People can be rather subjective when forming impressions. One example of this is the notion of “love at first sight.” Two strangers meet, and for reasons unknown – yet undeniably strong – become inseparable.
In contrast, this same reasoning can cause us to immediately dismiss a well-intended and capable person even before we get to know him or her.
Similar first impressions can take place in your showroom. For instance, a customer might think twice before setting foot in a store with an unflattering typeface on the sign. Another may not notice signage, but might be turned off by an overzealous employee.
The reasons for negative first impressions can be vast, as they differ with individual opinions. Nonetheless, the fact that customers might be driven away, whatever the reason, cannot be ignored. Therefore, it is vital for a business to understand how to create a uniformly positive first impression for all customers.
Marc R. Eber, CKD, CEO of Builder’s Kitchens of New Jersey, Inc., says a good first impression starts outside and continues throughout the interior of the showroom, culminating with the essential elements: the product displays. With 28 years in the kitchen and bath industry, Eber knows what factors entice customers and which things turn them off. For example, a business’ exterior’s impression extends beyond the store front, to the delivery and service vehicles it sends out on the streets every day. “I have my trucks cleaned every week, properly maintained, with our business phone number on both sides of the truck,” says Eber.
At the store, the exterior should portray a clean, well-managed appearance. Your goal is for customers to drive up and think, “Wow! These people have their act together.” To establish curb appeal, begin with the parking lot and move inward. The parking lot and walkways should be well maintained, with no litter or weeds growing. Landscaping should be tasteful and professionally done. Signage is extremely important: Clean and crisp is best. Stay away from hard-to-read typefaces and too many details. Your signage should also be illuminated, even after hours, so customers know who and where you are.
Your store must have an obvious front entrance. Customers don’t want to wonder how to get in or when you are open for business. The front door should make a statement. What does yours say about you?
Your customers should find that, immediately upon entering, the showroom subtly appeals to all their senses: touch, sight, sound, smell and taste. “The consumer should be immediately cognizant of the difference between your showroom and others they’ve visited,” Eber says. It may take some field research to learn how to accomplish this. Some ideas include:
- Keep the entryway clean and organized. This is not the place for UPS and mail delivery pile-ups. You want people to walk in and be impressed. “The customer is constantly judging how you look and whether you can make his or her home look good,” Eber says.
- Play tasteful background music on the sound system. Background means that the music is loud enough to be heard, but that it does not interfere with talking or other experiences within the showroom.
- Appeal to the sense of smell by using lightly scented products.
- Stimulate the sense of touch with a substantial entry door and a handle that feels good.
- Welcome customers with a refreshment center, where they can enjoy coffee, tea, soda, muffins, bagels, etc.
The reception area is where your customers have their first interaction with your company. Since it reflects the image you want to portray, this area should have the nicest display in the showroom. Consider an entertainment/organization center with a television that plays your or your products’ advertisements on a loop.
Keep in mind that your receptionist prepares your customers for their showroom experience. He or she should dress neatly and should greet each customer who enters the building. This person must possess excellent communication skills, a can-do attitude and a pleasant personality. He or she should also be well versed in all the products you offer. Of course, all of these requirements come with your commitment to training and appropriate pay. Eber stresses that this is not the position to scrimp on, as your receptionist represents who you are and who your business is.
The expectations you place on your reception staff should extend to your entire team of designers, installers and support staff. By offering a seamless presentation and collective positive attitude, you are showing clients that you value professionalism and that they will be treated with respect.
It’s important to remember that the reception area is not the break room. A visitor can be intimidated when approaching a congregation of staff, huddled around the reception desk. Further, office chitchat is not suitable conversation here. The area should be kept clean and free of clutter to make a good impression.
ABCs OF DESIGNING
The reception area is a great place to show customers how your business operates and what someone can expect from doing business there. Eber displays 3'x2' storyboards, created by a local artist, depicting the design process from A to Z. The storyboards not only enlighten customers with introductory information about Builder’s Kitchens, they also take the reader step-by-step through the process, from field measurements to sample designs to the end result.
Putting displays in direct view from the desk makes it easy for customers to find what they want. Displaying product literature and samples also helps to convey brand messages and communicate the types of products you offer.
Where displays are concerned, Eber says customers must be able to imagine owning the space. Therefore, every kitchen in the showroom should be staged to appear as if someone actually lives there. “The clients should not open a cabinet and see nothing,” he says. “Fill up drawers and cabinets to show the possibilities.”
Maintaining your displays is of the utmost importance, since they make the first, positive and lasting impression of your design and installation ability. They should be clean, with doors adjusted, moldings tightly installed and clutter removed.
Remember, too, that some displays have better longevity than others. Determine which ones are working and which ones aren’t. “Productive” displays – those which inspire customer purchases – are still working for you, so they can stay. Those that spawn no sales, however, are a waste of space, or worse, a blemish to your credibility. These require immediate updating.
Finally, even if customers don’t make a purchase, leave them with a welcoming impression: Thank them for visiting, wish them well and let them know if they have any questions, they should feel free to call. Follow up later to extend your interest in the project’s success, even if they choose to buy elsewhere.
Remember, making a first impression is attained through careful attention to detail, inside your showroom and out. To do this, trace your customer’s journey, from start to finish, to assess which areas impart a positive impression and which ones need work. Pay particular attention to your reception and education areas and your displays, but don’t neglect to consider the impression your staff – or even your trucks – make. The care you take now on your first impression can bring you referrals and repeat clients for years to come.