Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2002   by Andrew Ross

University of the Aftermarket: Looking Good, Selling Well

Your retail showroom is a powerful tool. It should not be an afterthought.


Showroom condition is critical to successful long-term sales to the consumer. Considering the positive effect that cash sales can have on your bottom line, it pays to pay attention to what is in front of the counter.

There is no escaping the fact that when the majority of your calls and your business happens “blind”–customers have no direct physical contact with your operation–it is easy to focus only on the function of stock, restock and delivery and not on the more aesthetic aspects of your showroom.

The fact is, though, the physical appearance of your showroom is as critical to its function as the right inventory is to your stock room. Yet too often it doesn’t get treated that way, and gets completely ignored in the flurry of phone calls and rush deliveries.

You have surely seen photos of wide aisles and brightly lit showrooms, and maybe even dreamed of having such a set of displays–someday. Maybe you have scoffed at the suggestion, assuming that it would be a waste of money, considering you don’t get any consumer business anyway.

The latter is a self-fulfilling prophecy and the former a plan of inaction.

There is one, now aging, example that always comes to mind whenever I think about showrooms. I visited a jobber just more than a decade ago who had a thriving trade business, but virtually no walk-in consumer trade. He, in fact, did not believe there was any potential for it. The store was on a main street in a lively center and should have done well. A quick tour of the showroom revealed why it did not: no window signage and little in the way of merchandised product, only a few items of equipment resting by the window. On one shelf sat a lonely, un-priced, dusty can of brake cleaner with a stock tag hanging from it. If ever there was a symbol of a poor approach to outfitting a showroom it was that can.

Virtually every auto parts outlet with a decent showroom gets some walk-in trade. And those among the better looking showrooms tend to attract a slightly more affluent clientele and are therefore able to command a bit better pricing.

Obviously there are a lot of factors that can determine the type of non-trade customer who may come into your store: everything from the ethnic mix of your surrounding area, to the type of businesses or residences that are nearby. But everyone prefers to be greeted by pleasant surroundings when they do come into a store.

A good test of how well your store is presented is to ask a friend or trusted acquaintance to come to your store. You could ask them to put together an imaginary shopping list. Tell them why you want them to come and then ask them some critical questions when they do. You don’t have to make a major production out of it, but you should be clear in your intent.

What was their first impression when they walked though the door? Did they have an easy time coming in or did they find the entryway crowded? Were the aisles wide enough to comfortably walk down? Could two people pass each other?

One of the issues that tends to crop up in smaller showrooms is that the aisles are too narrow to allow a customer to comfortably view what is on the lower shelves. This can be partially remedied by having shallower shelves above, but sufficiently wide aisles are best. A meter wide is the absolute minimum, and a meter and a third is preferable. If you’re not sure how visible the product is, check it yourself.

In doing so, you may also find that your store’s lighting may be inadquate. A well-lit showroom is a real plus for a store and it need not cost much.

A lot of stores have the same lighting in the showroom as they have in the stockroom, and it is often also in the same state of cleanliness. If you don’t have the budget for a new lighting arrangement, you can at least give some attention to the cleanliness and good repair of the lighting you do have. You would be surprised how giving the fluorescent lighting fixtures and tubes a thorough wipe with a damp cloth can improve the quality of light in a showroom.

Also on the right side of the expense sheet is cleanliness. With the type of slushy winter that many areas of the country have had this year, keeping a floor clean takes ongoing effort. Many stores have opted for roll-out carpets to provide better footing, but they also tend to be tough to clean. A tiled floor may look dirtier faster, but a quick mopping can take care of the worst grime quickly.

You should not wait for the floor to look dirty. Schedule cleaning at least once a day, more often if necessary. Make it someone’s responsibility and rotate that responsibility (to you too if you are able!). The same should go for the cleanliness of the merchandise. A quick dusting should be a daily affair, not necessarily just when you’re restocking the shelves.

Among the best approaches to keeping a store looking good is to take care of the details on a continual basis. Once the condition of the fixtures, lighting, merchandise, etc. deteriorates to a great degree, it becomes a big job that, frankly, nobody wants to take care of.

But, by instituting a systematic process of small tasks that can be handled a few minutes at a time, you can gradually upgrade the appearance of your showroom and its profitability.

Want to Know More About Store Management?

The University of the Aftermarket has a full set of self-study courses designed to improve the skills of store managers in areas such as delivery management, computer systems, human resources, and other subjects.

In addition to video self-study courses, there are other educational resources available from the university, including a calendar of training courses. Information is available from the university.

You can find more information or register for courses on the University of the Aftermarket’s web page at www.univaftmkt.org or you may call the University at (989) 837-4326. The University accepts MasterCard, VISA, Discover, and American Express.


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