It all starts and ends at the sales counter
The main premise of this column, Counter Intelligence, is that the sales counter is the most important place in a tire and service store.
We started with the idea that if it doesn’t happen at the counter, it doesn’t happen. We’ve looked at the activities at the sales counter from professionalism, customer service, sales skills, presentation skills and listening skills to product knowledge, etc. We’ve discussed the impact of competition and Internet pricing on the sales counter staff.
In addition to being cognizant of all the personal interaction and communication that takes place at the sales counter, it’s important to recognize that it is a place. It’s the most important piece of real estate inside the store. Every visit, every customer, every sale runs through the sales counter. In a retail tire and service store, it all starts and ends at the counter.
The physical space
I’d like to discuss the physical place (aka the physical space) where all the action happens. We generate work orders from the sales counter, and in a well-run store, nothing happens without a work order. No vehicle gets looked at, inspected, or finds its way into a service bay and onto a lift without a work order.
It all starts at the sales counter. As we all know, a good first impression is important. What does your sales counter look and feel like to a customer?
Most sales counters are much defined; one side (the inside) is for employees, and the other side, or outside, is for customers. Customers just walk to the front of the counter without being told, and they don’t need a sign, they understand the space. Many are aware of the look and feel of the area. The customer notices if the area is orderly or in disarray; they notice if it’s clean or could use a shot of 409.
It’s interesting to watch customers when they are in the counter zone. If every customer starts out and ends up at the sales counter, if it’s the prime piece of real estate, doesn’t it make sense to make customers as comfortable as possible? It stands to reason that a comfortable customer will feel more cared for versus an uncomfortable customer.
I’ve noticed that many sales counters have stools for the employees to sit on, yet customers are required to stand. I’ve noticed sales counters where most of the counter surface space is taken up by the tools that employees need to do their jobs, such as computer monitors, keyboards, printers, work-order holders, etc., with very little space left for consumers.
It’s as though the counter was designed for the store personnel, and customers were an afterthought. The question is, of course, is your sales counter customer friendly?
I was in an auto dealership a few days ago, and I always take a moment to check out the accommodations in the showroom and service department waiting area. These areas have historically been accommodating, but it’s getting ridiculous; high-end coffee machines, quality vending machines, full-on leather seating, giant oversized TVs. The sales counter in the service/parts department was complete with soft lighting, real plants, and a small shelf on the front of the counter for a customer to rest their purse or backpack while retrieving a wallet, credit card or checkbook. Of course, there were clean floor mats in front of the counter with the brand logo on them. Did I mention free WiFi? Oh, and the smell; I couldn’t see the air-freshener, but wow. The look and feel was superior to most tire stores.
Building a better experience
Meanwhile, back at the tire store, we forgot, or perhaps never considered, the impact of the space we have provided for the customer. In the coming articles, I’m going to make some solid suggestions for improving the sales counter, making it a more pleasant space for both sides of the counter. I’m going to borrow some ideas from a few retailers that execute skillfully thought-out counter experiences.
As an example, Starbucks moves many people in and out of their locations, and they all start at the counter and move to another counter. While at the first counter area in Starbucks, there are lots and lots of items properly merchandised: gift cards, music, etc., etc. You can’t see the back of the computer/register because it is hidden with a well-executed merchandising plan. On the other hand, at the tire store, there is an $80 tire-rebate advertising card taped to the back of the monitor right above where the cables lay on the surface space.
As retailers, we actually compete at some level with all other retailers when it comes to the look and feel at the sales counter.
We can do better, and better is better for everyone. Let’s be better. ■
Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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