Tips for Planning and Designing Your New Self-Service Laundry Business for Maximum Effectiveness and Customer Convenience
[The following is an excerpt from the popular laundry business book, “Secrets of Buying and Owning Laundromats.”]
When planning and designing your store, whether you are going to build from scratch or remodel and re-equip an existing store, the physical layout of the retail space will have more to do with the eventual layout of the machines than you might expect. This is especially true for stores that are being remodeled. The store dimensions and window frontage will play an important part in determining the most advantageous locations to place your machines.
The most common equipment layouts I see for narrow stores is to have a long row of washers against one of the side walls, while the opposite wall has a row of dryers and there are folding tables in the middle. Another common design is to have a row of washers going down one side wall, with the opposite wall consisting of folding tables running the length of the wall. In the middle of the store, depending upon the amount of room available, there is a bulkhead with another row of washers on both sides. The dryers would be in the very back of the store.
A store front with lots of window glass is usually a wide store, but not quite as deep. These stores tend to have two to three rows of washers. The middle row, right down the center, would have washers on either side, from front to back, and the other two rows of equipment would only have washers facing the middle of the store. The folding tables would be on the other side of those two rows. Beyond that, against the side walls, the dryers would be lined up all the way down, from the front to the back of the store. In some cases you might even see a row of dryers or washers all the way across the back wall.
From the aspect of layouts and functionality, if I had my choice, I’d pick a layout that has more window space; in other words, a wider store rather than one that is deep. This is because the customer flow is better. Customers can essentially go down the two center rows and use the washers on either side. When they are done washing, they can circle around to the back and out the sides to put their clothes in the dryers and use folding tables that should be placed right by the dryers.
When thinking about design, you should consider the amount of available folding space. Are there enough folding tables to meet the needs of your customers? This is a point that is very often overlooked, which is unfortunate. Some owners will jam as much equipment in their stores as they possibly can. Their philosophy is to utilize every nook and cranny with revenue-producing equipment like washers and dryers, leaving zero room for folding tables. Where do they expect customers to fold their clothes? Are customers going to fold them on top of the washers? If so, then how are people going to use the washers when there is somebody folding on top of them? It makes no sense. Plus, the washers often get dirty with soap and bleach, and a dirty surface is the last thing you want your customers to use when they fold their clean clothes. If some of the clothes get damaged, they will be looking at you to pick up the tab, or they will just find another place to wash. You want to have a clean folding area that is close to the dryers and provides ample space to accommodate the drying capacity of the store.
So really, how much folding space is enough? This depends on your store’s demographics. Using the demographics, it is possible to estimate how many customers your dryers are capable of handling at one time. Taking this into account, you can deduce the amount of folding space necessary to accommodate them. As a general rule of thumb, you should provide each customer with between four to six feet of folding space. Another method for calculating the folding space required would be to provide the same width of folding space as the length of your dryers. For example, if you had 15 dryers, each 30 inches wide, you would want to provide 450 inches of folding space width. If your store does not have sufficient room to provide customers the recommended folding space, you can install shelves above the folding tables. This little trick can significantly help reduce the area needed for customers to fold their clothes by allowing them to store their folded clothes on the shelves.
When it comes to a store’s equipment layout, everybody’s got their own idea of what a beautiful store looks like. Realize, however, that when you buy an existing store, you are buying the existing layout, good or bad. You get what you get and you have to be happy with that. If you are planning on remodeling and re-equipping the store, it is possible to change some things, but most of the time you’re stuck with the way the store is designed. Changing the locations of machines can be a very costly endeavor.
Once you’ve made up your mind to start moving equipment locations, you’re almost certainly going to have to pull work permits with the city or county. Most cities will require the work to be performed by a licensed contractor. They will also usually require architectural blueprints to be submitted for approval by the city planning department. In addition, the city might also require you to get the fire marshal to approve the design. If you are going to increase the number of washers, they might require you to pay sewer impact fees for the extra washers. Like most government bureaucracies, the permit process and inspections can be time consuming.
If the coin laundry is going to be a brand new build, you can design it just about any way you want, just as long as it meets existing building codes and doesn’t conflict with design constraints (usually imposed in historical districts). This gives you the most flexibility in choice of equipment layout. However, building a new store does generally take more time and is more expensive.
Regardless of whether you buy a store and remodel it or you build one from scratch, customers love brand new equipment. A clean store with new equipment has a natural draw to it. You want your store to feel like it’s a friendly and inviting place. It’s great to decorate the store because you don’t want it to look drab and dreary. Clean and bright is the way to go.
Keep in mind as you design your layout, your store needs to have good customer workflow. You should have a well thought out plan of how your customers will move within the store during the process of getting their clothes clean. By anticipating their movements within the store, you can position things to be in the best location when they need them. This will make things easier for your customers and help speed them from machine to machine, giving them a better wash experience.
“Secrets of Buying and Owning Laundromats,” by Brian Brunckhorst – along with other value business publications – is available at the online store at coinlaundry.org.