Where are Your Customers Going?

Retailers put their restroom design and cleanliness on display to draw traffic

YORK, Pa. -- Scott Hartman is a big believer that a clean restroom is more likely to be kept neat and orderly by customers. The president of York, Pa.-based Rutter's Farm Stores also believes an attractive, well-kept restroom can make the difference between whether a customer comes back to a store or not.

It's an extension of our brand. It's an extension of our store. It's an experience, he told CSP Daily News. Thus, Hartman spared little expense when he instructed his design team to develop a couple of prototype restrooms that reflect what [image-nocss] customers say they want in a restroom. Click here to rate four recently designed or updated c-store restrooms.

We've run the numbers and it's a very expensive endeavor for us to go back and redo all the bathrooms, he said, but if we think we've got it right and we get good customer reaction, then we're going to roll this out to the rest of our stores.

It was a NACS/Coca-Cola Leadership Council study titled Convenience Teens: Building Loyalty with the Next Generation, coupled with research of its own, that led Rutter's Farm Stores to consider updating its restrooms. The first two prototypes were completed early this month.

The test sites are a move away from the sterile and industrial restrooms the company built in the past.

[Previously], our focus was more about simplicity of cleaning and simplicity of look and feel. So we didn't have any pictures in there. We had mirrors, but nothing special, said Hartman. We didn't give much design thought to it outside of functionality. Now our goal is to bring a whole design concept that it's an experience.

And so the mirrors in the test restrooms have wood frames. Photos and paintings adorn the walls. The floors and walls are covered with multicolored tiles. Countertops are made of Corian.

Beyond design, the washrooms also include functional upgrades, such as offering both paper-towel dispensers and hand driers to provide an option to customers. There also are plans to include a switch in the facilities that will allow customers to alert a store clerk that the restroom needs attending to.

In my strategic planning, I've got a request for about $1 million in bathroom improvements. So we want to get a good look at it before we go ahead with that kind of money, Hartman said. We're very excited about it. I've got guys researching everything, down to the type of odor disks that go in the urinals. It's been an interesting project.

Others have gotten on the restroom-as-marketing plan, as well.

Al Bugbee, senior operations mangers for Irving Oil, Portsmouth, N.H., told CSP Daily News, 'Clean' really hits home for us. We know that our customers want a clean offering. Whether it's out at the dispenser, whether it's inside the store or whether they walk into our washroom, they want to have a clean asset. So we absolutely go out of our way to make sure that every aspect of our business is clean for our customer experience.

That's really, really clean in the parlance of Irving Oil, which on its Web site and in its TV and radio commercials crows about its washrooms being tidied every 30 minutes. (See related video at right.) We're enthusiastic about our washrooms, the company's website states. That's why we go to them every 30 minutesto make sure they're extra clean for our customers.

That message can hit home for suppliers, as well. Participants at last month's annual Outlook Leadership Conference found an important message about customer service in the resort restrooms. Signage in both the men's and women's facilities at the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa in Phoenix proudly proclaimed the areas had been deep cleaned by Sparkling Image because we care.

Many retailers are looking for better ways to show their customers how much they appreciate them and their business, said Lawrence Clasby, CEO of Sparkling Image. But sometimes it's hard to find a tangible way that means something to the customer. A clean restroom not only sends a strong 'we care' message, it's also very important to customers.

Linda Hutchinson of Hutchinson Oil, Elk City, Okla., knows first-hand the importance of clean restrooms. People will go out of their way to find a clean restroom, passing up three or four gas stations, maybe more, along the way. I want Hutchinson Oil to be the one they choose, she said.

To read more about how c-store retailers are updating their restrooms, and why, watch for the October 2007 issue of CSP magazine.

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