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Are You displaying The "Right" Business Image To Attract Customers?

by Eileen O. Brownell

The vice president of a major store chain was surprised to learn the pealing paint on the store's exterior communicated a poor attitude toward their customers. A restaurant owner did not see how his weed-covered parking lot conveyed a health and image message to potential customers. Staff at a hotel did not understand the need for directional signs in a three-story parking lot. A bank manager did not think the graffiti next to ATM machine was a big deal. The manager of a grocery store could not understand why the litter left in shopping carts was a big deal to the customers.

A first impression is established within two to thirty seconds. Once a negative perception or impression is created, it is difficult to reverse. Potential customers will already have an opinion of your business before they walk through your doors. It is essential the first impression your business presents is positive. What the customer sees on the outside of your business establishment indicates if you have an organization founded on positive customer care. Customers will base their opinion of your business on their perception of numerous exterior presentations. Much like the unspoken word of our body language, the exterior of your building, the parking lot, outdoor lighting and signage all communicate to your potential customers.

Consider the following items to put your best image forward to attract and retain your customers:

Parking Lot. A customer pulls into your parking lot. She opens her car door and steps right on a dirty diaper. Her stomach churns and she immediately gets back in her car and pulls away. You have just lost a sale. Since the customer will come in contact with your parking lot first, it is imperative that it be well maintained. That means no potholes! Planter areas are free of weeds. Litter is not evident. The parking lot is swept regularly during the sunny months and snow plowed if necessary during the winter. It is easy to see where parking spaces are based on clearly marked lines. Adequate spaces are available for handicap parking, particularly if a major portion of your clientele is elderly. Trees are well trimmed and leaves are cleared regularly during the fall.

Exterior building appearance. Is the exterior of your building clean and well maintained? Peeling paint indicates the business cannot take care of itself, so how could it possibly take care of the customer. As cracks appear and paint begins to fad, so does your image. Consider painting your exterior every five to eight years. Trim can be repainted at a less expensive price every three to four years to extend the life of your exterior decor. Select your paint colors carefully. Colors should be inviting and have a positive effect on people. Various shades of gray for example when combined with other colors convey authority, believability and trust. Select colors for your exterior that convey the message you wish to express.

Graffiti. If graffiti is a problem in your community, it must be eradicated within 24 hours. Leaving graffiti only invites more. Yes, it may take you several times to permanently remove the graffiti, but do not give up! Graffiti can scare potential customers away. Some cities have volunteer graffiti eradication programs or professional painters that regularly sweep the community to spot and remove graffiti as soon as it occurs. Check with your local government to establish if they have such a program.

Sidewalks. Sidewalks must be kept free of litter that customers might trip over. Besides, who wants to step over trash when entering a business? If cracks begin to appear in the walkway make sure appropriate repairs occur. A simple crack can prove to be a hazard for wheelchairs, strollers, walkers and elderly individuals who are not sure on their feet.

Windows and awnings. We expect exterior windows to be dirty during the rain and snow seasons. We do not however, expect them to be dirty during the remainder of the year. It is important that smudges, fingerprints, dirt and water streaks be removed as fast as they appear. Your attention to this detail will indicate your business follows through and pays attention to details. There is nothing more disgusting then an awning streaked with dirt and bird droppings. Awnings need to be cleaned on a regular basis by the staff, or a special cleaning service.

Adequate lighting. Are all paths leading to your facility well lit? People feel uncomfortable entering dark areas. This is particularly true for senior citizens and women. When exterior lighting burns out, bulb replacement must be a priority. A well-lighted exterior communicates we have nothing to hide and will serve you fairly. Additionally, should a patron fall because they are unable to see their way clearly, you could be tempting a law suit.

Appropriate signage. Is your sign well lighted and professionally created? Flickering lights and half-lit signs again indicate we are unable to take care of ourselves, so how can we take care of you? Should vandalism damage the business sign, it must be repaired as soon as possible. Appropriate and professional signage communicates a sense of pride in your organization as well as the service you will provide the customers.

Facility access and convenience. Are all entrances easy to find and navigate? If parking lot entrances are one-way, are they clearly marked and signs are easy to see? Making a left turn into a facility can be a challenge particularly if your business is located on a busy thoroughfare. A wide convenient entrance can make it easier for customers to enter and exit. Customers become impatient when they are forced to sit in their car for a prolonged period of time attempting to exit your parking lot. They may think twice before returning.

Litter receptacles. If you do not want litter left in inappropriate places, then receptacle must be place throughout the parking lot. Trashcans can be placed near the entrances as well as where people will typically gather or congregate. Do not however fall into the trap of failing to empty the trashcans on a regular basis. There is nothing worse to look at then an overflowing trash can.

Shopping carts. How many times have you reached for a shopping cart only to find a dirty tissue or limp lettuce leaf lying in the basket? You probably immediate pulled another cart from the line and left the first one standing there. All of us at some time have grabbed the cart with the goofy wheel. The one that does not quite hit the ground, or it forces you to go right when you want to go left. Shopping carts are an important part of your business image. How clean you maintain the carts and keep them in perfect running order indicates to the customer how well you will take care of them.

Company vehicles. Before a customer arrives at your business location, he may see your company vehicle. The vehicles also present your business image. Keep them clean and well polished, even if that means a visit to the car wash three times a week.

Any business can create a positive and powerful image. It takes time, care and dedication. The ultimate payoff however is a first impression with the customer that indicates your business has created a climate of customer care.

In short, your physical presentation may just determine how successful your business is and will be.

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About the Author:

Eileen O. Brownell is President of Training Solutions, a Chico, CA based firm. For over 25 years, Eileen continues to be noted as the ‘high-energy’ speaker and trainer who captivates her audiences and makes learning a lasting experience. Her expertise is in the areas of customer service, conflict resolution, communication, and team development. She is licensed to use the Carlson Learning Products that enhance the learning process. Cable television stations have shown Eileen’s educational programs. She can be found in Who’s Who in California, American Women, Professional Speaking and Outstanding Young American Women. "We cannot choose the challenges that confront us. Nevertheless, we can pick our attitude and how we react," is her philosophy. For information about Eileen’s presentations, contact the FrogPond at 800.704.FROG(3764) or email [email protected]

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