Originally Published in the May 1990 issue of The Outfitter Magazine.
Knowing the image of your business is important. You need to recognize how people view your outlet, products, prices and quality.
However, what you think is less important than what your customers think. Their impression of your quality or prices could be quite different from yours. If so, problems can arise.
A number of elements go into forming your company’s image. You can define and plan for the kind of image you want your customers to get from doing business with you.
If you meet with customers or clients daily, the image of your business begins with you. If they are people like you, they will be more inclined to develop a favourable impression of the business. Your approach to service and helping people goes a long way to keeping customers coming back.
Image is also reflected by the employees or salespeople who deal directly with customers. This is particularly true for restaurants and retail outlets. A negative impression is formed if the level of the store’s people is either considerably above or below that of most of its customers. Whether a store appeals primarily to a “white collar”, “blue collar”, or “pink collar” market, salespeople should dress and speak in a way that makes customers feel comfortable.
Your employee’s brief sales conversations will help create the impressions customers get about your business. They may be seen as friendly and helpful or pushy and disinterested. If customers feel that they must break up discussion between two clerks to ask for help, then their impression of the business will be tainted.
You must decide what customers like and dislike - the image that staff should project. Consider dress, speech, poise and general appearance. Discuss this with employees to make sure they understand why image is so important. Talk about the activities that go into creating a positive image. Listen for their impressions of customer needs. What product training would help them to understand and to sell products better? Deal with any issues that employees face on the sales floor.
Another major factor is your pricing policy. Your pricing policy must be consistent with the elements that go into creating an image - advertising, selection, layout, location, appearance, etc.
Customer’s often make up their minds about a store’s prices from its advertising, displays, merchandising practices and location. They may rely on their impression of the store’s pricing policy, not on actual experience. To ensure that your outlet fits its image, consider these questions:
What prices do your customers expect to pay?
Do your customers consider price as important as quality, convenience, dependability and selection?
The key is knowing the preferences of your customers. Ask them what they think about your store; why they prefer it to others. These answers should tip you off to the bright spots in marketing effort. Customers also answer in sales. Why do they buy? What don’t they buy? Get your staff involved with the process. Encourage them to talk to customers and pass along the comments they hear.
More valuable is information from non-customers, but finding this is difficult. Your staff may be able to help by asking their friends about the image of the store. A more reliable approach involves market research.
Step back to consider your image as part of a regular planning process. You must be in tune with the market and all of its many changes. If not, you could be left with full shelves and few customers.
The image of your business is created by a few often, unrelated factors. Someone can have an image of your store without ever shopping there. By knowing your image, you can take steps to alter a product line or change the theme in local ads to address problems and promote your good points.
Creating an image is hard enough. Altering it may be even harder. By answering the following questions, you may find that changes in your approach to advertising, the look of the store or restaurant, the products you offer, or your approach to service are needed:
What image does the store now have?
What image would best serve the market?
What changes can be made to improve image?
You may need outside help to get an objective view of your business and how it appeals to your customers. You can find some of the answers just by asking employees, customers and your peers. Review these questions as part of your regular planning process.
They will help you to keep abreast of the changes happening in your market - and keep customers satisfied.