...from the desk of       Elly Valas
Issue: 07-03   Date March, 2007

Elly Valas

Biz News You Can Use

Closing Time

It was closing day and I couldn’t pass up one more day of skiing at Copper Mountain Sunday.  It was a beautiful spring day.  Sunny and warm.  The drive up was easy—it seemed as if most folks had moved on to lawn work, golf or biking.  Besides, despite what the calendar had said, it had been snowing in the Colorado mountains for most of the past week.

As we got to the chair lift at the bottom, a large easel board listed areas of the resort that were closed.  More than half of the mountain had been shut down.  That’s not uncommon late in the season when warm temperatures and melting leaves some runs more rocky than snow covered, but there had been over a foot of snow in the past few days.  Cool temperatures had slowed spring melting so the entire area was still very accessible.

Why was so much of the area now closed when the ski conditions were as good as or better than they’d been through much of the season?

It seems that even though the closing date had been announced since opening day in November, the management didn’t keep enough mountain staff around to safely open the entire mountain.  After spring break, I was told, there are too few skiers to keep the area profitable so the management reduces staffing to eliminate some overhead.  Without people to man the lifts, groom the slopes and patrol the runs, it’s impossible to keep the whole area open. So even though the area had record crowds for April, only 53% of the terrain was open to giddy spring skiers.

What really happened was that big business—Copper Mountain is owned by Intrawest Mountain Resorts—considered its bottom line more important than the kind of customer experience it provided.  A bad move for them to make during the same time they’re trying to get me to renew my season pass for next year.

In contrast, I’ll never forget my first experience shopping at Nordstrom.  I ran into the store ten minutes before closing and headed straight to the renowned shoe department.   I saw a couple of pairs that looked like they’d be my style and asked the associate to get them in my size.  I apologized for dashing in so close to closing and promised to quickly make a decision.

The associate assured me that she was in no hurry to leave and was happy to help me.  She returned a few minutes later with more than ten pairs of shoes for me to try on.  She continued to smile as I asked for different sizes, other colors and styles.

When I left nearly an hour later, I realized I’d heard no announcement asking customers to complete their purchases and no closing bell.  My sales associate was engaged and enthusiastic even though I left her with a pile of boxes that needed to be re-stocked before she could go home.

As a life-long retailer, I know how tired a crew can get at the end of a promotion, on the 24th of December or even at the end of a busy day.  But I can’t imagine an appliance store closing its laundry department or a quilt store closing its notions department because they didn’t schedule enough associates to keep them open.

In my mind, store hours are black and white.  There’s no half open or partly closed. Customers expect to receive competent, polite, knowledgeable and gracious service at 9 in the morning and at 9 in the evening.

Customers who arrive early don’t want to find staff members turning on the lights, counting yesterday’s receipts and vacuuming the carpet.  They want to feel like the people in the store have been waiting eagerly to greet them and that the only reason those associates came to work was to help them with their purchases. 

And they don’t want to stand by the front door watching associates drinking coffee and talking about the ball game.  Exceed their expectations and open the door as soon as the first customer pulls into the parking lot.

Treat the last customer like he’s the one you’ve been waiting for the entire day.  Imagine that last one as helping you to go over budget or giving you the biggest sale of the day.  Assume that she’s excited to come in and that you want to give her a party just for showing up.  Don’t turn out the lights or turn off the music until every customer has comfortably finished their purchases.  Don’t act like you’re in a hurry—even if you are.

Much of retail is about attitude.  Convey that you’re a winner and you’ll win.  Let every customer from the first to the last of the day feel important.  Be like a race horse waiting for the starting bell. 

Sure, I’ll be skiing when the snow flies again next season.  And I’ll probably even go back to Copper.  But will I buy a season pass? Maybe not.

Business Trends Poll (07-04 ):

What are your store hours?

1) Open every night after 5 pm
2) Open 1 night after 5 pm
3) Open 2 – 3 nights after 5 pm
4) Open weeknights after 5 pm

View this month's and previous month's Trends Poll Results

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