Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2000   by Auto Service World

UNIVERSITY OF THE AFTERMARKET: Store Appearance Matters Because First Impressions Count

During the past decade, we have seen many parts store companies grow and prosper. But, we have also seen many others suffer through tough times and be forced to close their doors.

There are many reasons for this–you know most of them: low sales, declining margins, high operating expenses, as well as poor receivables and inventory management. There are also many factors that create these problems. One of these could be that neither retail nor professional service dealers want to enter the store. Why? Poor store appearance.

Yes, appearance matters. First impressions do count. Is the public receiving a good impression of the store or is there another message being sent? Is your store presenting an image that can compete with today’s store chains, both retail and those with a more traditional focus, or are you running around in a dark, cluttered, and poorly merchandised store? If your store belongs to the latter category, look at what changes took place in the grocery and hardware industries as well as the aftermarket. These stores have modernized to keep the customer coming back.

Appearance is not the only factor, but it is a key issue. Consumers want to shop in a store that is clean, well lit, attractively merchandised and pleasant to shop in. Over recent years, more women have entered the customer profile of the automotive parts and repair world. Retail mass merchandisers and national automotive repair chains have recognized this and have reacted accordingly. Today’s consumer does not just want product availability and service. They decide where to shop based on other store attributes as well:

Wide, well-lit showroom aisles;

Products that are priced and merchandised so that they can be found quickly;

Well-dressed and knowledgeable store team members;

Clean, uncluttered counters so that they can freely interact with a store counterperson.

Think for a moment about first impressions. What is the first thing that a prospective customer sees? If you said the parking lot and the building exterior, you are correct. The parking area and the look of the exterior of the building give an important first impression of your business to the public.

Items to review regarding the store exterior include:

Is there adequate parking?

Are the parking spots defined?

Is the parking area kept clean?

If there is grass around the building, is it kept trimmed?

Are the exterior signs in good shape?

Does the building need paint?

Are the windows clean?

These questions are basic, but it is the little things such as this that add or detract from a store’s appearance and affect profits. Here are some steps that other stores have taken to keep their exterior looking appealing:

Keep the building’s exterior in good shape. Be sure that painted surfaces showing wear or peeling are scraped and repainted.

Check lighted signage to make sure that the bulbs are working. A good recommendation is to replace all bulbs if you are replacing one. Since you have the expense of opening the sign, why not make sure that you do not have to repeat the process in a month or two?

Observe when the signs turn on and shut off. By doing this, you can check to make sure the timer is working. This process is even more critical during the spring and fall when the length of the day is changing.

Make sure windows are free of improper, faded or outdated material. Windows can become so cluttered by paper material that the area can begin to look tacky. Be sure that any materials that can be deemed improper are not displayed. Try to keep the store window free of advertisements, event notices and other public interest material. A better way to handle that type of material would be to put a freestanding bulletin board in the display area of the store.

And remember–cleanliness around the building is critical.

Have you taken the time to watch how a McDonald’s operates, or better yet taken the time during a trip stateside to check out AutoZone or Pepboys? If you observe these operations, you will find that they are all constantly cleaning their stores and grounds.

They understand how important it is to their success. It is a point worth considering for your business, too.

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