By Paul Reed
It always surprises me how many auto parts stores I see that have very plain-looking storefronts. Sure, you’re not exactly selling fashionable clothes or fancy sports gear. But having an attractive storefront is just as important as it is for any other retailer – and in many ways, it can actually produce similar returns.
Your storefront basically represents you to the world at large. A storefront that is clean, well designed, well lit and attractive says that you are a professional, and you care about running a quality business. It gives the customer confidence that you believe in your products and your company, and you know what you are doing. And like all first impressions, it can be very powerful.
Take Care of the Basics First
Let’s start with the basics. Take a look at the exterior of your store as a whole. It should be clean and spotless, with windows washed regularly, woodwork and trim hosed down and walls free of dirt and dust. (This could be a job you might delegate to a junior employee.) Any damage, like crumbling stucco or spalling concrete, should be repaired. Repaint the store exterior regularly (or wood trim if it’s a brick building).
The parking lot is an important part of your exterior presentation as well. Divider lines should be freshly painted and easy to see. Make sure the lot is safe and easy to navigate in, and there’s enough room for cars to back out without fear of hitting each other (or a pedestrian). Keep it well maintained and promptly repair any potholes. Plow as soon as possible after a snowfall, and keep walkways shovelled and ice-free.
I tell my clients, the customer made the effort to find you; the least you can do in return is to have a sign that’s not only big and easy to identify, but welcoming and professional-looking. The best signs nowadays are large, brightly lit with LED lighting, and clearly display your name and brand. Depending on the nature of your location, having a second large sign at the entrance to your driveway points out to people where to turn into your lot.
A good sign doesn’t just say your company name and perhaps your address. Consider adding bullet points listing what you carry – e.g., auto parts, industrial/commercial, marine, farm etc. (In a rural area, for example, they may not even know you carry farm parts unless you advertise it on your signage.)
You might also, if there’s room, add one or two major brands you represent. If you’re an authorized ACDelco dealer, for example, say so! It instinctively inspires confidence that if the ACDelco company thought you were trustworthy enough to represent their brand, the customer can trust you too. Also, even if your company name is unfamiliar, having a familiar brand on your signage automatically makes you seem more familiar too.
Store Windows and Displays
How elaborate to make your window displays depends on a number of factors, but it is well worth devoting some time to making them eye-catching and informative.
If you have a standard front display window that’s large enough to create standalone displays, this is an excellent way to promote specials, large visually imposing items such as compressors or small motors, or even seasonal displays or auto-themed vignettes. Just because auto parts aren’t necessarily as visually attractive as some other retail products doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun and dress up a display. Add props or plywood boxes of different heights, painted in the company colours, to use as simple display risers.
Other Types of Displays
Even if you don’t have a traditional front window, there are other ways to draw attention to your store. We designed a store in Vaughan, Ontario, not long ago where the entrance was down a few steps from street level. There was large metal shelving along the wall where the new entrance was going to be installed. Instead of tearing down all the metal shelving, I decided that we would simply open a space in the shelving to install the new entrance. We then painted the remaining metal shelves in a bright colour and used it as our main display area for the front of the store. The metal railing above and around the stairs leading down to the entrance were painted in similar eye-catching colours, and the area in front of them was used to display large items such as snow plow equipment. The display was changed regularly and worked as a great calling card for the company, which was otherwise a bit hidden from view.
In a smaller store, you might have one or two front windows, but no room behind them for displays. In that case, the aisles or even shelves nearest the windows can be merchandised to attract the view of passersby. Rearrange the shelves or side of a gondola facing the window to create a visual effect: neat rows of products with identical packaging, perhaps, or a selection of products grouped in a single category – anything that creates a visual “story” can be very effective.
Your storefront is really the face your company presents to the world at large. Especially these days, it can make a strong statement – good or bad – about how your business operates. And I’ll bet there aren’t a lot of areas in your store that, for what often amounts to a relatively modest investment of time and money, can produce as good a return.