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Proper Store Design Leads to Good Customer Flow

Paul Partyka |

How hard could it be to properly design a coin laundry? You might be surprised at the answer, according to a host of distributors from across the country. The design of your store should certainly lead to a good customer flow, yet there are other little things to consider — things that are often ignored, the distributors say.CUSTOMER COMFORT IS KEY“The larger machines, the washers and dryers, catch my eye when I enter a store,” says Steven Olmanni, CT Laundry Equipment Co., Fairfield, Conn. When it comes to aisle space, he prefers seven feet, washer to washer, but if space is limited, five to six feet would be adequate. “I wouldn’t go below five feet.”Olmanni also prefers a certain spot for the larger equipment. “I like putting a 75-pound machine up front. You don’t want to block the view into the store, but it’s impressive to showcase such a machine.”Depending on store specifics, an operator should try to do away with any 90-degree aisles, he says. “You want to see the whole aisle from the front of the store if possible.”When debating customer comfort versus more equipment, don’t forget about the folding tables. “If you don’t have enough tables, people have to wait and they get grumpy. You also need enough room for the carts.”Is there such a thing as too small of a space for a laundry? “I can make a smaller location happen. It’s tough to do with 1,000 square feet, but I’ll do it if the customer knows the revenue limitations. You can’t pay $30 a square foot and survive in a 1,000-square-foot store, though.”BIGGER MACHINES UP FRONT“I try to leave as much aisle space as possible,” says Ben Hales, Soap Center and Hales Equipment, Rockford, Ill. “I like to have six feet as a minimum, but definitely more when possible.”There are several reasons for having bigger machines up front, he says. “First, visibility can be lost with the larger machines in the back, and second, customers often like to drop their large loads when they enter the store.”Balancing customer comfort and equipment quantity can be tricky, he admits. “Adequate folding space and seating must be thought about instead of total machines, especially when people are going to be in your store for 60 to 90 minutes. Good customer flow is also a must.”If your store caters to large families, it’s only natural to have larger machines, he adds.When planning for service space, you need to keep the minimum manufacturer’s requirements. If you’re putting front loaders back to back, he recommends leaving more than the normal service space between the machines. “You don’t want to take the machines off the bases in order to service them. However, in a replacement situation, your hands can be tied. It’s usually aisle space and machinery concerns first; service gets squeezed.”Hales offers this final tip: “The most common mistake I see is the lack of makeup air on the dryers. ... Owners even jam insulation into makeup air space when it gets too cold. This costs people a lot of money and they don’t even realize it.”STUDY DEMOGRAPHICSChris Brick, Trico Equipment, Smyrna, Ga., is a big fan of keeping a good customer traffic flow: washers, then dryers, then folding tables, then out the door.Machine placement often involves two schools of thought: bigger machines up front so people can see them right away, or bigger machines in the back, close to the dryers. “My preference is keeping the bigger machines closer to the dryers for convenience’s sake.”When balancing customer comfort vs. the number of machines, take several things into consideration. “The key is to have your layout maximize the equipment mix. But you benefit long-term by having more aisle space, seating, etc. You make your money on turns. You can still make your money with less machines and more turns.”If you have a small store in mind, you may want to reconsider it if it’s less than 1,000 square feet, Brick says. “There are still plenty of 700- or 800-square-foot stores in small towns, but they are the exceptions." It may even be difficult to justify an attendant in a store of less than 1,400 square feet, he adds.When deciding on the layout, study the demographics and the competition to see where you will fit in the market in terms of the customer base, he explains. For example, there are going to be more single people in a college area. “You might also want to leave some extra space so they can do their homework.”As for service concerns, Brick recommends leaving a minimum of two feet behind the dryers and, ideally, about two feet behind the washers. “A false wall behind the machines can also come in handy.”LARGE STORES, LARGE EQUIPMENTDoug Nemo, Valley Washers Inc., Harrisonburg, Va., prefers six to eight feet of aisle space, and sees a good number of stores in his area adhering to this belief. “Anything below five feet is a problem.”Nemo suggests putting the largest front loaders up front, especially if you have plenty of windows to showcase them. Avoid dead spots in your layout if possible. “You can work around dead spots by filling the space with vending machines, for example.”What’s the perfect balance between customer comfort and machine quantity? “I like a 40/60 split, with 40% of the store dedicated to customer comfort. ... If you really need the extra income, a 30/70 split can still work.”When building, Nemo cautions operators about opening a store less than 1,200 square feet. “When you open your store, gear it toward the clientele. ... If you’re in an area with security concerns, think about things like extra lighting.”As for service space, “I recommend a minimum of three feet behind the dryers and two to three feet behind the washers.” Front service access can change the equation, but you also need to keep things like changing the motor in mind, he adds.“There are also more problems with makeup air and venting than you can imagine. I’m really amazed with the venting I see. It’s really bad.”ELECTRIC DOORS A MUSTWhat’s challenging, Jay Lankford, KeeWes Equipment, Broken Arrow, Okla., says, is having a smaller store, adding larger equipment and keeping a functional layout. “In a retool, it’s difficult with the larger machine doors. If you have the room, five to six feet of aisle space is plenty.”Lankford prefers keeping the larger washers near the door, because the first thing customers ask is “Do you have large machines?” “Put the dryers on the same wall where you can have the venting going out, not going through the roof. Have the larger machines close to the dryers. People pay $6-7 a load for the larger machines, so get these people satisfied first.”A good customer flow equals dollars, he says. “Get them in, have a comfortable experience for them, and get them out. That’s the key.”Size shouldn’t be a design restriction, he claims. “I have done 600-square-foot stores. I’ve done stores with top loaders in small college towns.”In the case of service space, the perfect situation is a 56-inch bulkhead and good customer flow. He admits that this is not always possible, but “as the price of labor increases to $60 to $70 an hour, you don’t want the service technicians spending a lot of time at the store.”Lankford has several pieces of advice for those in the design stage, but his No. 1 piece of advice may be surprising. “The most important thing is getting electric doors. It’s so much more convenient for the customer. They’ll pay the extra quarter for your machines if you have the doors. I can’t stress this enough.” 

About the author

Paul Partyka

American Coin-Op

Paul Partyka was editor of American Coin-Op from 1997 through May 2011.

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