Volume 46, Issue 1 - January/February 2011


First Impressions
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Shower Enclosure Shopping
by Ellen Rogers

In business, we’ve all heard that we shouldn’t dress for the job that we have, but for the job that we want. The same could be said for a glass shop’s appearance: don’t have a showroom for where you are today, but give the shop a showroom that reflects where you want to be. Even if you’re a small operation, there’s no reason not to have an upscale, professional look.

After all, there are no second chances when it comes to first impressions.

First impressions can be a make-it or break-it deal. I learned this firsthand when I set out on a secret shopper excursion in Canton, Ohio, one sunny afternoon. My mission: to get information and pricing for a frameless shower enclosure. This was exciting for me, given my new house was under construction at the time. And yes, the master bath plans call for a frameless, heavy glass enclosure so I was ready to learn as much as I could, both as a journalist and as a potential customer.

Shop A

Was the website informational? Other than providing me with a list of the company’s services along with an address and phone number, the website—which was almost entirely black and white except for a whip of red in the logo—was of little help and in serious need of a re-design. There were no pictures to illustrate the breadth of the company’s work; no testimonials from customers; no extra information other than listing the names of a couple suppliers. There were, however, four links at the top: Home; Contact Us (which brought up a simple information request page); Links (which brought up a “page not found” site); and Coupon, for 10 percent off certain orders. Grade: D

Was the store easy to find? Indeed, I had no trouble at all finding this location. Having plugged the address into my GPS, the directions brought me right to the shop’s front door without any trouble. Grade: A

Was the parking lot clean?
If what constitutes clean is that there was no garbage, trash or debris around, then yes, it was clean. However, the area was not much of a parking lot. The space was gravelly and even grassy in spots and there were no real designated parking spaces, which could have been a distraction for those people who are particular about their vehicles. Grade: C

Were the windows clean? The shop itself was a single-story, white, garage-type of building, and the windows were certainly no show-stopper either. They looked dusty and grimy and were also speckled with paint splatters. For some buyers this may be a deterrent. Will the employees care for my windows (shower door, mirror, etc.) the same way they’ve cared for their own windows? Grade: D

Were you greeted upon entry? I was not only greeted upon entry, I was greeted at my car. The husband and wife ownership team rushed out to greet me when they saw me take a picture of the shop; I explained that it simply was a way to help me remember where I’d been; an answer with which they were pleased. The male owner even noted that he, too, did that sometimes. Once inside, they were very happy to help me with me search for a shower door. Grade: A

Was the store neat and clear of debris? Absolutely not. This shop looked like nothing but debris. It was dusty and dingy and crowded and cluttered with window frames and others materials. Fearing that I might walk into some protrusion, I had to pay close attention to every step as we walked toward a worktable to lay out the house plans for review. Clearly, this is a shop that does not cater to walk-ins. Grade: D

Were the employees polite? Here I spoke primarily with the shop owner and he was very polite and helpful. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he welcomed me inside, ready and willing to work with me and answer all of my questions in a professional manner. Grade: A

Were the displays neat? If there were any displays to be seen they were tucked away out of view. There were no examples or show pieces anywhere—not even brochures or literature—leaving the customer with little, if anything, to judge the potential of the shop’s work. Grade: F

Were the employees knowledgeable? What this shop lacked in appearance and displays its owner made up for in product knowledge. He spent a good half hour reviewing the house plans, specifically those for the master bath and the shower enclosure. He talked about the size and type of glass, hardware, tiling for the walls, explaining that all need to be taken into account when building the enclosure. Grade: A

How was the store experience? The experience was okay, especially given how polite and helpful the employees were. The owner was clearly knowledgeable about shower enclosures and was eager to help. While he did not give me a price quote that day, he said he would call with one. However, more than a week later, I’ve yet to hear anything from him. Perhaps follow-up is an area in which he needs to focus a bit more. As far as the shop itself, a fresh coat of paint on the exterior, a good window cleaning and some cleaning up of the interior would make for good investments, along with some literature stands and even a display piece or two. Grade: D

Average Grade: B-

Shop B

Was the website informational?
Though the design was simple, this site was much more helpful than that of the first shop. On the home page it asked the question: “How can we help?” The answers it provided below were extensive. Right away, I saw they could help with my shower enclosure search. On the left side of the site there was a list of all the company’s services, with shower doors at the top. I clicked the link and found information about the available products and services, along with a photo gallery of project examples. The company’s address and phone numbers in the top right corner were easy to find. Grade: A

Was the store easy to find? While my GPS guided me easily to the location, the shop was not an obvious find, causing me to have to turn around in the parking lot next door. Instead of facing the road, the shop’s entrance is on the side. Had I had been driving from the opposite direction toward the front I would have been more likely to see the entrance right away. Grade: B

Was the parking lot clean? This lot was neat and tidy with plenty of space for customers. Even with the trucks and carriers, visitors had easy access to plenty of parking. Grade: A

Were the windows clean? The windows here were neat and tidy and while there was some signage, it was not so much that it made for a cluttered appearance. Though the exterior as a whole was a simple brick façade, the glass entranceway was well taken care of and inviting. Grade: A

Were you greeted upon entry? The moment I walked in I was greeted with a cheery “Hello!” With so many bright, attractive shower displays it took a moment for me to locate the front desk and the woman working there who had sent out the welcome. Grade: A

Was the store neat and clear of debris? Hands down, this shop was the cleanest, most attractive and most inviting of the lot. There was plenty of floor space to navigate through and around the displays, and it was easy to find brochures or flyers for additional product information. There was also a nice little waiting area that was also well kept, open and airy, thanks to the abundance of natural light. Grade: A

Were the employees polite?
The woman with whom I spoke was dressed professionally in a navy pants suit and took the time to walk me through a few different displays and talk to me about my different options, from glass to hardware. Grade: A

Were the displays neat? Though all three companies touted that they handle shower doors, this was the only one with a showroom—a showroom filled with an assortment of shiny, shower door displays. There was enough variety and styles that any customer could certainly find something that would meet their individual needs. In addition to the shower displays, there were also displays with different types of glass, hardware and finishes. Grade: A+

Were the employees knowledgeable? After showing a store employee the designs for my bathroom, she took me over to a display of frameless enclosures and talked a bit about the differences in going with stock material versus a custom enclosure. She also showed me options for glass (clear or patterned) as well as different hardware styles and finishes. In addition, she even talked to me about other upgrade options, such as easy-to-clean glass. Grade: A

How was the store experience? Overall, I would say this shop was the most professional and shopper-friendly of the three. I loved seeing all the different displays and the saleswoman with whom I spoke was helpful and informative. I left the shop with two price quotes in hand, one for clear glass and one for clear glass with the easy-to-clean coating. The shop could have used a large road-side sign to alert customers approaching from either the front or rear of its location. Still, the experience was well worth the trip. Grade: A

Average Grade: A

Shop C

Was the website informational?
This shop, which I found through a Google search, was without a website. Grade: N/A

Was the store easy to find? Again, my trusty GPS brought me right to this shop, where a large sign out front let me know I had reached my destination. Grade: A

Was the parking lot clean? While the lot was small and situated along the side of the building, it was still very neat. However, depending on the number of carriers and trucks, the space could definitely be limited on a busy shopping day. Grade: B

Were the windows clean? Given the location of the front door and parking lot, no windows were in view from the entrance. Once inside I could see that there were windows on the side opposite of the door, though they seemed to bring little light to the interior. Based on where I was standing, the windows seemed relatively clean. Grade: B

Were you greeted upon entry? There was no one working up front and no one greeted me. I stood for a moment looking around, and then glanced through an open door into the fabrication shop where I saw a gentleman working. From back in the shop he called out “Can I help you?” I responded that I was interested in quotes for a shower enclosure. He said that the person I really needed to speak with was out and he would take my name and number. Grade: B-

Was the store neat and clear of debris? Again, there was no showroom; just a reception counter. The area behind the front desk was cluttered with supplier books and manuals, and the desk was stacked high with papers and folders. I had to wonder how anyone was able to get anything done as it seemed without any order. Grade: C

Were the employees polite? To start off, the gentleman in the back was not particularly welcoming at first. After taking a moment to listen to my request he opened up a bit, going so far as to tell me which shower door manufacturers he felt were supreme, and that if I went the route of buying one from a big box store I’d most likely be dissatisfied with the results. Moments later, the owner arrived and greeted me with a friendly welcome. He was polite and helpful and also spent a good bit of time talking with me about my options. Grade: B+

Were the displays neat? Although without displays, the employees did pull out a few design catalogs to show me some different enclosure selections. When I explained I was in the market for a frameless enclosure, the first gentleman told me he’d just finished work on such a door, that it was still in the shop and I could take a look at it, if I’d like. Though not a true display, his offer to provide an example of the company’s work was a helpful alternative. Grade: C

Were the employees knowledgeable? The store owner was able to provide a good amount of information and suggestions for building the enclosure. He, too, talked about my different options, including an upgrade to an easy-to-clean glass, and even brought out a few hardware samples to show me different sizes and finishes. Grade: A

How was the store experience? There is a lot to be said for helpfulness, knowledge and follow-up. I was impressed with how this owner showed me different hardware options, talked about different glass choices and then called me a few days later with the quotes (one for clear glass and one for easy-to-clean glass). While the interior was lacking in showroom appeal, the employees took the time to show me catalogs and samples to give me a sense of what to expect. My one big advice tip for this shop: get a website. It’s amazing that a business in this day and age can survive without one. Grade: B

Average Grade: B

Ellen Rogers
is a contributing editor of USGlass magazine.

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