Exterior services management can help your store pass the customer approval test.

Exterior services management can help your store pass the customer approval test.

Looks Are Everything

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Whether it’s an icy parking lot or gum on a shoe, never underestimate the power that exterior services has on the patronage of your retail store location. We know brand recognition and advertising play a large role in selling to the public, but there are many other factors that influence the shopping experience. The look and feel of a store holds the most power in enticing us through the doors. Many people tend to judge an initial store experience in visual terms – a store is vibrant, clean, well organized or, at the other end of the spectrum, dull, trashy and uninviting.

Most people in retail operations understand that merchants not only look at the inside of a store or complex, but are also concerned with consumers’ impression of the exterior. Retailers’ primary focus should be on improving a store’s exterior appearance because this will most likely require seasonal exterior services management (ESM) labor. The ESM market space includes, but is not limited to, exterior tasks such as – snow removal and ice control, green care, irrigation and parking lot maintenance.

It is no longer sufficient for a store to look good from only a merchandising or display standpoint. Retail stores can’t afford to spend large amounts of time or money on improving a store’s look without being assured of a healthy return on investment. Today, a store must constantly create and maintain new ways to convince the customer to buy, while, at the same time, assuring a healthy return on investment.

There are traditionally six merchandising components – the first three require ESM:

  • Imagery – what a customer sees first
  • Layout – landscaping, parking, greens, sidewalks, fences
  • Presentation – the type of exterior, such as class A or class B
  • Signage
  • Visual display
  • Event planning

Start With Store Image
As soon as a buyer engages a retail environment, the overall look and feel of a store includes a series of visual pictures and emotional hooks created by the buyer. For the retailer, creating a strong image provides the opportunity to claim a single message or position. This allows the store to stand out from the competition. Larger competitors, such as franchised retailers, have the advantage of branding and positioning from corporate headquarters. As a rule, image is the platform of all retailing actions. All six of the merchandising components can change to reflect a new look from week to week or season to season. However, they should not stray too far from the store image or merchandising rules. Be careful not to cloud the single message and confuse buyers with conflicting visual elements. Keep in mind that studies indicate a retailer has around 7 seconds to get the attention of a prospective buyer.

These elements combine to form a distinctive image that not only reaches out and captures the customer’s attention, but also makes a positive impression within the first precious few seconds.

The Customer’s Vantage Point
When creating your storefront imagery and other ESM tasks, consider the customer’s vantage point. Be objective and role-play as a buyer in order to recognize and understand the customer’s preoccupations – the speed at which they are driving or walking, the environmental conditions, how long it will take them to stop, etc. These variants are very important to the “curb appeal” equation. Far too often, plans that sound good on paper don’t do very well because they ignore the customer’s preoccupations or their vantage point. Many retailers take a head-on approach with storefront imagery. This tends to be less successful than simply paying attention to the traffic flow, which can be determined by the position of a parking lot, bus stop or some other transportation structure. Retail operations that maintain ESM can control curb appeal and use it as an exterior selling tool, as long as it is positioned properly in each unique environment.

Multiplying ESM Impressions
Developing a consistent ESM platform for the overall store image and message is vital, especially if you have more than one store. Customers should be able to recognize and identify with your store and its mental/visual message, whether it is in Toronto or Dallas. Even if your multiple locations differ in size, shape and design, you can create continuity of brand by having common curb appeal elements throughout the chain. Consider applying the same ESM trademarks to all of your locations, with common exterior elements applied to all of your stores. Whether it’s the greenest grass or the cleanest parking lot, make a difference that will stand out to your target audience.

Location, Location, Location
Consider where your retail facility is located and expect to cater to the seasonal environment. Even in colder regions, one can still find plants that show flowers during the fall months. Landscapers deliver tons of chrysanthemums, primrose, pansies and other colorful plants for the autumn months. If the stores are in Florida or California, people will expect vibrant green areas, planting beds, irrigation and storm damage control to be at peak performance. If the stores are in Michigan, patrons will expect flawless snow removal and ice control. Never underestimate the power of ESM and its link to perfect curb appeal.

The Fine Points of Curb Appeal
In light of our traditional merchandising elements, curb appeal is a powerful part of the buying equation. It is definitely worth the time, money and effort it requires.

Whether you manage one store or 2,000 stores, capturing curb appeal through ESM can make a huge difference in traffic and sales. Achieving a balance of expense and effort is often a significant challenge. Many large chain stores have a big advantage with brand equity and store identity. Needless to say, creating curb appeal can be expensive. However, ESM has enabled everyone to compete in the marketplace through methods of consolidation and by taking the guesswork out of managing individual contractors for various exterior services.

Sidebar:
DO YOU PASS THE CURB APPEAL TEST?

Lets take a short quiz together on the power of your current curb appeal. To begin, stand where your prospective buyer will see your store or facility for the first time. Look at it objectively, as if you are considering shopping at your store.

  • Does the store exterior look a little past its prime?
  • Do you see any signs of storm damage?
  • Are the green areas vibrant and neat?
  • Are the planting beds blooming?
  • Are the windows dingy?
  • Are there potholes in the parking lot?
  • Are the parking lot lines vibrant and fresh looking?
  • Are sidewalks clean and smooth?
  • Are fences damaged or missing paint?
  • Is snow removal and ice control maintained for safe passage?
  • Is the irrigation system working properly?
  • Is trash scattered across the parking lot or landscaping?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you lack curb appeal.