This is a good time to step outside your business and take a good look around. No, literally, step outside your business and look around. Try to look at your store as a new or prospective customer would look at it. This is important to understand–does your store, its location and its atmosphere give the customers what they want?


Drive past your storefront from both directions (walk if in an urban setting). Is it easy to find? Is it easy to park? Is it easy to get into your store? If you have a drive thru, is the drive thru lane easy to find and is the menu easy to understand?

Does your signage help to guide the customer to your store? Does it stand out while driving or walking? Are there potential obstacles to it?

Our first retail store main sign was hard to see from the busy road and the glass windows made it hard to tell we were open. Furthermore, local sign ordinances strictly controlled what we could put up and display. We first got a very bright ‘open sign’ that was easy to see from the road and the parking lot. We then got a neon coffee cup sign to let people know we sold coffee.

Additionally, we were able to have tables and planters out front. During opening hours, we had colorful umbrellas with vibrant planters to give it a European feel. The also helped stand out among nondescript strip center buildings. We did all this at little expense by scouring the home improvement stores and shopping centers.


Enter your store as a new customer and look around. Is it easy to find how and where to order? Are you greeted promptly? Can you find the menu and the offerings with ease? Can you see the featured and daily specials to entice you to buy? Are the other products, food, bulk coffee, gift items, etc. displayed and easy to find and price? Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a beautiful display for retail coffee located 20 feet from the cash register by the exit. Potential sales are walking right out the door.

Are the in-store signage and point-of-sale items in good shape? Are the colors vibrant and not faded? Are they damaged from use, etc?

Are the physical attributes in good working order? Do all lights function appropriately? Is the flooring in good shape? Are the restrooms clean, lit and easy to find?

Are your tables and chairs level? It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to order the replacement feet to level them and avoid the napkin balancing act. If you have vases, table tents or condiment racks on the tables, are they are clean and new looking? Nothing is more embarrassing than having the Holiday Latte Special being shown in July.

Your five year old store and the customers do not expect it to look brand new and in fact that is often part of the independent café charm. However, they want to feel they are in a clean, safe and successful business. Viewing the store as they may see it should help you to prioritize what has to get done and make a plan to do it.

Prioritizing the items in terms of criticality, cost, and benefits will help you pace the changes out throughout the year and hopefully build upon each other as you accomplish them.

Jeff Vojta
Stockton Graham & Co.