Let’s consider the first impression your shop gives customers, and what you can do to improve it 

Mark Lauzon 

Special Contributor

imagineOver the last ten years I have visited hundreds of stone shops. These days, mostly I am calling on customers for Sasso, attending SFA workshops, visiting friends or working as a professional consultant. I thought I’d write an article based on a class that I presented at the Stone Fabricators Alliance MegaWorkshop at TISE West, earlier this year. It was called ShopHack. The purpose of the class was to encourage shop owners to catalog a list of deficiencies and work on one item per week. Just one. At the end of the year you will wind up with a better company and help foster an environment of constant improvement and change that will add profit to your bottom line. 

Let’s start with the basics. This article will focus on what your customer experiences when they do business with you. I would encourage you to ask yourself a simple question: “Is this the best we can do?”  If the answer is no… then fix it, one small item at time. 

Let’s get into it!

It’s 9 a.m. and I just landed in Anytown, USA. I picked up my rental car to go visit a stone shop. I go to the web and do a quick search for the company’s website. It’s not coming up in organic search. Finally, I find it on Google Maps. Awesome! I set the GPS and head out. Twenty minutes later, I arrive at the location. The building is a crossfit gym! The shop moved last year and never updated Google. Imagine if I were a customer…

ShopHack Item One 

 Do you have a website? Does it create a great first impression? Can people find you when they search for you? Is the location information accurate on Google and Apple Maps? While this seems obvious, it actually happens: shops relocate and don’t update the info on the web, or sometimes it’s just wrong. You should regu;arly check and update Google, Apple Maps, Linkedin, Facebook, Yelp and any other social sites your customers might use to find you. 

I pick up the phone, call the shop owner and it goes to voice mail. I call the office number, get the new address and drive another 20 minutes to arrive at the address they gave me. It’s in an industrial park. Where is the sign? Which unit? Why don’t they put out a sandwich board? Imagine if I were a customer…

ShopHack Item Two 

Once a customer navigates to the shop location, is there adequate professional signage directing the customer where to go, and where to park?

I drive around a corner and see a pile of remnants leaning against a wall, a few slabs on an A-frame. That must be it. I can’t figure out where I should park and pull into a random spot. Those remnants look like a circus balancing act (complete with clowns). Slurry runs out into the street from under a garage door. The front is a funky mess, and I now see a small sign on an A-frame. Imagine if I were a customer…

ShopHack Item Three

 Clean and organize the front of your building. Like the website, the customer-facing part of your business creates an important first impression. This impacts the amount of money you can charge for your work, and it also sets a tone with your employees about what you, as the owner, think about your business and their place of employment. Does the showroom door have hours posted? Is there a number a customer can call if they show up and nobody is there? The details matter.

I open the front door and am greeted by a nice young lady buried behind a haphazard pile of paperwork. It looks like somebody wrapped a hand grenade in yellow sticky notes and exploded it on her desk. The displays and all flat surfaces are dusty. The floor has grey slurry footprints. A random sink sits in a corner and a stick template leans against a wall.  While small, the showroom looked nice… at some point. Just not today. The overall impression is disorganization and a lack of attention to detail. Imagine if I were a customer…

ShopHack Item Four 

Clean and dust your showroom on a daily basis. Clear all flat surfaces of paper. Those loose papers, contracts, deposit slips, work orders, sink specs, hand drawings, et cetera are critical items and should be treated as such and stored in appropriate ways. Some of those docs have information that your customers might not want others to see. I ask to see the shop owner and discover he is out templating and is running a little late. Weird. He asked me to be there at 10 a.m. Imagine if I were a customer…

ShopHack Item Five 

Do you find yourself always running late for appointments? Do your customers gripe about templaters and installers showing up late? Time management is a critical part of your customer’s experience. Learn to use available systems (free or professional software) to manage your time. If you are going to be late, call and let the customer know as soon as possible. It’s basic courtesy!

I say, “No worries. Where is the restroom?” She points me down a small, dark hallway.

I open the door. The sink is filthy. There are urine drippings on the toilet rim and a bare scrap of toilet paper hanging on the roll! Imagine if I were a customer…

ShopHack Item Six 

I can’t emphasize how important this next one is. Visitors can handle clutter and disorganization (it might even remind them of their own office space). But ask them to use a filthy restroom? Like McDonald’s, having a daily cleaning schedule and clean restrooms are important. It seems obvious, and I hope this does not apply to you. If it does, fix this first, please. I’m just saying…

I’m bored now. I’d examine the displays again but the place is cluttered and distracting. The shop owner is still running late. I look at his business card. I notice the logo does not really match the sign out front. Then I ask the nice girl drowning in paper if she has a brochure. She shakes her head but hands me a postcard. “We had these made awhile back,” she says.

I look at it. The fonts don’t match the business card either. I ask her to show me the website (which I could not find earlier). She pulls it up, and it looks nothing like the business card. It was quite obviously built in flash at least eight years ago, which explains why it’s not popping up in Google search. The site is small. The look and feel does not match the sign or the business cards. Imagine if I were a customer…

ShopHack Item Seven 

Coherent branding is important. It instills a sense of organization and purpose. It’s professional and what we, as customers, have come to expect. Look at all your documents, website, business cards, signage on building and vehicles, company shirts, and anything else that you brand with your name. Do they look and feel the same? Are they coherent? 

So I ask the front desk person if I can go in the back and check out the shop. I walk down the hall past the funky restroom and check out the workspace. Dust. Slurry. Paper coffee cups overflowing from an over-stuffed trash can float in a puddle. 

To my surprise, I look to my left and see a safety board. I look closer, and notice the earplug box is empty. The only thing in the first aid kit is a pair of tweezers, some random Band-Aids and a half-empty bottle of Pepto Bismol. Every corner and nook of the shop has a chunk of useless stone and random junk scattered about. Imagine if I were a customer…

ShopHack Item Eight 

Like cleaning the showroom, bathroom, installation vehicles, et cetera, how you maintain your workspace is a direct reflection on your business. It sends a powerful message to your customers and employees. I often encourage shop owners to clean the shop. In my opinion, a dirty, disorganized shop is as bad, if not worse, than a dirty bathroom. Your workers don’t spend their entire day in the restroom. Employees are more productive and product quality improves in a neat, organized workspace. Productivity and quality affect your bottom line.

Hopefully, not every one of these scenarios apply to you and your business. It is a mash-up of things I’ve seen, all around the country, over and over again. Even if all those situations resemble your own shop, don’t despair.

Make a list. Prioritize it, and get busy. If you focus on one or two items a week, you could square these problems away in short order. When I ask shop owners why things are such a mess, or why they haven’t bought company shirts for their guys, or whatever, the answer is almost always, “We are so busy… I just don’t have time.” 

— Well, your competitors do! 

Think on that, and get started brushing up your image.

Next month, we will touch on situations involving production. From the initial contract to the final sign off, and many of the steps in between, there’s always room for improvement.  As a former fabricator, I would like to encourage you to join the SFA and visit and participate in the online discussions. This article is just a small example of the ideas, methods and business practices our members share with each other on a regular basis. If you go to my website at www.marklauzon.com there is a download button on the bottom, right hand corner of the page. Download the checklist I made for the class. It covers about sixty specific items similar to the ones listed above. Let’s get busy!

When Mark is not selling Sasso Five Axis Saws, CNCs and inline machines, he stays busy doing marketing and production consulting for stone shops.