I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for Gordon Ramsey’s reality TV shows. Whether it’s Hell’s Kitchen, Master Chef, Hotel Hell or Kitchen Nightmares, I watch them all. And whatever you might feel about his tantrums and profanity laced tirades, you have to give the guy credit when it comes to food and knowing how to run a kitchen, having restaurants that have been awarded a total of 15 Michelin stars. (Kind of a big deal.)
If you don’t know the premise of Hotel Hell or Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsey is called in by owners of struggling/failing hotels and restaurants that can’t figure out why their businesses are doing so poorly. Ramsey shows up as a guest, meets the staff, has a meal/stays the night, and then points out all the reasons why the business is failing, what steps need to be done to turn the struggling business around, and then helps them with a remodel and relaunch.
One of things that happens on practically every episode is the part where Gordon walks into the establishment for the first time and sees things the way first time customers see them. There are always things that seem blatantly obvious like bedspreads in guest rooms that are totally gross and covered by, umm, bodily fluids. Or seat cushions that are ripped and torn. Or corners filled with spider webs and bugs. Or refrigerators filled with mold. Or just things that are broken and not working.
Afterward, he walks the owners through the establishment, pointing out all of the things their customers are seeing, and it’s obvious from watching the owners’ expressions that they have become blind to these flaws; you can literally see their eyes are being opened. “I don’t know what happened! I had no idea it was like this!” Then usually there is yelling. And crying.
If you have a showroom–or a work vehicle–you probably take for granted what it looks like. You’re likely so busy with other things that you probably just open the doors, turn on the lights, and head back into your office and, you know, work. But maybe you’re overlooking the equivalent of a grossly stained bedspread.
My business partner’s dad, an ex-Air Force Colonel, calls it the “dog sh-- on the floor syndrome.” The first time you see the crap you’re like, “Oh! Gross! There’s crap on the floor! That’s disgusting!” But by the fourth or fifth time, you’re walking around it and not even noticing it anymore. But it’s still there. And it’s still dog sh--.
Step back and take a walk through your business and really look at it as a customer that is seeing your company for the first time would.
Are your work vans clean, lettered/wrapped, free of dents and dings, and nicely painted? Or are they covered in rust and look like the kind of thing that Buffalo Bill would drive around asking if people could just help him find his puppy?
How about the entrance into your showroom? Are the windows clean? Is it welcoming? What’s the first thing people see when they walk in?
A few years ago, my wife came down to our store to pick something up, and when I got home that night, she said, “You know, all those plain grey walls and the grey carpet you have in there kind of makes your store feel like a prison.”
“What?! You think my store looks like a prison?!”
“Well, it’s just all plain and drab and grey.”
“But that is a special color of grey! It’s a very neutral color that makes TVs look their best! We chose that color specifically for the TVs! It’s a color chip matched to a Video Essentials test pattern!”
“Yeah, OK,” she said, “but it makes it feel like a prison. It’s just kind of depressing in there.”
I went back the next day and really looked around and, surprise, she was right. It was grey and bleak and depressing. Sure, the TVs might have benefitted from the neutral color, but it didn’t feel welcoming. And it certainly didn’t feel like the “real living environment” we wanted to portray. And compared to the bright, well-lit, dynamic environment of, say, an Apple store, it did feel like a prison.
We picked out three new paint colors and gave our store a makeover, and now it feels much warmer and welcoming.
If you wonder what kind of impression your business is making, grab a spouse or friend and take them to your store and ask them to just come in and look around and be honest. Fortunately, this is the kind of nightmare you can wake up from.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.