Best known for a tough-love approach to struggling retail makeovers on Bravo's reality show "Tabatha Takes Over,"Tabatha Coffey also has firsthand experience in the retail trenches. She owned Industrie Hair Gurus in Ridgewood, N.J., from 2001 until she sold it last year. During those 10 years, she built a well-respected salon, managing employees and customers while also traveling and working as an educator and editorial stylist.
She recently took a break from shooting her show and promoting her memoir, It's Not Really About the Hair: The Honest Truth about Life, Love and the Business of Beauty, (HarperCollins/It Books, 2011) to talk to Entrepreneur.com about creating a successful retail environment.
Entrepreneur: How do you create a space that makes customers want to come back?
Tabatha Coffey: Retailers, especially small businesses and startups, need to distinguish themselves by giving customers something they don't get at competitors. The right music and lighting, as well as a clean, touchable and inviting shopping environment, are important. Also, having staff who are well-versed on the products or services you are providing. Go the extra mile -- even offering your customers refreshments to make them more comfortable and happy.
Entrepreneur: What are the most frequent mistakes you find business owners make when it comes to their retail environments?
Coffey: Cleanliness, cleanliness, cleanliness. It doesn't matter what kind of business you have, it needs to be clean and tidy. And that includes making sure it is organized and uncluttered -- even the areas you think a customer can't see.
I was in my bank the other day and the manager opened his desk drawer and all kinds of mess and clutter came tumbling out. How am I supposed to trust him with my accounts when he can't even find what he's looking for in his drawer?
I also find a lot of owners become so overwhelmed at how to improve their businesses that they do nothing. As soon as employees see this kind of behavior, it gives them permission to do nothing also.
Entrepreneur: How can making over the environment make a difference in the business?
Coffey: When a business looks tired and run down, it shows complacency and that tells a customer that you not only don't care about the environment, you don't care about them. Customers want to be invited into a business and be invited to open their wallets. Change is invigorating, and it shows that you are current and that you care.
Entrepreneur: How can business owners objectively evaluate what's working and what needs to change?
Coffey: Don't become anesthetized to your own business, and don't wait until you start losing customers to look at what is going on. It is essential to walk into your business "for the first time"at least once a month. Try to experience the environment for the first time, try the product you are selling, and experience what a customer experiences.
Is the store inviting? Is the product or service up to par? Is the layout cohesive and marketed in the right way to represent what you are selling? Is the product visible and accessible to customers?
A lot of owners have a difficult time being objective, so I recommend getting feedback from trusted customers and staff, too, because the people that frequent your business or work there daily will be able to give valuable information. Just ask them. It's also important to see what competitors are doing to see how you stack up, but you shouldn't copy them. I believe in seeing what they are doing well and not well, and always striving to be better.
Entrepreneur: Are there solutions for businesses that need to reinvent their environments, but may be struggling to afford a full renovation or makeover?
Coffey: Yes. All it takes is a bucket and a brush and elbow grease to make a place clean, tidy and fresh. A fresh coat of paint can always help to brighten up a space and make it look fresh. Adding accent colors and small touches can be easy and affordable. Changing out light bulbs to be brighter or a different tone can make a huge difference to brighten up a space or retail area. Try moving around product shelves so they're more accessible or visible. Adding fresh flowers makes almost any place more inviting. These things don't cost a lot of money and are easy ways to make over a business.
Entrepreneur: How do you get employees interested in reinventing the business environment?
Coffey: Employees need to be invested in a business. They need to believe that when the business is successful, they are successful. The owner needs to lead by example, show excitement and passion for the work, share a vision, and acknowledges the hard work of staff. Those things will help to keep the staff vested in the process.
This is especially important in businesses that are creative enterprises such as salons and restaurants. However, even if you are selling widgets, your team needs to be invested in that product. An employee who is just punching a clock will not make your business successful. Communicate expectations, enforce standards and reward exemplary work.