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I often use parallels when I’m describing the physical appearance of a showroom and the culture of the company. It’s typically easy to see the differences between a high-performing showroom culture and one that is not by walking in the front door.
I’ve discovered a phenomenon during my visits to showrooms from coast to coast. I invite you to take notice and see if the same holds true in your experiences. I call it the “Broken Window Theory.” When touring showrooms, each problem I notice that has gone on unattended affects people’s attitudes toward their environment and, at some point, leads to more problems. It’s quite a remarkable parallel, actually, so I thought it would be the perfect topic to share as you consider making improvements in 2019.
Ironically, New York City police adopted this controversial theory years ago and touted it as the reason for the city’s turnaround. While the theory also led to other social issue commentary, for the sake of this article, let’s stick to the aesthetic and business side of the discussion.
Leaders in New York believed that if a building didn’t repair its broken windows, there would be a greater chance of vandals breaking a few more windows. Eventually, those vandals may even break into the building. If it’s unoccupied, they might perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. However, those leaders witnessed that when broken windows on a building were repaired immediately, the entire neighborhood tended to stay cleaner and the resulting civic pride motivated everyone to maintain the area better.
In the case of showrooms, a less extreme version is true. Consider this: A water bottle is dropped in the parking lot and not picked up. A bit more litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. The showroom staff seems to turn a blind eye toward it — or possibly has an attitude of “It’s not part of my job.” As time goes on, people even start tossing out bags of refuse from take-out restaurants.
Next thing you know, it has become less important to maintain weeds because it’s been proven that nobody cares about the area anyway. As seasons change, dust and watermarks dot the windows but they go unwashed. It becomes apparent to everyone who passes by or pulls in to look at the displays that the staff doesn’t care about the appearance or the customer experience. Those potential customers will likely wonder if the staff will care about their order is issues may arise.
Once we lower the standard — when that first water bottle didn’t get picked up — a pattern begins to grow. Neither the staff nor the owner showed any pride in the business. There was no identification of the errant water bottle as a problem to fix and the bar is lowered.
A similar pattern develops when one showroom display is removed or damaged in any way. It then seemingly becomes OK to have multiple displays in disrepair or incomplete. Next thing you know, there are no pop-up drains in the bath sinks or basket strainers in kitchen sinks because the staff has become disengaged and believe they can still sell just as well with what they have. They become blind to the fact that the showroom looks subpar or don’t care.
I mentioned pop-ups and basket strainers because they seem to be missing in many showrooms I see, yet it’s something incredibly easy to fix.
As an owner or manager, you must walk your showroom every day with the eyes of a customer and be intolerant of vignettes that look anything less than what you would see in a new home. That includes a lack of tasteful accents. But please, no silk plants! If I see one more fake ficus tree used to hide bad drywall in a showroom, I’ll scream. Proper lighting also is important so consumers can picture what the products will look like in a real home environment.
On the other hand, if you are vigilant almost to the point of being obsessed with the quality of your showroom and its displays — and have zero tolerance for “broken windows” in your showroom — it almost guarantees your showroom will nearly always look perfect and the experience your customers have will be enhanced.
A Few Bad Employees
This theory also can be used in a business context. When we don’t resolve an issue, it becomes a broken window and can lead to a variety of problems in areas such as human resources and customer service, which eventually erode your corporate culture and employee engagement.
Take, for example, the veteran employee who’s been with you 20 years, has a distinct attitude problem and is poison for the rest of the team. You think this employee “knows too much” to get rid of. You decide it is a good idea to ignore the rudeness, the poor customer service and the undermining of other employees because this person has a solid understanding of your systems and procedures.
Sound familiar? I have seen it dozens of times and it has had the broken window effect within those companies. Do what you know you need to do and fix it — now rather than later. Early in my career, I tolerated people like this because I thought I needed them to provide operational help or support in some way. It was a mistake and I often jeopardized the morale of the whole team — and likely lost a few good people along the way who didn’t want to work in that environment anymore.
Those employees were broken windows I chose to ignore. I made the mistake of not communicating with people who had a history of issues. I often rationalized it because I believed prior managers must have done the same and they were able to keep the place running. Looking back, I know I would have experienced greater success at those operations if I had been more intolerant of under-performance and overall rudeness.
Don’t get me wrong; you should always try to fix what is broken — in your showrooms and with your employees’ performance. I am not suggesting you just start firing people. Just remember that even though sometimes remodeling a showroom is painful regarding work and finances, it also can be the best thing you ever do for your company. In the same way, maybe “remodeling” your team will be one of the other best things you ever do.
There is no better time than now to seek perfection in your company. Sure, it is always a challenge to find good help. It also is a challenge to keep a showroom in working order to grow sales and profit. I encourage you to be relentless in your search for key employees. Never tolerate the broken-window employees who will hurt your business and scare away your current strong performers.
Just like walking your showroom to police the broken windows of displays, as an owner or manager, you must coach your employees to do the same. Coach the spirit of ownership to help keep employees engaged and remove the friction of broken-window employees. Daily walks, weekly huddles and monthly progress reports will all help keep your people engaged, let them know where they stand, and prevent the issues that limit your business.
Develop and use a standards checklist to maintain a consistency in your showroom for displays. Use performance reviews to maintain consistent performance and attitude from your employees. Consider having secret shoppers or family friends stop by the showroom to look for deviations in your standards.
This economy and the new world of click-and-mortar offers little forgiveness for bad shopping experiences. Take your showroom seriously as a retail experience center and be sure your broken windows get fixed quickly. Your employees should help you by demonstrating their civic pride and keeping your neighborhood — and showroom — clean.