Can Your Store Pass the ‘Dowdy’ Test?

By Rich Lindblom

A long time ago when I was still a young pup, a customer came into our family store looking for an appliance.

Clearly unimpressed, she turned to leave after a few minutes, but not before remarking, “I’d never buy from this store, it’s too dowdy.” Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. How dare she call our store “dowdy”!? 

Know what I did next? I ran straight to my office and pulled out a dictionary to see what the hell dowdy even meant.

Here’s what my trusty Merriam-Webster taught me: Dowdy adjective: Not stylish; drab; old-fashioned; not neat or tidy; shabby. 

Now I was even more upset than when I didn’t know the meaning. Here this person I didn’t even know walks into my store, refuses to do business with us, and even insulted our family business on the way out. Talk about audacity! I mean, what gave her the right to talk about my store that way??

Of course, as you can guess, I eventually realized that she was right. My father had last remodeled the store in the late 1970s and in all honesty, it could have been the set for The Brady Bunch. We had orange/yellow carpeting, bright orange countertops and extremely dark brown paneling. Maybe that lady was right, maybe our store was dowdy. 

It took some time, but I ultimately talked my father into spending a few bucks on some updates. We changed the carpet, completely removed the counters to open the floor up, and painted the paneling off-white. We also changed some ceiling tiles and light panels, and added additional lighting in some of the darker areas of the store.

Other than the carpeting, I did all the work along with our employees, so the cost wasn’t outlandish. And the finished product was a thing to behold. I felt proud of our store once again.  No one was going to call one of my stores “dowdy” ever again.

Which brings me to the question of the day: Is your store dowdy? 

Customers form an impression of your company based on what they see and experience in your store, so it is critical that you don’t drop the ball on simple things you can fix.  Every little thing matters:  Signage, lighting, flooring, product mix, P.O.P. materials, employee uniforms, cobwebs, dust bunnies, the cash-wrap area, and even the customer restrooms. In short, everything matters.

Related: Makeover Honeymoon Continues at Lyle’s

Your goal should be to impress every single customer that honors you by walking through your front door.

I’ve put together a self-assessment test, here, to gauge how your store stacks up.  It won’t do a lick of good though if you can’t be honest with yourself. You need to actually take the journey to and through your store, as if you were a customer. Drive up to the front, look things over, walk through the door and stroll around inside, looking for things that might turn a customer off. The test provides 18 different areas on which to grade yourself and your showroom.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t score well. Instead, use the scorecard as a guide to see where your store needs improvement.  And don’t worry if you can’t afford dramatic improvements, just start small. Invest in a couple of gallons of paint and some new light bulbs; level the machines on display and plug them in; throw away the nasty, old P.O.P.; clear up the clutter; dust and vacuum more often; and for goodness’ sake, clean your bathrooms!

See: AVB Makeover: Store Edition Manual

If you’d like to share your test results with me, I’d be happy to review them with you. Because if you can make your shop 1 percent better every day, in a few months it’ll be like a brand-new store.

Download the That’s Rich Store Scorecard HERE.

Rich Lindblom is a former principal of Advanced Maytag Home Appliance Center in Schaumburg, Ill., and member of the Maytag Leadership Council. He recently sold the 65-year-old family business and retired after four decades in independent retail. Got something on your mind? You can reach Rich at

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