It’s a dark evening, and your potential customer is driving through a drab neighborhood that just might be your own. She needs fuel or a cup of coffee, and she’s looking for a clean, bright place to stop, a shop that’s safe and inviting. Your convenience store can be the island she’s looking for.
Even if your surroundings aren’t quite as spiffy as you’d like, you can create a welcoming atmosphere that will bring in customers and help your business thrive. If your store is a welcoming oasis, then customers will enjoy going there – and spending their money there.
Here are some ways to make your store more inviting, inside and out:
1. Do easy maintenance. Are your signs and facade in good condition? Do you need to pick up trash in the lot or empty the garbage cans? Are the pumps clean? How about the bathrooms? Are the window washer bins full? Are your lights all functional? Are the corridors cluttered with boxes? Do you need to pull weeds out of your sidewalk? Addressing these considerations can add up to a better experience for your customers, who will keep coming back to a store that creates and maintains a clean, helpful atmosphere.
2. Add color. Towns and cities tend to have a gray palette based on concrete. Consider adding color to the outside of your store that fits with your branding and your neighborhood (and local laws). Fresh paint will give your property a bright, attractive energy. Inside the store, use neutral colors as your main colors with bold colors as accents so you don’t distract customers from the merchandise. Check out your local Sherwin Williams for some great color choices. They also carry the branded station colors.
3. Add plants. Trees, flower-filled window boxes and planters soften the look of your space and give it life. Large planters can be used instead of ugly barriers. Studies show that plants lower stress, increase positive outlooks and even make people more effective at their jobs — so your employees will benefit, too. Most plants can be purchased at your local plant nursery, or even Lowe’s or Home Depot Gardening Centers.
4. Light it well. Bright lights help improve the safety and look of your property and make it a more comfortable place for people to stop after dark. LED lighting has become a staple at most gas stations, with CREE or LSI brand lights having the most impact on the overall look. There are also significant savings when upgrading to LED lighting.
5. Open up your entrance. Don’t crowd consumers with a lot of merchandise and signs as they walk into the door. Retail experts Kizer and Bender say customers will miss items you place right by the door as they walk into your space and transition to shopping. The “Decompression Zone” consists of the first 5 to 15 feet inside the door. That said, outside this zone, they should see merchandise around them, especially to the right (where they generally turn first). That’s not the place to put your checkout counter.
6. Have a place to sit down. A couple of tables where customers can drink their coffee or check their email — or where folks can wait for their companions to use the bathroom, shop or get a snack — will enhance your customer experience. According to retail guru Paco Underhill, “In the majority of stores throughout the world, sales would instantly be increased by the addition of a chair.”
7. Loosen up your aisles. Underhill also talks about the “butt-brush effect.” Customers who feel they must compete for space in a narrow aisle (to the point of “brushing butts”) will stop shopping there.
8. Play music. Upbeat music — licensed, of course — can add to the happy atmosphere of your oasis and make shopping a more pleasant experience. But don’t blast your customers out of the parking lot with excessive volume.
9. Provide extras. Wi-fi Internet connectivity is a big draw for travelers. Offer something free with a gas tank fill-up (coffee? a cookie?). Offer specials through social media, and make sure customers know where to find you on Facebook and Twitter.
10. Be friendly. Just saying hello to customers can make your urban oasis all that more comfortable. And being friendly is free!
As one store owner pointed out to us, no matter what neighborhood you’re from, “Everybody likes nice things.” Make your store one of them.