It’s an exciting time for any self-service laundry owner when plans are under way for a new store. There’s plenty to do, with one of the major concerns being store design.Some customers believe that all laundries look alike. Owners know better. The store design, to a great extent, reflects the image the owner wants to convey. But store design goes much further than equipment placement. A host of factors determine “the lay of the land” when it comes to your new laundry.Here are just some of the things that need to be considered when designing a new store. The information was submitted by operators, distributors and manufacturers.CUSTOMER COMFORTWhen you think about customer comfort, several things may come to mind, including aisle space and seating. While there is no agreed-on amount of aisle space, the general consensus is that 5 to 6 feet of aisle space is adequate, but 7 feet would be ideal if the layout allows it. Anything less than 5 feet will be problematic, most believe.It’s only natural to think that too much aisle space will prevent owners from having enough equipment. That might be true, but customer comfort can also pay off.Here are some things to think about:
- When debating customer comfort vs. having more equipment, don’t forget about folding tables. If you don’t have enough tables, people have to wait, and they get angry. You also need enough room for the carts.
- Customers are going to be in the store for more than an hour. If customer comfort isn’t considered, some of them may not return. If that happens, the number of machines takes on less importance.
- If you struggle with the comfort vs. equipment issue, think about the long-term effect. You make money on turns per day. You can still make your money with fewer machines and more turns per day — if you have happy, comfortable customers.
- Take a close look at the demographics when you think about customer comfort. For example, will you be dealing with large families? If so, you may want to make some adjustments for the children. If your store is near a college, you might want to leave some extra space so students can do their homework.
There are two sides to every story. While the customer-comfort suggestions may hit home, some operators and distributors aren’t totally concerned with customer comfort. Some believe that too much seating takes away from income-generating equipment. Some believe that too much — or extremely comfortable — seating encourages people to hang around your laundry a bit longer than they should. You may have heard some operators say, “I want the customers in and out as quickly as possible.”With this in mind, some operators even believe that TVs should not be part of the laundry design. That suggestion might be tough to adopt, since many laundries have TVs. Does your competition offer TV? If it does, it would be silly to lose customers over this matter.The comfort issue can be looked at in a different perspective. A good layout allows people to get to the washers, then the dryers, and then the folding tables without having to walk over people and their dirty clothes. This may sound simplistic to some, but it’s hard to argue about the importance of getting people in and out in an orderly fashion. It doesn’t hurt if these people are kept comfortable as they are completing the wash process.When thinking about layout, don’t forget to take human nature into consideration. People can be lazy. For example, some people may throw their clothes down by the first machine they see that fits their needs. In this scenario, putting your most popular washers up front may not be ideal strategy. Dirty clothes on the floor near the front of your store may lead to several problems, such as the perception that you have a “cluttered” store.Another layout theory involves the “shotgun” design: dryers on one side, a long bulkhead running down the center, and the washers on the opposite wall. In this situation, people using the washers have to go around the center bulkhead just to get to the dryers.The little things also matter. For example, are you going to have outside seating for the smokers? Something as simple as a 12-foot bench outside can win over customers.In the end, regardless of how much emphasis you put on comfort, the focus should be on attracting, retaining, and even growing, your customer base. You probably know what a full-time customer means to your store in terms of annual dollars.Part 2 of this story will appear on Wednesday, Aug. 4.