Your Shop’s First Impression

Simple steps to make an initial splash.

This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of THE SHOP Magazine.

Photos courtesy Prefix Corp.

Sorry, but looks matter. Yes, it may be a bit politically incorrect these days, but I am mostly referencing your business.

The reality is people do judge. When was the last time you made an assumption about someone or something? Our assumptions are made instinctively (within just a tenth of a second), whether correct or not.

So, it’s fair to say that first impressions matter.

Your challenge as an industry retailer is accepting the responsibilities that come with being judged and reacted to, with the overall goal of leaving a strong and positive first impression on your customers, vendors and the enthusiast community. It’s the first step to increasing sales and being successful.

Here are three areas of your business to focus on for immediate improvement:

  1. Business Exterior/Storefront

A potential customer will place some level of judgement on the first impression made by your business exterior.

Is your parking lot clear of trash and does it provide customers with easy parking options? What are people seeing through your windows? If there are vendor posters or promotional banners that have faded from the sun or are terribly outdated, remove them. Even cleaning the front door glass helps to ensure a positive impression.

Think about your sign. Does it clearly identify the services and products you sell? Why make people guess? If the business sells performance and race gear, it doesn’t help to have a sign that says, “ABC Automotive” when it could say, “ABC Race and Performance Products.”

Never assume that people will just “get it”—instead, provide them with a clear understanding of what you do. Make it easy.

Also, when was the last time you drove past your store? Unfortunately, many business owners only drive to and from the location, never taking time to consider what regular consumers see as they pass by the address.

Are there trees or shrubs that block the sign from one direction? Are all the sign letters lit at night?

If you were a potential customer, what would help you decide to stop in? Imagine if a few simple exterior improvements resulted in just a few more customers visiting your location each week.

Prefix Corp transmission work
Get together with your team and ask important questions about who you are and who your customers are.
  1. Inside the Store

When customers walk into the store, what do they see? They will naturally look around.

Make sure the most popular items are on display, in the categories that most customers will be interested in. Also make sure all the lights are working and any visible graphics, posters or literature are current and in good taste.

And, make sure it is clean! How can you promote quality work and taking care of customer vehicles if the first impression they get is of an unorganized, dirty and unkempt business?

Next, attire matters. This is a simple but often overlooked detail that can add to your professional presence and credibility. Having your entire team dressed the same in clothing items (shirts, jackets, hats, aprons, etc.) featuring your logo is an easy way to set yourself apart from the competition.

Even the verbal greeting you use to welcome customers is an important aspect of their first impression. I suggest that you settle on a consistent greeting and insist that everyone uses it. I prefer something simple like, “Welcome to (business name).”

  1. Social Media & Website

As a professional marketer, I am always torn regarding social media.

Part of me is disgusted with the negativity and harm it can cause people. Yet, it is also an important business tool that must be used properly in today’s world.

It is necessary to keep your brand in front of your target audience. Your brand is not your logo or your physical location—it is the emotions and/or feelings that customers get when they see your location, staff, vehicles and logo.

Prefix new showroom
How can you promote quality work and taking care of customer vehicles if the first impression they get is of an unorganized, dirty and unkempt business?

Developing a brand strategy for your organization takes a substantial amount of work and is much more involved than we have space for in this article. However, I encourage you to understand a few things about your brand before jumping into social media.

First, get together with your team and ask important questions about who you are and who your customers are. Where do they live? What type of music do they listen to? What do they do for fun? What type of occupations do they have?

True, these answers can be all over the map, but you should start to get a clearer idea of who you are selling to, and how they want to interact with you. Identifying your “business culture” is an important part of understanding how to communicate with and sell to more buyers.

Having a better idea of who you are speaking to, and how they want to be communicated with, also provides you with something of a social media road map as to what you should post, where you should post it, and how it should be presented. Make sure that the first impressions on social media are consistent with your brand image and speak in a way that your customers will enjoy.

Meanwhile, most of us still rely on a company’s website for information. Often, it will be the first impression for most of your customers. Therefore, don’t ignore it.

I suggest keeping the written text to a minimum while focusing on impactful images that appeal to your target market. Of course you should include detailed information about your hours, your address and easy ways to get in contact with you.

Maybe add a bullet point list of your services as well, or a FAQ (frequently asked questions) page where you can list the same queries that you’re typically asked by customers, with clear answers that emphasize why your shop is the best place for them to visit.

As parts and accessories retailers, we all need to take a regular look at every first point of contact (website, social media, physical location and staff). Train your team on how to greet and interact with customers, and make sure cleanliness and organization are top priorities.

Paying close attention to these items will ensure that you are on your way to creating the best possible first impression.

Prefix Corp
Work to create the best possible first impression.

Jhan R. Dolphin

Jhan R. Dolphin is president of J Robert Marketing, a full-service agency specializing in unique and innovative marketing programs for the automotive, outdoor/adventure, and sports & fitness industries. He regularly speaks to industry groups about business related topics. He can be reached at dolphin@jrobertmarketing.com

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