means you’ll be able to get customers out of your store faster.

And if you look at laundry carts, the same is true about size. I found that a 4.5-bushel cart holds 80% more laundry than a standard 2.5-bushel, but has a footprint that’s only 25% larger. Therefore, you’d need fewer carts if you went with the larger size.

The bigger carts are no wider than a standard cart, so the traffic flow is the same because customers will push them around like cars passing on the street. (Double pole racks are great space-savers, plus they make carts harder to steal.)

If we needed a finished machine for the next customer but the first customer had stepped out, we’d put their laundry in a new plastic bag, label it with the machine number, then place it over the washer bulkheads instead of using a cart.

The popularity of certain washers can lead to customer jams. If you have some machines that are being used more than others, it can mean one of three things: 1) you don’t have enough of those washers, 2) they are priced too low, or 3) your other machines are priced too high.

To balance the use of machines, you should either install more of those washers (possibly while removing less popular machines), raise their vend price, or lower the prices on some other washers. The only exception to this is if you price your small washers as a lead to get people in the door.

Some distributors will tell you a mat needs at least 20 inches behind the washers and dryers for servicing. Some say 24. Due to the need to maximize aisle width, my mats had 18 inches of rear clearance; one dryer bank had 16! (I’m a small guy and 16 inches was even too small for me.)

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

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