There’s more to your store than the name on the door

By Gordon Hecht, YSN Contributor

If you ever find yourself cruising south on I-95 towards the Fort Lauderdale cruise dock or an amusement park that sells mouse ear caps at 40 bucks a throw, do yourself a favor and veer left at Exit 278 and detour to Ormond-by-the-Sea.

Thankfully, it’s not famous. No major hotels, no funky tourist attractions. And, if you stopped by last year, you could have had the best slice of pizza in the entire world at Ralph & Jody’s.

There is no actual pizzeria by that name. The sign on the building reads “Lenny’s.” Ralph and Jody, a married couple, have managed it for the last 10 years.

They served up a slice, one-eighth of a 24-inch pie, for $2.75. I dare you to even try to finish two. Ralph and Jody made sure that you were a stranger only once. After that, you are a regular and they know you by name. Jody will keep your drink full. Ralph will entertain your young’uns.

You left with a full belly and a barely dented bank account. And while the restaurant is called Lenny’s, Ralph and Jody are the brand.

Until they weren’t.

The week before Christmas R&J announced that they had purchased a pizza shop half a mile from Lenny’s. They thanked their patrons and invited them to visit their new digs, just to say hi.

Me and my ever-lovin’ bride hopped into our Screaming Yellow Zonker and drove the six miles to Bruno’s in Ormond. We weren’t the only ones. The queue was ten deep, just to get to the front door. The line moved quickly and before long, our need for mozzarella, sauce and their famous crust was satiated.

Ralph and Jody’s new digs.

As good as the pizza was, people didn’t just patronize Lenny’s for the food. They were paying for Ralph and Jody.

Likewise, your store has a name, but it has a brand, too. The brand is created by your advertising, displays, service and website. Your brand is reinforced by the people who work for you.

Sometimes it’s impressive. Sometimes it’s just meh. And sometimes it may be a trainwreck.

You gain or lose your brand with every shopper, often before they even reach your door. Here’s how they judge you:

By Your Website

  • You don’t have one or it’s out of date = you are out of date
  • “Call for Price” = you are overpriced
  • More than three clicks to get to your products = you are hard to work with
  • Endless pop-ups = you are a shark, or what we used to call “Borax”

Conversely:

  • Chat feature = you are open to communicating
  • Video of your store = you are proud of your business
  • Sale or Special Tab that’s current = your store is on sale

By Your Phone Greeting

  • “Bill’s Bedding Barn!” = you are a business
  •  “Thank you for calling Bill’s Bedding Barn” = you are a person
  • “Thank you for calling Bill’s Bedding Barn, how can we make your day sparkle?” = you have a personality

By Your Team’s Appearance

  • Salespeople in t-shirts, jeans or shorts = you are unprofessional and will not provide expert advice
  • Salespeople in pressed slacks or skirts and clean golf shirts with company logos = you are casual and relaxed, and your shoppers can feel that way too
  • Salespeople in dress shirts with or without ties, or skirts and dress blouses = you are high priced (but you delight customers when they discover you are not. It’s called added value.)
  • Delivery people in generic t-shirts and baseball caps = I’m not comfortable with you in my house
  • Delivery people in store-branded t-shirts and ball caps = these people are OK and actually work for the store
  • Delivery people in collared golf shirts = these guys are professional
  • All personnel: smiling, happy faces = they are happy to work here, I will be happy shopping here

By Your Store’s Appearance

  • Old and faded signage and tags = old and outdated merchandise
  • Excessive sale tags, signage and tent cards = schlocky and willing to negotiate
  • No handwritten signs, no signs taped on walls or windows and tags show current promotion = this store is careful, caring and meticulous
  • Dirty bathroom = dirty warehouse, dirty merchandise

Your brand is defined by other factors as well. It could be your legendary service or low prices. Perhaps it’s your easy credit or cash discounts. Maybe you support the local Little League or care for puppy dogs and kittens. Is your delivery truck one they want the neighbors to see, or would they prefer you park around the corner?

Point is, you create the brand and what your store stands for. The buying public will decide if your pizza’s worth the trip.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at Gordon.Hecht@aol.com.

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