A secret shopper who visited Action Carpet gave the store high marks for how product, such as this large-format tile, is organized according to style rather than by manufacturer.

What your customers see and how they feel largely determines how much they buy. (You already knew that.) Because YOU largely determine what your customers see and feel, you largely determine how much they buy from you. My question is: Do you accept responsibility for what they see and feel -- and, thus, how much they buy?

The connection between customer perceptions and sales is so direct, I recommend that every week you ask your staff, "Last week, how did we allow them to see and feel more positively about us? How might we have provoked them to feel negatively?" In merchandising terms you might ask, "How well are you managing your customers' visual and emotional perceptions?"

To learn how your customers feel, you can ask them directly or hire a secret shopper. In the July 2004 edition of NFT, I highlighted the best practice of secret shopping your business, so that you can see it through their eyes. Has your store been secret-shopped by a competitor? How would your competitors -- your most critical audience -- judge your business?

Hassan Kany opened Oceanside, Calif.-based Action Carpet in April 1990 with a dream -- to develop a successful and respectable business in the community. His work produced the American Dream. He started with little money, but worked hard (seven days a week), and opened a store of 4,200 square feet. Today, at that same location, he has a full staff, a 10,000-square-foot showroom, and he manages so well that he has time to spend with his wife and two children.

During the years, he's confronted tough challenges and overcome many of them. Yet, he remains humble and attributes his success to God. He considers himself blessed. His humility is magnetic, even engaging. He and his wife act as a team. She manages the family and home, and allows him to focus on his business.

Great leaders affirm shared values with their employees. Hassan declares that his employees possess the same qualities that made him successful. "They are hard working, honest, efficient, and dependable," he explains. "They are team players. They have brought ideas that made the company better." He adds that he wishes that he'd hired his current employees five years earlier.

When I asked him the source of his success, he replied, "My success comes from the way I treat customers." Hassan is charismatic and he practices the golden rule.

"To build a successful business," he told me, "you must be honest, courteous and fair with the customer." This man is passionate about his customers. As I listened, I knew he deeply believed what he was saying.

His passion, in turn, influences his customers and employees. When a competitor secret-shopped his store, along with other stores in the market area, that competitor was so impressed with Hassan's store that he shared the results with him. Other stores did many things right, but Hassan's store stood out from the rest. How would yours compare to competitors in your market area?

Interestingly, Hassan's store rated highest on the very qualities known to be important to female consumers. Not many stores excel in this regard, because men run most stores.

All samples at Action Carpet are well maintained, meticulously organized and clearly priced.
Business management guru Tom Peters said that men are hopelessly clueless about women, yet women buy all the stuff. Is it any wonder that today's typical flooring store looks the same as stores did 50 years ago? I know this firsthand. At age 8, I remember visiting the store where my father worked. And I've visited thousands of stores since then. Few have changed much.

When surveyed, female consumers reported that the floor-buying process is confusing, overwhelming and stressful for them. Research shows that if a store can make the experience energizing, simple and informative, customers will step up and buy.

Let me list the things that most impressed Hassan's female secret-shopper.

  • An information kiosk met the customer. It displayed the showroom's layout and explained the features of common carpet styles.

  • Someone greeted the customer immediately, yet gave her space and time to explore.

  • The signage made the store easy to shop. The signs created a sense of discovery. It allowed her to find the area of the store most important to her.

  • Wide isles. A hardwood walkway subtly led her to all departments in the store.

  • She found the floor coverings organized by styles, instead of by manufacturer. That layout made shopping easier.

  • The store was clean. The samples were not ratty, nor falling apart. (Some other stores were messy and their samples were unappealing.)

  • All samples were clearly priced, so she could easily calculate the approximate cost of her project. (In another store, a salesperson carried a calculator and kept throwing numbers at her. That confused and overwhelmed her. A third salesperson, instead of asking her questions, took her immediately to the bargain products. She felt he had judged her, and decided she couldn't afford much.)

  • The sales desks were clean and organized. (How do your desks look?) It gave her the impression on how the business operated.

  • Sales people wore uniforms, so she knew who could answer her questions.

  • The bathrooms were decorated and clean. The cleaning supplies were stored away, not stacked in the open.

  • When she was ready, a salesperson sat down with her. He helped her calculate her room's approximate square footage. He patiently taught her to understand the difference between square feet and square yards. The shopper said that Hassan's salesperson made her feel the most comfortable, by far, and rated his sales pitch the best of all stores she had shopped. She felt no pressure, and appreciated it.

Hassan reports that customers tell him that he's "nice." There's no question that he and his team treat customers well. Of course, "nice" alone doesn't produce success. You have to couple "nice" with concern for the customer and an environment which the customer perceives as "safe" -- that is, safe to invest her money in this product and with this salesperson and company.

If your store were secret-shopped and compared to its competitors, would you, too, score at the top? Would your competitor who commissioned the shopping be so impressed that he/she would share the results with you?

You already know that relaxed, safe customers buy more. And, you know that you largely determine their mood. Has Hassan provided any ideas you might apply in your own business to increase your customers' positive feelings?