This past week I had the opportunity to visit some construction supply companies during my travels. I also had the opportunity to stay in two different hotels that I would classify into one of two categories: Crispy and Crusty.

Let's first look at the hotels. My first two nights were spent at a hotel that was convenient but dated. It had a musty smell. The staff was kind, but this place was crusty. It was blah.

Because of weather delays, I had to stay over an additional night. I chose another hotel close to the airport; a crisp, newer hotel. In fact, it was so crisp that although I paid an additional $30, I felt comfortable doing so. When I opened the door to my room I recognized the high ceilings, nice plasma flat screen TV, and ample room for me to spread out and work. The crisp hotel also had crisp people and it smelled great.

I visited two construction supply companies on this same trip. The first was clean, well lit, had a nice entrance and a nice product selection. I could easily identify the brand of windows that it sold, and within seconds I could determine the products available. From the crisp and clean entrance, I could see the entire showroom. I wanted to buy products to take home with me. Two people greeted me and we talked for a while. This place was happening! It looked great.

The second place I visited definitely was so not happening: it was crusty. I saw chamber of commerce stickers from 1980. Displays were from the same era. It was very dim and unwelcoming. The staffers were very nice and very friendly, but if I did not know the people, I would not pull into the parking lot. Ironically, it would not take a lot to clean this place up.

Here are some recommendations to convert your store from crusty to crispy without investing a lot of dollars.

  1. Look at the entrance and take old stickers off of the door. The only stickers on the door should be those that are support your current culture and current community. And while you're at it, scrub the threshold.
  2. Take a gallon of traffic paint off of the shelf and use it at your facility. It does not cost a lot to restripe a parking lot or paint bumper curves.
  3. Next look at your sign. Is it clean and illuminated? Also, look at your tag line while you are at it. Does it say, “Hardware, Plumbing, Electrical, and Millwork?” Does it say what you do, and is it clean and crisp? Or do you have paint peeling?
  4. Next look at your sales counters. Whenever I am looking for something in a construction supply store, I just go to the bottom of the sales counters. I usually remove dust and junk to get to the item. It does not have to be this way. It does not cost anymore to keep this area clean and organized.
  5. Look at the offices of your salespeople. In one instance, I saw an office with nice furniture and even a little feng shui. It was harmonious with the rest of the office and it had a sense of energy. At another company, the offices looked like the inside of a garage that had not been cleaned this century.
  6. Look at your in-stock product selection. I am amazed at companies in our industry that have a nice display of house numbers but lack the complete set. My address is 105 and if the store is missing the "5," then I won't purchase the numbers. Hello! This is a sign that you need to refocus on your products. Either be fully in a product line or get the heck out. Be crisp.
  7. Lean manufacturing principles call for you to get rid of the waste and wasted processes. If your display room looks crusty, I suggest you move the dumpster into the show room and start loading it up. Get rid of the dead and move in the new.
  8. People want to be associated with winning companies, so look like a winner. If your showroom looks like the third string lumber yard in the community you will attract the third string builders. You want to attract the best.
  9. Put people first, but don't neglect your facility. I often think of a paint manufacturer that had the most knowledgeable staff, yet the company's signs were faded. It took a lot of my pride to drive past the crusty sign to be greeted by a professional. Why would you put their paint on your wall?
  10. If your warehouse is well organized and clean, you will have minimal damages and less shrinkage. Now you can justify the time to clean it if you save a percent of your inventory value. Plus, it is easier to find products, you will have fewer duplicates, a reduced inventory, and your customers will perceive you as being organized.

Personal disclosure: One month ago, when I first thought to write about “Crispy or Crusty," I took a hard look at our office and realized that it was very crusty. I discussed the situation with the staff and mandated that they clean up and soon--by the end of that week. Today, I am now without a lot of stuff because I think the staffers zealously filled the dumpster, but I don't miss the items that were tossed.

We had a potential client come into our offices on the Friday after we completed the conversion to crispiness. The client was impressed and gave us an order, a large order. I really feel the client would not have given us the order had he visited our crusty office just one week prior. How many orders are you missing because you look crusty?

It is up to you to keep your facility clean, but it just makes sense. Many people clean their garage every spring, but they neglect their showrooms. They then wonder, “Why I am losing business?” You are losing business because you are crusty and your competitor is crispy.

Chris Rader is a consultant based in Lafayette, La. Contact him at