Real World Advice For Retailers - Don't Forget to Clean Your Windows

Remember that proud feeling you had the first day you opened your store? Everything was brand new; your shelves were stocked full of merchandise; your staff all had new, pressed shirts; your cash register or POS terminal was sparkling and clean. When people came into your store, they were impressed and excited to buy your products. You had wow factor! Now look around your store. Do you still have wow factor? Are customers still impressed by how new and clean everything is? If you can't say yes to these questions with 100% confidence, perhaps it's time for a little window cleaning.

All too often, during the course of operating our businesses 6 or 7 days a week, we forget the little details that helped make us successful at the beginning. The same thought and effort we put into every last detail of our store before we opened should be put into the store every month, week and day. Drop whatever it is you are doing right now and look around your store. Notice if you have areas on your shelves that are empty or sparse, search the corners for dust build-up or spider webs, check out your front door and windows for smudges, fingerprints and grime. And what about your check-out counter where your customers generate their last, and often their most vivid, impression of your business? Is it neat and organized?

If your store doesn't look like it did when everything was brand new, you may be sending a message to each and every one of you customers; telling them that you don't care anymore. Even if you would be willing to stand on your head and spit wooden nickels for each and every one of your customers, they won't feel that way when they walk into your store. If people think your store looks neglected, they will assume that they will be neglected too.

Sure, if you've been in business for a long time, and you have provided excellent products and service, you probably have a fairly significant following of loyal customers. But what about first-time customers? What impression are you making with them? Not only that, but many of your long-time customers will move away and stop shopping with you because it is no longer convenient to drive across town. So you need those new, first-time customers to really want to come back. In addition, if you have expansion goals, you can't afford to turn off a new customer because you were out of a product that is usually on your shelves or because your checkout counter was messy and disorganized. Customers are very fickle so you can't afford to allow their impression of you to be marred because someone's child left a sticky mess on your door handle and another customer got gooey candy leftovers all over their hand when they entered your store.

To help you make sure your store maintains its wow factor, I have compiled a short list of things you can do right now to get back (or stay) on track. You may already be doing some of these things, so perhaps not everything will apply to you. If you are already doing all of them, then congratulations on your new store opening.

1. Clean your windows, both outside and inside. Get a professional window cleaner to come in and wash your windows. As soon as they leave, get a bucket of hot water and some clean towels and wipe down the window sill and door jams and any of the fixtures they splashed when they were cleaning.

2. Ask everyone to stay 30 minutes after store closing once a week to look for areas that the cleaners missed; corners where dust has been allowed to settle, products that have not sold and are collecting dust. Look up and try to notice any cobwebs in the light fixtures or rafters and ceiling corners. Check out your change rooms and make sure that they are clean (you should do this after each time a change room is used.) Make sure you check out the back storage area and the office - suppliers and delivery people shop in your store too. Don't forget to all clean around your cash register or POS system. When you stand behind the front counter, you don't see what your customers see - come out from behind the counter and clean the customer's side too.

3. Nothing looks more like you are on the verge of bankruptcy than sparsely stocked shelves. Make sure your shelves are fully stocked; that means no empty spots. If you can't get stock in, rearrange your shelves or racks so that the empty space is distributed evenly throughout the store. Better still, find substitute products and fill your shelves with those items.

4. Get rid of loose papers at the check out counter and remove any post-it notes or scotch tape from the cash register or the POS computer screen. If you need to keep manual records for referencing during a customer transaction, use a recipe card box or thinly bound booklet that you can slide under the cash drawer, out of sight. If you don't need them for customer sales or orders, file them in the back office or back storage area. Don't leave supplier invoices and packing slips lying around, it gives your customers the impression that you are disorganized and distracted.

5. Replace the ink cartridge in your receipt printer. If your cash register or POS terminal is printing receipts that are hard to read because the ink is faded, your customers won't be impressed, especially if they can't make out the prices. A new ink cartridge for your receipt printer only costs a couple of dollars but it can make a huge impact on how your customers view you. And while you are at it, if you own a cash register, replace the ink in your "thank you" stamp. For those of you who have computerized POS systems with thermal receipt printers, if your receipts aren't printing out darkly enough, it's either because the printer is not adjusted properly or because your receipt paper is too old. Thermal paper has a shelf life, after which any receipt printer will not be able to produce dark print. Get rid of that paper and buy a new box. Beware of paper suppliers that offer the cheapest paper in the industry they often buy up old stock and resell it at discount prices, which means you save money today but spend more in the long run. Buy your receipt paper from the same company that provided your cash register or POS system. If you bought your equipment used or over the internet, then keep looking until you find a paper supplier that will provide you with good quality paper.

Of course you are the best judge of how clean you are keeping your windows but, hopefully, these tips will give you some ideas that you can use to elevate (or maintain) the impression your customers have about your store.

Michael Steg is Managing Director of Tri-City Retail Systems, a Gold Certified Microsoft Partner specializing in implementing management systems for retailers of all sizes. After working with hundreds of retail companies for over 23 years, Michael has learned a great deal about how to operate a successful retail business. At the same time, he has witnessed a great number of mistakes that retailers make that significantly impact their ability to succeed in such a competitive industry. Over the years Michael kept notes on what worked for his customers - and what didn't work. Now, Michael has translated these notes into short, information-packed articles and he is sharing them with you so that you can learn from the experience of others. Michael's articles give retailers real world advice on how to improve their businesses and include lists of action items that retailers can use immediately to positively impact their bottom lines.