The Search for Retail Excellence
Comparing Retail Experiences at Three Glass
Shops in Richmond, Va.
On a drizzly day in March I made my way to Richmond, Va., to “secret
shop” the customer service experience of five glass retailers specializing
in similar products. Under the guise of looking for more information for
a new shower door enclosure I was to rate the showroom displays, the customer
service and the overall shopping experience that retail customers regularly
receive in these facilities.
A quick glance below will show that there are only three glass shops profiled
here. Of the five on my list, two had taken down their signs in a grim
nod to the economy. The three remaining shops—identified here as A, B
and C—provided some inspiration for this shower door seeker and some surprises
as to what makes or breaks a glass retail experience.
Was the Website Informational?
Shop A: This sleek website answered all of my questions right away. It
featured easy-to-navigate tabs directing visitors to learn more about
the company’s products and services, photo galleries with striking examples
of custom work and detailed direction to the location, in addition to
a map. A
Shop B: This website, too, answered all of my questions
right away, with information about its services on the homepage. Tabs
at the top further broke down those services so that visitors could see
specific images of previously installed shower door enclosures, mirrors,
tabletops and commercial projects. The company’s quote form, a field present
on every page in which potential customers could request an estimate or
more information, stood out as a handy tool. A
Shop C: This website did answer my questions, with its images of shower
enclosures that met my specific search posted on the landing page. The
front page listed the most important information—contact information and
the products and services offered. I also liked that the homepage focused
on the fact that the shop’s “technicians are certified and trained with
over eighty years of combined service.” B
Tip: Maybe you can’t control the fact that you’re in the last hidden building
in the industrial park, but you can and should make it easy for potential
customers to find you online. More and more of your potential customers
are searching for their glass solutions online, and this is your first
opportunity to show them that you have what they need. A website doesn’t
have to be super-sleek and flashy—it just has to provide information on
the products and/or services you offer and how to reach you for more information.
Was the Store Easy to Find?
Shop A: With directions from the website in hand, this glass shop was
very easy to find. It was conveniently located right off the main road
of this outskirt of Richmond, which seemed to feature a number of new
retail and housing developments that would be needing glass. A
Shop B: Thanks to the large, easy-to-spot sign right out in
front, this glass shop was very easy to find from the main road. A
Shop C: Though the logo was written large on its façade, I had
to make a U-turn to spot it, hidden as it was by glass carriers. The sunken
location might have benefited from a larger elevated sign. C
Tip: If you do find yourself hidden on or off the main road,
make sure that you have either the consumer advertising or the necessary
signage to help potential customers find your business.
Was the Parking Lot Clean?
Shop A: After several days of heavy rain this gravel lot did not make
for a good first impression. I imagine I wasn’t the first person to track
mud into the otherwise well-kept showroom. D
Shop B: The parking lot was neat and had plenty of spots for walk-ins
to park, even with several large glass carriers out front. A
Shop C: This paved lot was cramped, crowded and confusing, with cars creating
their own parking spaces. I wondered how the shop’s glass carrier would
find a place to pull in. C
Tip: If you’re going to put the time and effort in creating a showroom
for retail customers, or expect to have customers in your office for services
such as automotive glass replacement, then make sure your parking lot
reflects that retail experience. Did I mention two of these glass shops
were within five miles of one another? Another consumer, upon finding
a contractor-oriented lot, might have just kept on driving to the grade-A
lot down the road.
Were the Windows Clean?
Shop A: It was a surprise to realize how much of a difference the clean
windows made (perhaps because this was one of the first glass shops I
have ever visited that had them). Though the building was small and the
lot less than inviting, the small showroom seemed open and airy because
of the large windows and spotless glass door. The first door I passed
on my walk through the lot, leading to a fabrication area, featured an
easy-to-spot sign that cautioned “employees only,” but a glimpse through
the glass showed me an orderly area. B
Shop B: The windows seemed clean enough, and the heavy shades were open
across the long length of windows, although the overall interior area
felt dark to me. C
Shop C: These windows seemed a bit dingy from the exterior but clean enough
once inside. The small sign on the door closest to the parking lot could
have used a larger sign declaring “employees only.” A
Tip: After visiting three different glass shops I can tell
you that having clean windows added to the atmosphere of a showroom. Windows
are your products after all—show off those exterior windows and make your
Were You Greeted Upon Entering?
Shop A: Two women sat typing in a designated reception area, and the man
speaking with them immediately turned to greet me when I entered—although
I never got a name, or a card. From the man’s quizzical look, I guessed
they didn’t get many walk-ins, although he was friendly enough in my case.
Shop B: As I entered I saw several people behind the reception counter,
including two women typing that I took to be the receptionists. After
gauging the group, I tried a tentative hello. The woman closest to the
door waved me on to her partner, explaining her computer wasn’t working.
A man standing behind the counter jumped in and asked what I needed, handing
me a card, but was soon cut off by the receptionist who claimed my attention
and banished him to the back office. She might have done better to let
the guy talk. B
Shop C: Again, there were two receptionists sitting and typing, one of
whom greeted me promptly and asked what she could do to help. When I explained
that I was looking for more information on shower doors, I was asked to
sit in the waiting area until the employee most knowledgeable on that
subject was available. B
Tips: Whether you’re a customer service representative or an installer,
if you’re behind the reception desk be sure to greet any walk-ins promptly
and politely. Remember the old adage, “you don’t get a second chance to
make a first impression.”
Was the Store Neat and Clear of Debris?
Shop A: The man who greeted me quickly apologized for the remodeling underway.
As I glanced around I saw obvious evidence that the displays were not
complete. Even so, the store itself, including the aisles and reception
area, was neat and clean. B
Shop B: The store was very neat, with a few small window displays scattered
in an orderly fashion around the floor. The reception desk was uncluttered
with business cards readily available. B
Shop C: There was no showroom to speak of, just a waiting area, but it
was well designed. The walls were decorated with a safety recognition
notice from the Virginia Glass Association, PPG ProStar posters with images
of windshield technicians, even a clock made to look like a small windshield.
In other words, everything on the walls was glass- and business-related.
The partition behind which the receptionists sat was one long mirror,
a unique example of the shop’s work. A TV sat in one corner, surrounded
by chairs. I also noticed, next to a box of glass samples, a tray of snacks
that I assumed people waiting could purchase. It was a very simple but
well thought out waiting area. B
Tips: Make sure your office and showroom space is clean and orderly. Even
if work is being done to the space, make sure there are no tools or materials
where a potential customer might trip. That customer may find your office’s
lack of organization to be an indicator of your business’ lack of order.
Were the Employees Polite?
Shop A: All employees were neatly dressed, and the polite gentleman with
whom I spoke was in khakis and a polo. When I explained that that I was
looking for information and design ideas regarding shower doors, the guy
excused himself and went to retrieve a few brochures and then returned
to briefly answer my few questions. B
Shop B: All employees were neatly dressed and the receptionist with whom
I spoke was very polite. B
Shop C: All employees were neatly dressed; Tim, with whom I spoke, wore
a sweater and khakis and was very polite and patient throughout, as were
the customer service representatives. A
Tip: Make sure your office staff reflects the professionalism of your
business with appropriate dress and conduct.
Were the Displays Neat?
Shop A: Although it was stressed that these displays were being remodeled,
what was already in place was striking. The tiny space displayed small
samples of shower doors with gold and silver frames—one door in front
of the other—as well as a shower door sample with only a silver header
and footer and a final sample of a frameless door, highlighting the hardware.
A blue glass bowl sink gave a nice indication of the “and more” in the
shop’s name. Once completed, this showroom would earn an easy A. B
Shop B: I glanced at a few small window displays spread out around the
office floor. However the dim lighting and layout wasn’t exactly conducive
to browsing the displays. B
Shop C: Again, there weren’t really any displays in this shop. As I began
to talk to the employees there, a gesture indicated that there was, in
fact, a small 1- to 2-foot square sample of a shower door with an opaque
glass and silver frame. It wasn’t much to help me in my quest for design
ideas. Couple that with the lack of brochures and a photo-free website,
and I found myself without any kind of indication of this company’s work.
Tip: Don’t underestimate the usefulness of a brochure, especially if you
don’t have the space available for a showroom. It’s a great idea to give
your walk-ins something they can walk out with, something with your company
name on it that they can sit on their kitchen counter as they mull over
making the purchase. Ask your suppliers about any brochures that they
can pass along to you, to pass along to customers.
Are the Employees Knowledgable?
Shop A: The person with whom I spoke provided me with brochures applicable
to my search; one from Southeastern Aluminum Products Inc. featured several
design ideas for pivot door systems, while the other was a glossy put
together by Shop A featuring photographs of its impressive custom glass
work. I was given a ranging estimate for the cost of installation and
materials for a frameless shower door but no other details. B
Shop B: Sadly, this is where the first impression let me down. The customer
service representatives pled ignorance on the topic of shower doors. I
was given a card with the cell phone number for the residential door expert
who was out on a job, and told all the help I needed was just a phone
call away. The nice, big sign out front was a boon in pulling in potential
passersby, and it was disappointing to be turned away without an estimate,
without a brochure, without anyone trying to take my contact information
and, essentially, no interest shown in securing that sale. D
Shop C: Tim answered my questions very thoroughly. After pulling out his
binder on materials and pricing, Tim took my shower door size estimate,
asked questions about the finish style and type of glass I wanted, and
provided me with a breakdown of material and labor costs for both framed
and frameless shower doors. A
Tip: Don’t let a walk-in customer leave without taking their contact information,
especially if you’re referring them to someone else. If someone was interested
enough to drop in, then you want to follow-up with a phone call or marketing
piece in the mail down the road. It might not lead to a sale this minute,
but you should work to cultivate that interest into a sale.
Tip: Don’t sell your products short. If your walk-in asks about a frameless
enclosure, talk about how great the value of that product is, not just
how expensive it is. There are in fact consumers out there looking to
get a good deal on upgrading and/or remodeling their existing home in
place of buying a new home and want you to show them the value of these
How Was the Store Experience?
Shop A: The open showroom and the sleek modern displays might have brought
me back for more information once I had a concrete idea in mind of what
I wanted for my shower enclosure. But while the half-finished displays
said I was in the right place, the employees’ lack of interest in pushing
the sale made me think that maybe their priorities were elsewhere. B
Shop B: If seriously shopping around I might have called the number I
was given to get some more in-depth information about pricing and materials—for
customers worried about cost, the name coupled with the store’s tidy interior
might have been enough. But without so much as a photo of their work to
go on I’m not sure I would have bothered to check back with this shop
on a more custom install. C
Shop C: If I were going to purchase a shower door based on this trip,
I probably would have bought it here. Despite the lack of displays or
photos, which would have been a big help, the attentiveness of the employees
here would have made the sale. A
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