Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 3                                        April 2005

     Secret Shopper

How Not to Display Your Windows
Good Service Helps Even the Worst of Displays
by Megan Headley

On a recent business trip to Galveston, Texas, I found myself with time enough to get a good look at the beach, the gorgeous glass pyramids at Moody Gardens resort and the trendy shops and restaurants along the Strand. One of the places I visited was not on the usual tourist’s agenda however. It was a nearby lumberyard at which I was looking forward to secret shopping. This was my first secret shopping assignment for SHELTER, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially carrying out my undercover work so far from home where different local conditions affect the windows. 

However, my questions were quickly answered once I blinked my way out of the bright Texas sun and into the shop I’d chosen to visit. 

Here is my report based on SHELTER’s secret shopping checklist.

1. Could you easily find a parking space? Was the parking lot clear and litter-free?

Finding the shop and parking were both easy enough, even with my terrible sense of direction in an unfamiliar city. The shop was located on a main street and a large sign standing above the row of stores told me exactly when to turn. The parking lot directly on the road was small, but adjacent lots promised plenty of room.

2. Were you greeted as you entered the store?

No, although the two employees at the counter appeared to be busy with other customers at the time. As I continued to shop, however, and new employees drifted through the store space and into other rooms, I began to wonder if anyone had noticed me come in or, more to the point, if they cared. While the shop was fairly easy to navigate, my attention was focused on the window and door displays, where I couldn’t help but feel a salesperson should have been more attentive.

3. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, rate the neatness and orderliness of the merchandising displays.

Parking at this Texas lumberyard was easy to find, but the window displays inside were not.

On a scale of one to five, there was no question for me that the window display was a one. This surprised me because, upon entering the store, I walked straight ahead to neatly organized retail aisles, ignoring a jumbled mess to the right of the door. Much to my dismay, the mess to the right was, in fact, the window display. Windows, doors and shelves lined the walls of a narrow cubby. In the middle of the area an extra wall had been constructed out of additional displays. I began at one side, actually tripping over a long box that had been left on the floor, then winding my way around more boxes and windows resting on the cement floor. 

On the far wall, four shelves held a wide selection of brochures, but several heavy boxes had been stacked on top of the brochures, making me wonder if shoppers were supposed to be able to pick through the leaflets. Actually, that was the impression the entire display gave me—did the store really want shoppers to see what was available?

4. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, rate the cleanliness of the store.

Two. Although the retail aisles and counter seemed neat, I was there for information about windows and it was difficult for me to find it because of that display’s frustrating disorganization.

5. If you asked an employee a product-knowledge question: Did the employee answer your question satisfactorily, or get an answer for you? 

Yes, the employee I spoke with was very friendly. Tired of searching through the disorganization on my own, I finally asked a gentleman at the counter if this particular display held the shop’s only windows.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

“Do you have a catalogue?” I hinted. 

“Well,” he said, and I watched the salesperson in him emerge. “We order most of our products. You let us know the size and type and we can get it for you.”

He led the way into the display that I’d been nervous to tackle on my own, heading purposefully to the brochures as if the boxes didn’t exist. Not a good sign, I thought. I had hoped that maybe the shop was in the process of changing over to a new display, but he stepped around the clutter in a way that suggested to me that he was used to the mess.

Now that he was convinced I was a serious buyer, the salesperson was willing to discuss my options and answer my questions. He pulled two brochures from the shelves and went through them with me, showing me what to look for and explaining page-by-page my options in sizes, styles and colors. Next he led me through the display and pointed out the differences among vinyl, aluminum and wood selections, patiently explaining the merits of each. As we walked, he kept reminding me that the store sold only premium products and that whatever I chose would come with a guarantee. Despite the emphasis on price, he appeared willing to help me find what would best fit my needs.

6. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, how satisfied were you with the service you received from store employees?

I would rate the service a three. The help I received from the knowledgeable store employee brought up my opinion of my experience considerably. However, if an employee had come to my assistance as soon as I began to trip through the untidy display, my overall opinion of the store would probably have risen considerably higher.

7. Based on this experience, would you return to this store?

I would probably return to this shop, but only if I didn’t come across something better as I continued to shop around. Despite the disorganization, once I showed my interest in the product, the salesperson was committed to helping me decide what I needed. Also, I couldn’t help but think that I had caught the shop on a bad day and that if I decided to return, the clutter would be cleared away. A slight improvement in either service or cleanliness would have raised my rating, but the overall experience was a positive one for my first outing as a secret shopper. 

Megan Headley is an assistant editor for SHELTER magazine.

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