Signs, accessibility, environment contribute to making customers feel welcome
By Linda Cahan
When a potential customer sees your ads or your store, do they feel comfortable coming to shop if they know they are perceived as different? How are you saying ‘You are welcome here’ to people of all races, ages, religions, sizes and abilities?
Photos and Signs
As a visual merchandiser, I know the power of photos but am wary of using them for this purpose. They have to be just right or they can work against your brand. Several people of color I spoke with said that if they see a photo with a Black/Hispanic/Asian/Middle Eastern person in the store window or on a visible wall from the street, they are more likely to shop the store.
From the logical point of view, having a photo (or many photos) with each race or religion represented can begin to look overcrowded and like you are playing to sales, so balance is important.
If you choose to use photos, they need to be big — really big. At least 3 feet long by 4 feet high and simply framed. Ideally, if you can find or produce a photo with individuals of varying nationalities, you have a winner.
Additionally, a door sign can simply say ‘We welcome everyone’ or ‘All are welcome here.’ I have seen door signs that say, ‘Hate has no home here.’ Unfortunately, the word that stands out is hate. Leave out negativity. If you like lists, a more positive door sign may say, ‘WELCOME all sizes, colors, ages, cultures, sexes, beliefs, religions, types and people. YOU ARE SAFE HERE.’
People of varying sexualities may feel anxious about restrooms. If you have a unisex bathroom, the door signs can simply state ‘All-Gender Restroom’ or my favorite, ‘Whatever.’
People with limited mobility often feel less than welcome in a retail store, especially when the aisles won’t accommodate a wheelchair or walker, or there’s no handicap access. Revamping older buildings is costly and can be challenging architecturally. An outside ramp is sometimes less expensive than reworking the inside of your store. If you can get people into the store who need a ramp, perhaps have a table and chairs (or area for them to stay in their own chair at a desk) so you can present options using a tablet, laptop, brochure or catalog without going up stairs.
Older customers also need to feel comfortable in your store. Besides the potential issue of floor-level changes, certain chairs can be unwelcoming to older people. Close your eyes and imagine that your knees hurt when bent, your back throbs with pain when you lean forward and your balance is off due to arthritis in your feet. Now, with all that in mind, imagine the only seating in the store is an Adirondack chair.
Ideal chairs for people of all ages have sturdy arms, with seats of normal height (18 inches) and slightly wider. They should hold up to 250 pounds. The chair can be wood or metal, but adding an upholstered seat will make it more welcoming and comfortable. Try to buy a chair with a seat you can remove to recover as needed.
Also, don’t buy a chair you haven’t sat in yourself. Buying chairs online based on reviews often gets you chairs that only work for the reviewer, not the different body types in your stores.
Dark, dramatic stores that just light their spas can look fabulous and intriguing — just remember to also light the signage. Older customers may have a more difficult time reading if the light is dim. Because there is a lot of visual information offered at each spa, add an LED spotlight to the signage. If there are any floor-level changes, those should be extremely well lit even if the rest of the aisles are softly lit.
Balance often becomes an issue as people age. In the restrooms, install grab bars next to each toilet. They can make a huge difference to someone living with pain. Each spa that has stairs should also have handrails. If you are marketing certain spas to younger customers, that may not be necessary. But if there is any chance it will be touted as great for aging people, add those handrails right away.
There is a local store I can’t spend more than three minutes in without getting a headache. I’ve been told the scent (‘stench’ in my mind) is the wax they use on their floors. I avoid this close-by store because of that odor.
Environmental hypersensitivity is very real, and scent is usually No. 1 on the hit list. Mold, mildew and overly strong chemicals (chlorine, cleaning agents) can cause allergic reactions. For some, perfume allergies are real. If you are promoting a line of scents for your spas, consider beachy or citrusy scents, as they rarely annoy scent-sensitive people.
Loud music or flashing lights can trigger panic reactions in some people. Unless your only customers are tweens, neither makes sense in a spa store. Music works best when it’s not so loud it makes conversations difficult. Finally, the most important way to welcome people into your store is to look up from whatever you’re doing or whomever you are speaking with, smile and offer greetings. This is a powerful way to help people who otherwise may feel anxious, defensive or uncomfortable instead feel that they are desirable customers. It is worth more than all the signs and photos on earth.
LINDA CAHAN is an internationally known expert in visual merchandising strategy and store design. She gives seminars, workshops, trains and consults for chain stores and independent retailers. Along with SpaRetailer, she writes for several other retail magazines, and is the author of two books and seven corporate visual standards manuals. Cahan lives in West Linn, Oregon. lindacahan.com