I could probably go back through the records of Toy House and tell you when the first nice Saturday of spring hit every year. You know the day. After a long winter, it is finally sunny and warm enough to not need a coat.
We never had much traffic on that first nice Saturday. People were doing yard work, taking down Christmas lights they had unplugged months before, and pumping air into bike tires that hadn’t seen pavement since Halloween. Our busiest part of the store was the back door where the air compressor sat.
It was the cold, rainy Saturday that followed that was usually our best day.
Last Saturday was one of those cold, rainy days. The temperature hit 41 degrees for the high. The rain was steady all day. I did the other thing you do on cold, rainy spring days when your shopping is done. I went to the Toledo Museum of Art.
If you’re in the area, I highly recommend the TMA. The museum has a fabulous collection including a couple Van Gohs, a couple Renoirs, some amazing sculptures, and a fascinating glass display. It’s fairly easy to find, too. There is a nice parking lot behind the museum that has several covered spaces (perfect on a rainy day) near the back door entrance.
We crossed the street, checked our umbrella and coats, and spent a couple hours lost in the amazement of art. There were docents and security guards at every turn (sometimes it was hard to tell one from the other as they all seemed to know everything about everything) to make the trip more enjoyable.
All of this was quite impressive for a museum where admission is free and parking is only $8.
But before you think this is just a plug for a museum, I want to tell you the part of the story that blew me away. Here are the three key factors to remember so far. It was raining. We walked in the back door. We checked our umbrella because umbrellas are not allowed in the museum.
For those of you not familiar with Toledo, OH, it is known as Glass City. Owens-Corning and Libbey Glass both have their origins here and a long history with Toledo. One of the coolest parts of any trip to the Toledo Museum of Art is right out the front door and across the street at the Glass Pavilion.
Here you can see a demonstration on glass blowing and some of the most beautiful works of glass you can imagine.
Our dilemma was that it was raining and our umbrella was downstairs by the back door.
I stood staring out the front door through the rain to the Glass Pavilion, at which point a security guard handed me a large red golf-style umbrella with the words “Toledo Museum of Art” printed on it. He had a whole rack of them by the door. Across the street I could see a similar rack inside the door of the Glass Pavilion.
We grabbed an umbrella and off we went.
Without the umbrella, we might not have made that trek. It would have involved heading out the back door and walking around a massive building in the rain. Or it would have involved putting raincoats to the test. Not everyone at the museum had a raincoat that day.
Yet the museum director had the foresight to recognize this obstacle, order a bunch of umbrellas, and make it easier for patrons to enjoy all aspects of the museum.
The lesson in this is to look at your business with the same eye. Look for the obstacles and barriers that keep people from shopping at your store. Is it your hours? Is it your location? Is it your lack of parking? Is it your restrictive return policy or the limitations on how people can pay?
The more barriers you can remove, the better.
Change your hours to better accommodate the times your best customers can shop. If parking is an issue, create valet parking (get your neighboring businesses to pitch in because they’ll reap the benefits, too). Change your policies to make it easier for customers to pay.
Every barrier you remove adds to your bottom line—no matter what it costs.
Why? Because of the word-of-mouth. Do things no one else is doing to make it easier for your customers and they will tell their friends. Do the same thing everyone else is doing and there is nothing to say.
In fact, the two questions you should be constantly asking are:
- What barriers or obstacles keep my store from getting more shoppers and buyers?
- Does this new policy/procedure/campaign/tool/tech/program make it easier or harder for customers to shop and buy?
The Toledo Museum of Art filled my cold, rainy Saturday with a warm, sunny rainbow of surprise and delight with a simple red umbrella. What can you do for your customers?
PS The fact it was hard to tell a docent from a security guard because everyone seemed to have so much knowledge was just icing on the cake. I like how the director of this museum thinks.
PPS If your neighborhood shops think valet parking is a good idea, take the lead on this issue and make sure the valet stand is close to your front door and associated with you. That way you reap the full benefits.