Volume 45, Issue 4 - April 2010


The Search
for Retail Excellence
Comparing Retail Experiences at Three Glass Shops in Richmond, Va.
by Megan Headley


On a drizzly day in March I made my way to Richmond, Va., to “secret shop” the customer service experience of five glass retailers specializing in similar products. Under the guise of looking for more information for a new shower door enclosure I was to rate the showroom displays, the customer service and the overall shopping experience that retail customers regularly receive in these facilities.

A quick glance below will show that there are only three glass shops profiled here. Of the five on my list, two had taken down their signs in a grim nod to the economy. The three remaining shops—identified here as A, B and C—provided some inspiration for this shower door seeker and some surprises as to what makes or breaks a glass retail experience.


Was the Website Informational?
Shop A: This sleek website answered all of my questions right away. It featured easy-to-navigate tabs directing visitors to learn more about the company’s products and services, photo galleries with striking examples of custom work and detailed direction to the location, in addition to a map. A

Shop B: This website, too, answered all of my questions right away, with information about its services on the homepage. Tabs at the top further broke down those services so that visitors could see specific images of previously installed shower door enclosures, mirrors, tabletops and commercial projects. The company’s quote form, a field present on every page in which potential customers could request an estimate or more information, stood out as a handy tool. A

Shop C: This website did answer my questions, with its images of shower enclosures that met my specific search posted on the landing page. The front page listed the most important information—contact information and the products and services offered. I also liked that the homepage focused on the fact that the shop’s “technicians are certified and trained with over eighty years of combined service.” B

Tip: Maybe you can’t control the fact that you’re in the last hidden building in the industrial park, but you can and should make it easy for potential customers to find you online. More and more of your potential customers are searching for their glass solutions online, and this is your first opportunity to show them that you have what they need. A website doesn’t have to be super-sleek and flashy—it just has to provide information on the products and/or services you offer and how to reach you for more information.

Was the Store Easy to Find?
Shop A: With directions from the website in hand, this glass shop was very easy to find. It was conveniently located right off the main road of this outskirt of Richmond, which seemed to feature a number of new retail and housing developments that would be needing glass. A

Shop B: Thanks to the large, easy-to-spot sign right out in front, this glass shop was very easy to find from the main road. A

Shop C: Though the logo was written large on its façade, I had to make a U-turn to spot it, hidden as it was by glass carriers. The sunken location might have benefited from a larger elevated sign. C

Tip: If you do find yourself hidden on or off the main road, make sure that you have either the consumer advertising or the necessary signage to help potential customers find your business.

Was the Parking Lot Clean?
Shop A: After several days of heavy rain this gravel lot did not make for a good first impression. I imagine I wasn’t the first person to track mud into the otherwise well-kept showroom. D

Shop B: The parking lot was neat and had plenty of spots for walk-ins to park, even with several large glass carriers out front. A

Shop C: This paved lot was cramped, crowded and confusing, with cars creating their own parking spaces. I wondered how the shop’s glass carrier would find a place to pull in. C

Tip: If you’re going to put the time and effort in creating a showroom for retail customers, or expect to have customers in your office for services such as automotive glass replacement, then make sure your parking lot reflects that retail experience. Did I mention two of these glass shops were within five miles of one another? Another consumer, upon finding a contractor-oriented lot, might have just kept on driving to the grade-A lot down the road.

Were the Windows Clean?
Shop A: It was a surprise to realize how much of a difference the clean windows made (perhaps because this was one of the first glass shops I have ever visited that had them). Though the building was small and the lot less than inviting, the small showroom seemed open and airy because of the large windows and spotless glass door. The first door I passed on my walk through the lot, leading to a fabrication area, featured an easy-to-spot sign that cautioned “employees only,” but a glimpse through the glass showed me an orderly area. B

Shop B: The windows seemed clean enough, and the heavy shades were open across the long length of windows, although the overall interior area felt dark to me. C

Shop C: These windows seemed a bit dingy from the exterior but clean enough once inside. The small sign on the door closest to the parking lot could have used a larger sign declaring “employees only.” A

Tip: After visiting three different glass shops I can tell you that having clean windows added to the atmosphere of a showroom. Windows are your products after all—show off those exterior windows and make your space inviting.

Were You Greeted Upon Entering?
Shop A: Two women sat typing in a designated reception area, and the man speaking with them immediately turned to greet me when I entered—although I never got a name, or a card. From the man’s quizzical look, I guessed they didn’t get many walk-ins, although he was friendly enough in my case. A

Shop B: As I entered I saw several people behind the reception counter, including two women typing that I took to be the receptionists. After gauging the group, I tried a tentative hello. The woman closest to the door waved me on to her partner, explaining her computer wasn’t working. A man standing behind the counter jumped in and asked what I needed, handing me a card, but was soon cut off by the receptionist who claimed my attention and banished him to the back office. She might have done better to let the guy talk. B

Shop C: Again, there were two receptionists sitting and typing, one of whom greeted me promptly and asked what she could do to help. When I explained that I was looking for more information on shower doors, I was asked to sit in the waiting area until the employee most knowledgeable on that subject was available. B

Tips: Whether you’re a customer service representative or an installer, if you’re behind the reception desk be sure to greet any walk-ins promptly and politely. Remember the old adage, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Was the Store Neat and Clear of Debris?
Shop A: The man who greeted me quickly apologized for the remodeling underway. As I glanced around I saw obvious evidence that the displays were not complete. Even so, the store itself, including the aisles and reception area, was neat and clean. B

Shop B: The store was very neat, with a few small window displays scattered in an orderly fashion around the floor. The reception desk was uncluttered with business cards readily available. B

Shop C: There was no showroom to speak of, just a waiting area, but it was well designed. The walls were decorated with a safety recognition notice from the Virginia Glass Association, PPG ProStar posters with images of windshield technicians, even a clock made to look like a small windshield. In other words, everything on the walls was glass- and business-related. The partition behind which the receptionists sat was one long mirror, a unique example of the shop’s work. A TV sat in one corner, surrounded by chairs. I also noticed, next to a box of glass samples, a tray of snacks that I assumed people waiting could purchase. It was a very simple but well thought out waiting area. B

Tips: Make sure your office and showroom space is clean and orderly. Even if work is being done to the space, make sure there are no tools or materials where a potential customer might trip. That customer may find your office’s lack of organization to be an indicator of your business’ lack of order.


Were the Employees Polite?
Shop A: All employees were neatly dressed, and the polite gentleman with whom I spoke was in khakis and a polo. When I explained that that I was looking for information and design ideas regarding shower doors, the guy excused himself and went to retrieve a few brochures and then returned to briefly answer my few questions. B

Shop B: All employees were neatly dressed and the receptionist with whom I spoke was very polite. B

Shop C: All employees were neatly dressed; Tim, with whom I spoke, wore a sweater and khakis and was very polite and patient throughout, as were the customer service representatives. A

Tip: Make sure your office staff reflects the professionalism of your business with appropriate dress and conduct.


Were the Displays Neat?
Shop A: Although it was stressed that these displays were being remodeled, what was already in place was striking. The tiny space displayed small samples of shower doors with gold and silver frames—one door in front of the other—as well as a shower door sample with only a silver header and footer and a final sample of a frameless door, highlighting the hardware. A blue glass bowl sink gave a nice indication of the “and more” in the shop’s name. Once completed, this showroom would earn an easy A. B

Shop B: I glanced at a few small window displays spread out around the office floor. However the dim lighting and layout wasn’t exactly conducive to browsing the displays. B

Shop C: Again, there weren’t really any displays in this shop. As I began to talk to the employees there, a gesture indicated that there was, in fact, a small 1- to 2-foot square sample of a shower door with an opaque glass and silver frame. It wasn’t much to help me in my quest for design ideas. Couple that with the lack of brochures and a photo-free website, and I found myself without any kind of indication of this company’s work. F

Tip: Don’t underestimate the usefulness of a brochure, especially if you don’t have the space available for a showroom. It’s a great idea to give your walk-ins something they can walk out with, something with your company name on it that they can sit on their kitchen counter as they mull over making the purchase. Ask your suppliers about any brochures that they can pass along to you, to pass along to customers.

Are the Employees Knowledgable?
Shop A: The person with whom I spoke provided me with brochures applicable to my search; one from Southeastern Aluminum Products Inc. featured several design ideas for pivot door systems, while the other was a glossy put together by Shop A featuring photographs of its impressive custom glass work. I was given a ranging estimate for the cost of installation and materials for a frameless shower door but no other details. B

Shop B: Sadly, this is where the first impression let me down. The customer service representatives pled ignorance on the topic of shower doors. I was given a card with the cell phone number for the residential door expert who was out on a job, and told all the help I needed was just a phone call away. The nice, big sign out front was a boon in pulling in potential passersby, and it was disappointing to be turned away without an estimate, without a brochure, without anyone trying to take my contact information and, essentially, no interest shown in securing that sale. D

Shop C: Tim answered my questions very thoroughly. After pulling out his binder on materials and pricing, Tim took my shower door size estimate, asked questions about the finish style and type of glass I wanted, and provided me with a breakdown of material and labor costs for both framed and frameless shower doors. A

Tip: Don’t let a walk-in customer leave without taking their contact information, especially if you’re referring them to someone else. If someone was interested enough to drop in, then you want to follow-up with a phone call or marketing piece in the mail down the road. It might not lead to a sale this minute, but you should work to cultivate that interest into a sale.

Tip: Don’t sell your products short. If your walk-in asks about a frameless enclosure, talk about how great the value of that product is, not just how expensive it is. There are in fact consumers out there looking to get a good deal on upgrading and/or remodeling their existing home in place of buying a new home and want you to show them the value of these popular options.


How Was the Store Experience?
Shop A: The open showroom and the sleek modern displays might have brought me back for more information once I had a concrete idea in mind of what I wanted for my shower enclosure. But while the half-finished displays said I was in the right place, the employees’ lack of interest in pushing the sale made me think that maybe their priorities were elsewhere. B

Shop B: If seriously shopping around I might have called the number I was given to get some more in-depth information about pricing and materials—for customers worried about cost, the name coupled with the store’s tidy interior might have been enough. But without so much as a photo of their work to go on I’m not sure I would have bothered to check back with this shop on a more custom install. C

Shop C: If I were going to purchase a shower door based on this trip, I probably would have bought it here. Despite the lack of displays or photos, which would have been a big help, the attentiveness of the employees here would have made the sale. A

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