alaska stove

Visual Selling from Front to Back

Why visual elements are important for a good first impression

Customers remember a store visually as well as emotionally. Generally, they will remember 80% of what they see and retain their impressions for a long time, for better or worse.

Visual merchandising is everything you see as you walk up to, into and through a store. Everything! From the parking lot, building façade, front door and around and through the store, your customer sees it all. Good, bad or “eh.”

Your parking lot, if you have one, says a lot about the quality of care a customer may receive. If it’s dirty, broken up, very dark at night or in any way unsafe, your customer’s first impression is that you better be discounting your spas. They believe if your place looks “cheap,” the prices should reflect that.

You may be at the mercy of your landlord or an adjoining tenant, but do your best to deliver a positive first impression — even if you’re leasing. Your customers don’t know who’s in charge of the parking lot; they just know the experience they’re having and you get the blame or the acclaim.

The front of your business, your façade, is the next point of contact for customers. I’ve written about maintaining this area most recently in the April/May 2020 issue in a column titled “Curb Appeal or No Way!” A “Cliff Notes” of this article comes down to what people notice: 

  • Cleanliness — including washed windows 
  • A fresh sign — not dirty, dented, with peeling paint or so dark it can’t be seen
  • The conditions of the steps leading to the front door or peeling paint at the front of the store
  • Handicap access and a clear sign 
  • A secure railing
  • Whether windows are dark and/or blocked
  • Whether your front door sticks, taking an effort to get into your showroom

Your front door needs to have your address on top printed in a large font with good contrast to the door or building so it can be seen easily from the street. When Googling a business, some people only plug in the address rather than the name of your store. This is also a safety issue for the police or fire department to easily find your store during an emergency call. 

Of course, your store name is above your windows; but at night, if it’s not lit up, a number will let people know they’re in the right place.

Your front door needs your hours listed, and that’s about it. No need for stickers from vendors, including credit card companies. Clean is best.

- Sponsor -

Your entryway is what people experience when they first walk through the front door. A good quality floor mat goes here to absorb all the dust, dirt, mud, snow and water that’s on their shoes. This is good for your store, customers and wallet. Dirty or wet shoes can slip on wood, cement or tile floors. 

If you have carpeted floors, everything they bring in on the bottom of their shoes will degrade the carpet unless there’s a walk-off mat. Make sure that mat doesn’t have curled corners and is as flat as possible to prevent tripping.

Once a customer enters your store, they often stand for a moment, scanning your store like a book — left to right, to see what it looks like and where they need to go. If specific merchandise areas are blocked by high fixtures or walls, mounted signage will inform them which way to head. 

While in this front zone, a customer will also unconsciously tune into their instincts, determining whether the lighting is bright enough to comfortably see and if the store smells acceptable. That means no smell of mold or chemicals, including chlorine.

Your focal areas and interior décor will be noticed at the same time during the front door scan. If there are any interesting elements, attractive colors or displays, people will notice them then. Ideally, you have incorporated all three things into your décor. These, along with the sales experience and prices, will set you apart from competitors.

If your floor plan allows, someone should always be in view to greet whoever enters the store. Even if that salesperson is busy, they should stop and acknowledge the newcomer. Most people will see and understand that person is working with someone and wait their turn. There are always those who get irritable; but hopefully, that’s part of your sales training program.

An important customer experience is the signage attached to or standing next to each spa. When I write about visual presentation, I get my ideas from walking around local spa stores. One major thing I’ve noticed is that I barely understand what’s written on those signs. They seem to be written more for the salesperson than a customer. 

Stores should make those signs dummy-proof and with as few industry terms as possible. Signs should be simple, clear, easy to read, have good contrast and be consistent in how the style, price and features are listed. 

A floor-standing sign, especially one on a slight slant, is more attractive and closer to the eye than one attached to the spa unit. However, I saw a good example of how to attach these signs at Emerald Outdoor Living in Tigard, Oregon. Each spa sign was in a vinyl pocket, and the top was attached to the lip of the spa with double-sided sticky tape. So, while the sign was too low to read, it was easy to flip the sign up. Larger and bolder type would have made it even better.

Consider good, graphic signage that informs the customer about weekly, monthly, seasonal and yearly hot tub maintenance. I have never seen signage in the stores I’ve visited that lets me know what to buy and when. For newbies, let us know up front what is needed when purchasing a spa.

Your water testing area should be clearly signed and have a few chairs for people, so they can comfortably wait for their results. Those chairs should ideally be able to seat someone who is over 300 pounds safely, and chairs with arms will be welcome for anyone with knee or hip issues. This is also a good area to offer beverages.

When a large sale is finalized, are you writing it up at the checkout counter or a desk? A desk is more comfortable for you and your customer. Once again, consider armchairs, a clean and organized desk and to make the experience even more memorable and sweet — perhaps some Hershey’s Kisses for the road.

From first look to leaving, your customers’ experience counts. What they see matters and is hopefully memorable in a positive way. I’ve said this in many columns, but it deserves to be repeated yet again — clear the clutter! It can change the look and feel of your store overnight.