Customer Service Is More Important Than Anything

Photo from Corbis.com © Corbis 2014

Photo from Corbis.com © Corbis 2014

 

A recent customer service experience reinforced in my mind, how important customer service is to your business. It doesn’t matter if you are a retailer, product maker, service provider – understand your customers and how to take care of them. That should be the number one rule for your business.

A Bad Buying Experience

In my example I was simply a customer looking to use a dealer parts coupon to get $80 off of a $1,000 set of run flat tires. Not a big deal, and I had cleared it with a service representative when I made the appointment. Turns out they wouldn’t honor our agreement when I went to drop my car off. They explained the price was already discounted (it wasn’t, I had checked pricing and got several other quotes which were in line with the dealer’s price quote) and I was getting a good deal (I wasn’t – install was $25 / tire and they were going to make me get an alignment).

So despite the fact my family woke up early and drove across town to help me drop the car off, I walked out, taking my business, and future business elsewhere.

Now whether you think I over reacted or not (I didn’t), it was so refreshing as a consumer to feel empowered. I don’t have enough time, money or desire to play games as a consumer. I had another tire dealer on the phone before I was out of the parking lot and they took care of me. The dealer lost a long time customer (we’ve bought three cars there) over an $80 discount.

Focus On Customer Service

Successful businesses build mutually beneficial relationships that encourage people to part with their money, goods or services in exchange for money, goods, or services. To me this is what customer service is: building, managing and maintaining those relationships.

Business is not just “business” if you want to be in business for long.

There are so many options for spending one’s time and money in this omni-channel world. Customer service is the most important aspect of business. Guests are more informed and have less perceived time more now than ever. Yes, they will linger or buy on a whim, but more often they do their homework and have the value of something in mind before they buy. They know what they want, how much they are willing to pay, and can likely rattle off a handful of places where they can get it besides you or your business.

The economy in this country is humming along at a steady pace. So there are people out there spending money, and they are empowered more so now than ever. Yes, it’s a two-way street. Customers should reward businesses that do a good job. But you can’t control that. What you can control is how your business operates and approaches customer service.

We work in the retail design business. The displays, fixtures and interiors we design enhance the experience of shopping for your guests and potential customers. I see our work as a subset of, or secondary to, customer service. We can design things that make guests go “wow”, making it easy and enjoyable to buy things from you.

But nothing we can design will compensate for bad customer service.

If you want them to come to you to buy what you are selling, then you need to make customer service the priority in your business. It’s where the rubber meets the road (pun intended).

-Chris

Chris Weigand is the president of Chris Weigand Design, LLC, a retail design agency that services customers by providing world class retail research, display, fixture, space planning, and interior design services. Visit http://www.chrisweiganddesign.com or call them at (330) 858-8926 to learn more.

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Visit Small Towns To Uncover Retail Gems

Look in any retail design trade publication and you’re presented with glamorous photographs of exotic retail locations sprinkled across the world’s largest metro areas. From big chains to small boutiques, seemingly if you want to see where it’s at in terms of retail design you’d better head downtown, or hop on a plane.

A recent vacation reminded me that you don’t have to travel to the big city to experience the best of retail. We spent our mid-summer family holiday in the town of Ellicottville in western New York state. It’s an international ski town that I’ve personally visited for the better part of thirty years; watching it adapt, evolve and grow. Despite the focus on winter, when the town is flooded by winter sport lovers from across the region (and Canada), it has grown into a vibrant summer scene also. And any time we’re in town we make a point of visiting the stores that line its main streets.

The village (part of the town by the same name) is very quaint and devoid of national chains. It’s a paradise for viewing independent retail up close and personal. Stores have come and gone through the years but vacancy isn’t too high right now so it is a great time to visit. There are several new stores to supplement the old standbys.

I took the time to visit most of the stores, and even talked to a few of the merchants to learn more about their awesome retail spaces. I suspect many of them are designing the stores themselves, and exciting those designs by the sweat of their own brow (one merchant said as much). Whether they do the work themselves, or hire someone (hint, hint) the key is knowing their brand and having that communicated in every way. Most of the stores we visited did this exceedingly well. As a retail designer I didn’t see much I would have done differently, and many things that I found beyond delight as a designer, and shopper.

Walking through the stores reminded me of how much I love shopping and retail environments. It made for a fun morning. An experience that can’t be replicated online. Nor is it easily translatable to mass retail.

So before you book your design team trip to New York City, San Francisco, London or wherever it is you go, consider driving through the countryside closer to home. There are a lot of great independent retailers creating really awesome retail experiences right in front of us.

Where are your favorite hole in the wall retail design haunts? Share in the comments below after enjoying the photos of Ellicottville.

 

-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a full service professional retail design and branding consultancy. We work with companies of all sizes to design compelling design solutions that connect with customers. We love shopping, we love going out to stores and seeing what merchants are doing. We enjoy creating really awesome solutions for our clients. Contact us today at 330.858.8926 to find out how we can make your store a place that people love to shop.

Summer Fun – It’s About The Experience

After a long day of fun in the sun, visiting with family, we had the pleasure of stepping into a Tasty Time frozen yogurt shop in upstate New York last week.

The advent of “choose-your-own” frozen yogurt retailers is not lost on me. There was a time when after a hard week of work I’d take the team out for “fro-yo” to celebrate a job well done. In a corporate world beset with soul-crushing deadlines and cog-in-the-wheel tasks, the freedom of choosing one’s own flavors and toppings was liberating.  A Friday afternoon punctuation mark of limitless possibility was a treat indeed.

In case you don’t know how it works: you basically walk in, grab a cup, fill it with flavored frozen yogurt and dump a bunch of toppings on top. The store person weighs your culinary creation, you hand them money, you grab a spoon, you sit and realize why life is so awesome. The goal is to shoot for $5 (in the midwest at least). Spend any less and you really aren’t trying hard enough. Over, and you may have an indecision or self-control problem on your hands.

Oh well, problems can wait when you’re enjoying fro-yo.

Which brings us back to our trip to Tasty Time. As we sat there eating our yogurt, the Summer sun receding behind the mountains, the experience was very pleasant. It was more than getting “ice cream” with the family. The interior of the store was bright, colorful and inviting. Customers filtered in, went through the experience and sat enjoying their dessert. The owner came out to say “hello” and thank us for visiting. Our kids enjoyed counting alternating orange and white upholstered cube seats. There were cool looking lights and signs promoting various other delights beyond just frozen yogurt.

As we finished up the kids filled out neon colored index cards of thanks and pinned them up on a corner bulletin board. There was a sense of community.

It was all about the experience. The attention to detail was present throughout the store, from entry to exit, from beginning to end. Colors, textures, details all worked harmoniously. Even the bathroom was modern, clean and delightful.

The point is, if you have a store then please create an experience. Be mindful of your brand, create a brand message and make sure that message is communicated in EVERYTHING you do. Think not only about the physical space but the processes customers will experience when they visit. Our trip to Tasty Time wasn’t over the top, the experience was subtle, but it was effective.

It is about more than just selling a frozen treat. We left that night with a vacation memory that hopefully the kids will remember for a long time. I know I’ll treasure the experience. Not bad for five bucks.

 

-Chris Weigand

Chris is president of Chris Weigand Design, LLC, a full service retail design consultancy focused on helping retailers and product companies provide customers with an experience when they venture out to spend their hard earned cash. When he’s not designing or writing, Chris enjoys spending time with his family, eating frozen yogurt and exploring stores. Visit http://www.chrisweiganddesign.com to find out how they can help with your next project.

One Of A Kind Frame Display

(This is the second of two reviews of cool projects we just completed for independent retailers. Visit us at www.chrisweiganddesign.com or contact us at chris@chrisweiganddesign.com to find out how we can help your business with retail design services. I will update the photos once we get some good ones.

-Chris Weigand)

A 4x4 island display for showcasing fine art.

A 4×4 island display for showcasing fine art.

Hudson Fine Art & Framing

When Hudson Fine Art & Framing moved from a century old Georgian mansion across the street to an equally old former drug store it was an exciting new opportunity to strum up more foot traffic. We were fortunate to be tasked with helping organize their interior space with a couple of new displays.

First off we designed and made two moveable island displays. The displays would provide a backdrop for patrons looking into the windows of the store. The 4’x4′ units are light enough though that they can be moved around when more space is needed. Each features a wall panel and integrated hanging rail for wall art. The elevated base can display dimensional art products such as furniture or sculptures. Paint and stain that matches the rest of the historical space completes the look, and makes for a neutral presentation. Perfect for highlighting the wonderfully unique works of art that guests can view and purchase.

In addition to being a fine art gallery, Hudson Fine Art & Framing also caters to customers who need framing and frame restoration services. As is common in framing shops there are is a vast array of frame samples for customers to choose from. Most often these samples sit flat on a wall and take up a lot of space. Occasionally a spinner is out posted for frame samples, once again taking up precious space.

We were tasked with organizing the frame samples in a more efficient yet effective manner. The design we came up with is a one of a kind frame sample wall display, with page frames that can be browsed – flipped back and forth.

We started out by measuring the current square footage of the frame samples in the old store, and figured out that eight (8) two-sided panels would display the bulk of the samples currently in inventory. Each panel holds about 150-200 samples each. Overall the unit measures 66″ wide and about 90″ tall. The unit takes up a fraction of the wall space that would be needed if you spread that many samples out on a flat wall.

The unit consists of a lower base, upper wall unit and the page assemblies. We designed the frames and had Armstrong Products in Oklahoma custom make them for us – round tube frames with a black “carpet” wrap. The samples adhere to the panels with velcro. We fabricated the wood components in-house, finishing them in a walnut stain to match the rest of the store interior. The upper and lower parts of the display are bolted securely to the wall and the panels simply drop in.

In all my years of designing retail solutions, this one display is one of my favorites. It truly is simple and innovative. It also looks and functions great. All hallmarks of what we bring to the table as retail designers.

The client is so happy that we have plans of adding another, smaller display down the road to showcase additional frame samples.

Take the time to stop by and view all of the wonderful art at Hudson Fine Art & Framing. And be sure to check out their one-of-a-kind frame display.

The only frame sample display we know of that looks and functions like this space saving design by Chris Weigand Design

The only frame sample display we know of that looks and functions like this space saving design by Chris Weigand Design

Latest Project – Open Door Coffee Company

(We just wrapped up two local projects that were pretty interesting. I need to get some better photos but for now I’ll share what I’ve got.  Here is the write up for the first one. These are both for independent retailers.  If that sounds like you, and you would like some help with your next retail design project, visit us at www.chrisweiganddesign.com or send me an email at chris@chrisweiganddesign.com to talk about what you’ve got going on. We’d love to help.

-Chris Weigand)

The installed cash wrap awaiting register, pastries and customers.

The installed cash wrap awaiting register, pastries and customers.

Open Door Coffee Company

Open Door is a new coffee shop, whose doors opened for a preview night this past Saturday in Hudson, Ohio. The cafe “opens the door” for customers to enjoy fair trade coffee, tasty pastries, even live music and poetry readings.

We met with the owners as they were mid way into refurbishing what was once an old neighborhood drug store. The building is over a hundred years old. It’s a perfect corner spot for a coffee shop. Right in the center of the interior space stands an old marble soda bar. The bar colors, pink and dark green, are difficult to work with, but regardless it’s a great feature that brings back fond memories to local residents who grew up sitting at that bar ordering sodas on warm summer days.

Adjacent to the bar we were tasked with designing and building a cash-wrap with storage below and a partition for pastry display. Budget was a major concern. As with any new shop, funds are spread thin, but cash wrap is a necessity. We could make something from the ground up, but was there a way to offset some of the cost?

The answer was found in the basement, but not necessary where we stared looking. The owners mentioned an old granite top in the basement – so we took a look. Our thought was it could save us the expense of fabricating a laminate top. Turns out the granite color was worse than the bar marble, or at least the combo together would have been awful.

While we were down there though the owners mentioned an old pharmacy cabinet in the next room. Maybe that could help save some money.

Turns out the cabinet dimensions, 25″ deep x 80″ long x 34″ tall, were perfect. The hefty frame would be a great skeleton for mounting a new counter top to.  And you can’t buy the charm you get with reusing an old piece of furniture. In fact several old merchant pieces already found a home upstairs in the cafe.

We got the okay from the landlord to repurpose the unit. We were excited at the find and excited to be giving a second life to the unit, which likely dated from half a century ago.

The plan was simple: install a new laminate top, and attach an old door to the front face. The owners had several doors that were salvaged from local farm houses that we could use. The patina on the one we chose for the cash wrap was a light green, with cracking that you couldn’t replicate if you tried. A few days later the doors and cabinet were loaded up and on their way to our shop.

For the counter we selected Wilsonart 7922 Brighton Walnut. It’s color and grain was a perfect match for the existing century old wood work in the store. The cabinet had a few subtle trim details that we were able to retain. The old door fit perfectly between trim and cabinet. We cut a second door to wrap the one corner and installed a shelf inside. During construction the glass bypass doors were discovered, as well as additional shelves, so that help offset costs as well. Installing the counter brought our finished height up to 36″, which kept us within ADA guidelines.

A low “fence” surround was fabricated for the register; made simply of 3/4″ boards wrapped in laminate. We installed a tempered glass sneeze guard around the area that pastries would be displayed. As of this writing, we’re waiting on one more piece of glass for the sneeze guard: we decided to cover all three sides instead of just two. Adjacent to the wrap will be a custom display case that will be lower than we originally planned. Thus the additional sneeze guard.

Everyone seems very pleased with the results. It was an awesome opportunity to help a new independent retailer open shop. And it goes without saying repurposing furniture that has a history is very rewarding from a spiritual standpoint, not to mention environmental and financial standpoints as well.

The finished wrap helps convey the Open Door Coffee Company brand, and lends a degree of authenticity you just don’t get from mass-produced displays.

Do stop by for a cup of coffee, delicious pastry, and start making your very own memories.

A drawing that is typical of what we use when designing and fabricating a custom piece for a retail store.

A drawing that is typical of what we use when designing and fabricating a custom piece for a retail store.

The unit was not light. It took three of us to lift it off the trailer and through the front door.

The unit was not light. It took three of us to lift it off the trailer and through the front door.

 

I Don’t Think Retail Stores Are Going Anywhere

photo from Corbis.com

photo from Corbis.com

Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think physical “brick and mortar” (as the cliché goes) stores are going anywhere. Though, with a degree of good reason that does seem to be the word going around when having casual conversations about retail, or perusing the retail industry news sites. After all, online is prevalent, new and convenient. Stores can be a messy ordeal, limiting and inconvenient.

I recently met with several independent retailers and had some really nice conversations. Though one of the merchants I met had mentioned that they thought retailing wasn’t what it used to be like; that online retailers were going to put them all out of business. They were just waiting for retirement, then they’d close up their shop. As a retail designer, whose livelihood sort of depends on this sort of thing, I didn’t really know what to say. I mean after all, I may be biased. But frankly, in the scope of the daily tasks for my life’s work I don’t get to hung up on the online vs. brick-n-mortar battle.

So I’ve been thinking about it.

First of all, the economy tanking didn’t leave too many sectors untouched and certainly retail took a hit, regardless of where consumers were buying their goods. On the other side of the recession no one would argue the world is a different place.

Here we have online retailing presumably booming and old-fashioned stores on their supposed deathbed. Here are my thoughts:

It Depends On What You’re Shopping For

When I need a water filter, or rare commodity such as food safe bins for storing honey frames, yes I shop online. I need these items at the lowest price and I don’t have time to hunt all over Northeast Ohio for them. But if I, or anyone for that matter hopefully, needs something unique, immediately or something that tangibly needs to be evaluated, it’s hard to beat a traditional store. Especially if I want it today. On any given weekend I will goto Lowe’s seemingly fifteen times. There are customers who will not wait for Amazon to deliver a peach tree, car battery or children’s book. And of course there are those that will wait. Point is, for everything you can wait on, I’ll need today, and vice versa.

Some People Still Like To Shop

I love shopping. I don’t know if it’s because of my job or my job is a result of that love. I enjoy going to the store, hunting…pecking…talking to merchants, discovering and bring one or many things home with me. I like feeling special in well done store environments. I like spending time with my family in the car, going to the store and having a shared experience I can’t get whipping out my credit card and typing on my Apple keyboard at home. I think that people who like to get out in the world and interact with humans aren’t limited to just one demographic. There may not be as many as there used to be, but they still have a lot of buying power.

People Want Authenticity

I believe there is a large enough group of shoppers that, if they are going to spend money, they value the story behind what they are buying. They want to tangibly hold it, learn about it and buy it in person. Whether it’s locally grown food, unique crafted items, or an expensive handbag. Online has it’s limitations and doesn’t check off all of our emotional and primeval needs as humans.

Keep in mind, I do believe the marketplace is changing, so merchants need to adjust as well. But also remember, despite the adversity, there still are a lot of people in this world; you only need a small percentage to buy your goods or services to flourish.

So what to do?

Determine Why You Exist

I rhetorically ask this of clients all the time: why do you exist? Take the example of the shop owner who thinks brick and mortar is done for. Of course it is, unless you change the game in your favor. Looking around, why would anyone get in their car or hop a train to come here and buy this stuff? Why do you exist? Differentiate your product and your customer experience based on what sets you apart. Otherwise I’ll just go on Amazon or Etsy, click, click and wait for the UPS guy to ring the bell.

Communicate Your Special-ness To Guests

If your store looks the same as it always has: slat wall, a handful of display cases, prescribed layouts, random crap everywhere, then I have little incentive to once again travel all the way out to your place. If guests have to deal with down-trodden associates, poor customer service and a maddening shopping experience then yes, retail stores are dead. Guests are savvy and they don’t have a lot of money, give them reasons to get butterflies when they visit your store. Show them why your place is the only place to get that item or service.

Be Consistent In Everything You Do

I’m a strong believer that consistency can do much of the heavy lifting for you, so you can get back to keeping an eye on the big picture. So often merchants fuss over the details and never think about the big picture. Figure out what makes you special and make sure that drives everything you do. Every touch point guests have with your stores should either overtly or subconsciously connect them to you: from the parking lot, to the merchandising, to customer service to, get this, your online store or experience (yes you should have one of those too by the way). Consistent, consistent, consistent. Heck if I walk into the bathroom at your store it should be on brand with your philosophy.

Evolve, Adapt, Engage….Keep Working At It

It’s not an easy job (that’s where we can help you by the way, so you don’t get stressed out). You have to determine what sets you apart, pay attention to the detail, execute, then guess what? Stay with it. Listen to guests, do your homework, have a short and long-term goals, constantly work at it. Do not, please do not just set up a bunch of stuff on slat wall and old mannequins waiting for the door to open. Don’t cram a bunch of stuff in your store, put it all on sale and scratch your head. Guess where I can find a bunch of stuff crammed into a “store” on sale? Online. Is that why you exist?

Every retailer is different, but not every retailer acts differently enough to keep guests engaged and wanting to come back.

Brink and mortar stores aren’t all going away. But you do have to up your game if you’re going to be among those that flourish.

Best of luck to you.

I for one can’t wait to go shopping.

-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a retail consultancy focused on helping independent retailers and brands connect with guests at retail. Chris has over 17 years experience as a designer, manager and consultant. His solutions can be found in over 30,000 retail doors from the largest chains down to one off displays in single stores. When he’s not working you may find him lost, on purpose, in a book store: a brick and mortar he hopes never goes away.

Sustainable Ideas For Your Store

Reusable bags in lieu of plastic bags is a good step to make your store more sustainable.  Photo courtesy of Corbis.com

Reusable bags in lieu of plastic bags is a good step to make your store more sustainable.
Photo courtesy of Corbis.com

With Earth Day yesterday I thought I’d take the liberty to share with you my personal ideas of what you can do to make your retail space more environmentally sustainable. Working in retail design really drove my interest in sustainability. Considering what we were designing, and ultimately manufacturing wasn’t the actual product – everything we were responsible for lived at retail anywhere from a few weeks to only a few years. Then it all ended up in a landfill quite frankly, at least in the early days. I didn’t, couldn’t let that me my legacy. At times I wished people would just buy products out of cardboard boxes on the floor of stores.

Fortunately it hasn’t come to abandoning all things retail, there are things we can do as designers, and merchants, to make store more sustainable. And in reality, this is as much about effectiveness and efficiency as well. Selling products in a delightful, engaging way, while minimizing excess costs and materials. It’s also about making intelligent design, manufacturing, and implementation decisions.

And as with anything, some retailers – chain and independent alike – do a great job already, and are leading the way. For others it’s not even on their radar, even in this day and age. But that’s okay, it’s never too late to start reaping the rewards, or taking it to the next level.

So without further ado, here are my quick thoughts on making your retail experience more responsible, smarter and earth friendly.

LED Lighting – I’ve been keeping tabs on LED lighting at retail for over ten years, and finally the technology is mainstream…ready for your store, regardless of who you are. The capabilities in terms of working hours, color rendering, and color temperature exist to meet all of your needs: from lighting jewelry, to food, from sporting goods to greeting cards. LED lighting will save you money not only via your electric bill, but also your maintenance costs because the LED “bulbs” last so much longer than incandescent light bulbs. Plus your retail presentation won’t suffer from burnt out bulbs hiding behind egg crate grills. Get rid of the ugly light diffusers and grills and let your lights shine. LED solutions are available in a variety of form factors from light strips to ceiling fixtures to individual bulbs.

Graphics – I’m a big fan of letting graphics, printed with environmentally friendly inks on sustainable substrates, do a lot of your retail experience heavy lifting at retail. Graphics afford the retailer flexibility at a lower cost as opposed to being stuck with burdensome displays that may go out of style or function. Try to stick with printing on paper based materials. There no need to print on styrene or other plastics unless the you’re planning on keeping the signs for a year or 500 years. If you do use these petroleum-based substrates, have a recycling plan in place – find a recycler before you burden the public landfills with that much material.

Temp Displays – Use temporary displays. They’re made from corrugated board which contains a lot of recycled material, or virgin material made from trees, which are renewable. The displays are recyclable so make sure you are recycling your displays, often times as simple as throwing them in the bailer. Make sure your displays aren’t contaminated with too many plastic components which can ruin a batch of recyclable board. Resist the temptation to use styrene shelves for show, even if you’re in the cosmetic industry. Just don’t do it. If you thought temp displays were too low brow for your store, look again. They are available with a variety of high-end finishes that make them look fantastic. Or better yet, look at direct printing them to get a chic eco feel for your product or store.

Think Modular – Modular systems, if done right can be the saving grace for your retail store. I’ve designed several of these systems and they are a good way to get a comprehensive solution at a lower cost, with better use of materials. Components can often be shipped K/D (knocked down) to save on cost and fuel usage. The flexibility of the system means you won’t need a new display every time something changes in your retail business. Made from durable materials they’ll last for years. And they can be updated without remaking the entire system – think accent panels, graphics, accessories.

Keep It Simple – Product and your brand should be the main attraction. Don’t embellish just for the sake of embellishing things. Too often I see random materials and complexities added to a retail design project for seemingly non-brand enhancing reasons. These things add complexity, cost and material. Know your brand and let that guide your decisions. Less is more.

Paint – Use zero-VOC paint to spice up your space. Paint is flexible in that it’s easy to change the feel of a space without a lot of cost, or environmental impact. And don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit – paint different walls different tones and have fun with it.

Use Materials Wisely – Plastic lasts forever, yet at retail what doesn’t change in the blink of an eye. If you use plastics, make sure there is a good reason, and make sure you can, and will recycle them when their life in your store is through. Metal is an awesome material with intrinsic value. Even if you throw it out, someone will garbage pick it and sell it for scrap. Just be mindful of shipping weight which equates to fuel usage. Wood is a great renewable material. Strive to use water based finishes and avoid too many contaminants such as laminates that can make the wood likely to end up in a landfill. Wheatboard, or clear coated MDF are interesting options to look into; though MDF is so-so from an environmental standpoint. There are even countertops made from paper.

Okay, there are just a few ideas. Regardless of what you do, do something. As I said, in the end you may find it’s not only good for the planet but also for your bottom line.

-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a design consultancy specializing in helping independent retailers and entrepreneurial brands excel at retail. Check out www.chrisweiganddesign.com to find out more. Contact us today to learn how we can help make your retail experience more sustainable and engaging.