Volume 44, Issue 7 - July 2009

Feature

Secret Shopper 
An Undercover Visit to ABC Glass & Mirror Shows Customer Service is Critical 

by Megan Headley


SECRET SHOPPER REPORT CARD


ABC Glass and Mirror Inc.
Location: Manassas, VA
www.abcglassandmirror.com

Store was easy to find: C
It was—since I had a GPS. Yes, there was a sign over the entrance, and, yes, the numbers were visible on many of the buildings leading up to ABC’s location, but if I hadn’t been actively looking for it I would never have stumbled upon this facility.

Parking lot was clean: B
The lot was clean, and there were none of the major commercial vehicles parked out front that I’d seen pictured on the website, but I did turn into an unconnected lot upon first spotting the sign for ABC.

Windows were clean: F
It was hard to note the one window’s cleanliness when I was distracted by the drawn blinds and uninviting front door.

Greeted upon entering: B
Yes, the greeters were quite welcoming. However, that initial point of contact is crucial, and if I’d been sent away with instructions to return when the installer was available—I would have made my way to the competitor across the street. Without taking my contact information down, that’s a job that would have been lost for good.

Store aisles were clear of debris: C
The showroom truly was a work in progress. While knowing this, I’m giving the benefit of the doubt, the small area was crowded. Simple things, such as closing the door to the upstairs office, would help.

Neatness of displays: B
I found the simple displays to be an effective way of showcasing just how many options the shop offered without being overwhelming.

Employee politeness: A
The enthusiasm of the employees went a long way toward making up for the space constraints of the shop. 

Employee appearance: B
Jeans and polos seemed perfectly appropriate for the contractor-geared environment.

Employee product knowledge: B
Despite protestations that they weren’t salespeople, the two employees with whom I spoke were able to answer all of my questions and provide a good overview of product options.

Store experience satisfaction: B 
I found it noteworthy that the shop owner is making the best of a constrained layout with a “multitasking” display. The employee interaction and showroom samples went a long way toward making the sale, even though the cluttered environment left something to be desired. 

Overall Grade: B+


As I approached the turn on Euclid Ave. in Manassas, Va., my eyes were drawn to the big, blue sign announcing Banner Glass. Since I was on my way to “secret shop” a glass company on Euclid Ave., this was just the type of advertisement I was looking for. 

However, there was one big problem—I was looking actually on the lookout for ABC Glass & Mirror. Before even reaching the appropriate parking lot about a mile further down, through the extensive industrial park along Euclid Ave., I was making a mental note to tell the person responsible for marketing that, if you have competitors located directly on the main business route, you’re going to need to take a closer look at your signage. 

That person, ABC Glass & Mirror’s estimator Peter Lariviere, was out for the afternoon, but I knew that before I arrived. In response to a notice posted throughout April and May on USGlass magazine’s daily USGNN.com™ newsletter, Pete had requested that I come in to take a look at his new showroom and assess the space and service offered by his employees. Pete mentioned not a word of this to his coworkers, and cleared out for the afternoon so that I could pay ABC a visit. 

Shaky Beginnings 
As a consumer beginning to look for a new shower door enclosure, I was enticed even before the visit by ABC’s website at www.abcglassandmirror.com. The graphics and images were clear and attractive, and the image of the facility on the website was a thoughtful way of directing traffic to the right building. Even though I had an idea of what I was looking for—and the website had stressed having someone visit my home for an estimate—the sight of the building made me pause. 

I’m sure the simple brick façade and what appeared to be a loading dock door wouldn’t throw off most contractors, nor the blinds drawn across the one window or the simple slab of the front door. However, as a consumer, I wasn’t crazy about the feeling of walking into the back entrance or up to a delivery dock. Opening the blinds or placing an “open” sign where clearly visible, might have made me less reluctant to step inside. 

Once inside, I was greeted by the sight of a small room overwhelmed by the two receptionists’ desk. I stepped forward and said, “Hi, I’m looking for information on shower enclosures and was wondering if you offer that here?”

The two women looked at one another and one picked up her phone. “Sure do,” said the other.

 “One minute,” said the woman on the phone. 

“He’s not here,” her coworker added. There was a moment’s pause. I shifted from foot to foot. 

“Pete, who handles our installations, actually just left,” the first woman explained to me. “If you wanted to come back around 1 p.m., he would be the best person to answer any questions.”

“Oh,” I said, unsure of how to proceed. “Well, any chance I can just grab some information?”

“Oh sure,” the woman replied. She pulled out C.R. Laurence’s SD08 catalog on frameless shower door hardware and supplies, then added, “We actually have a showroom upstairs if you want to take a look.” 

Knowing that Pete had called the display area a work in progress, I couldn’t blame the receptionist for not thinking of pointing me to it right away, but I jumped on the offer. “That would be great,” I said, then extended my hand and introduced myself to Shirley. 

Doors on Display
I followed Shirley up the stairs, noting the beveled mirrors hung on the walls, thinking that it was a nice way to expand the small space with light while also advertising the shop’s capabilities. A small sign noting that there was a showroom upstairs may have helped direct other walk-in customers to ask about the space. 

The showroom upstairs was small, but efficient. I was distracted enough by the various shower door displays that I paid scant attention to the door open on the back wall revealing a disorderly office. The displays themselves were right on target. Three full shower door installations were set up in the small area; one with clear glass and a minimal frame, and two others that displayed a mix of glass types, from clear to frosted to textured. In the center of the full displays was a column of glass samples, each showing off a different style of hardware. Shirley opened a few of the sample-size doors, inviting me to test the feel of the hardware.

When Shirley asked what exactly I was looking for—different glass types or hardware styles—I told her that I was simply looking into all of my options. With that she pulled out a small sample box and let me handle a new variety of textured glass. She explained that there were a ton of options out there, and advised me to spend some time looking through the catalog she had given me for ideas.

With that, she steered me around the sample section, explaining some of the options in hardware by pointing out that I’d have to first choose whether I was interested in having simply a header or a full frame, before delving into more stylistic decisions. 

As I moved around the space I noticed along one wall several rows of small 2 1⁄2-inch squares of colored and antique-textured glass. I asked about them and Shirley laughed, “Oh, don’t even look over there, that’s for cabinets.” But rather than being off-putting, the comment actually launched Shirley into a passionate push for glass. “Glass just comes in so many options,” she said, adding, “I can’t even look at the samples when they come into the office because I have so many ideas about how I want to use them in my own home.”

Contagious Enthusiasm
With my interest coaxing her on, Shirley began to describe some of the other applications for glass. She told me about the amazing colors and ways of using full-length painted glass. Back downstairs she pulled out a sample box of Gardner Glass Products’ Dreamwalls back-painted glass and pulled out some of her favorite colors. 

“You can even use it as countertops and backsplashes in kitchens,” the other receptionist added around my oohs and ahs. 

Despite Shirley’s protests that she wasn’t a salesperson, her enthusiasm for the product was doing a great job. 

Shifting from aesthetic to more practical concerns, I asked next if there was a flat fee for the installation. “No,” she shook her head, explaining that the cost varied but that someone would be happy to come out and offer an estimate. 

When I asked about the timeframe, she mentioned that the company did four or five installations a day, and there was usually a two-week wait for materials. With a final invitation to come back at 1 p.m. to talk further with Pete, and lots of smiles, I left with a business card and the thought that if the receptionists, who insisted they weren’t salespeople, were that knowledgeable about the product, I’d certainly be interested in speaking with the individual coming out for an estimate. 

Editors Note: An informative website can go a long way in driving customers to your shop. For more tips on designing a website for your retail operation, look for the August 2009 USGlass.

 


The Retailer comments

Mike Howell, owner of ABC Glass & Mirror, decided to add a showroom to his facility in Manassas, Va., about a year ago.

According to Peter Lariviere, estimator for ABC, who is handling the company’s marketing, the showroom grew out of the interest the company received when it took its unique shower door display—a 2- by 2-foot tower of shower door glass and hardware samples—to several local home and garden shows.

Lariviere says, “It gives them a better sense of the different types of hardware. If they look through a catalog they just get lost.”

Making sure the customer doesn’t become “lost” or overwhelmed by decisions is much the point of that showroom space, points out Thompson Price of remodeling firm Thompson Price Kitchens, Baths & Home LLC in St. Louis.

“I think it has to be user-friendly, it can’t be too overdone and it’s got to meet the needs of your customer,” advises Price when it comes to designing a showroom. The National Kitchen and Bath Association board member adds, “I think too many kitchen and bath companies try to do too much and basically overwhelm customers.”

As Price points out, most homes in America have a standard 5- by 8-foot bath, so no more space than that is really needed.

Lariviere says much of his business comes through remodelers or interior designers. “We do a lot of business through bath and kitchen design shops,” Lariviere explains, “and have a lot of loyal contractors.”

Due to its troubling location, ABC faces a challenge in bringing potential customers by—one reason an onsite showroom hasn’t been a priority in the past.

“We’re really not in the best location as far as people coming by,” Lariviere admits. So to compete with its better-situated competitors, ABC is listed in the phone book under replacement windows and mirrors, although it does somewhat more extensive Internet marketing for its shower doors.

When customers do come by, the first of ABC’s 14 employees to greet visitors are the customer service representatives (CSR).

Price offers a remodeler’s viewpoint by noting that no matter what the facility looks like, “What I do expect from any vendor is courtesy and customer service.”

While installers, estimators and others have an inside knowledge of the business, training is often overlooked when it comes to those critical CSRs.

Lariviere says, “I’d like to personally let them go out in the field and let them see [a shower door] being installed, I think that will give them a better feel of it.” However, like so many businesses, “We’ve tried stuff like that but we’re always so busy—we have very great ideas but we just don’t have the time.”

The CSR doesn’t have to be an expert on shower door installation, but a good understanding of the products and services the company offers will make sure that individual is able to confidently deliver basic information to any potential customer.


Megan Headley is the editor of USGlass.

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