Snap judgments are made all day long: Yes or no? Customers do this when they see your storefront. You have 10 seconds or less to make a great first impression.

As merchants we tend to focus on what happens inside the store — the buying, merchandising, staffing, customer service, etc. But it’s important to realize that once the customers are in the store, they’re already shopping. They’ve probably come in for food or shampoo, and will perhaps pick up a few extra things — a toy or some treats. Maybe they have a new puppy and need lots of things!

But most passersby are not interested in buying supplies or an item that makes your store a destination. They may not have a pet, but maybe they are thinking about it. Maybe their friend has a new puppy, or someone’s mentioned needing a winter coat for their pet. Perhaps the passerby hasn’t even considered buying a gift for them. Give them the idea!

Stand 20 feet from your storefront and look at it from multiple angles. Then make some snap judgments about it. Does it look well kept? Any trash on the ground or dirty windows? Can you see into the store clearly? Does the store look tidy and bright? Are there any graphics or flyers adhered to the window blocking the view?

Your window display should be the view into the store itself. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have product in the window, but it should be small, focused displays. A window is not the place to put all the new items you carry. Focus on a particular group of items. Trying to get as much product in there as possible defeats the purpose of having a display. Don’t distract the customer with very small items or a window full of random products. It makes your store look cluttered and untidy. Customers are seeing your storefront from some distance. If it’s not clear what the items are, or what the display is about, you’ve already lost them. And that judgment was made in 10 seconds or less.

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You should have a logo on the window. I like to do logos in frosted, translucent vinyl. It looks like etched glass, and as it’s white, it pops in the light. Any other graphics adhered to the glass should be decorative and minimal. Something whimsical, like tree shapes or filigree. But keep in mind, the impact when seeing a store comes from the store interior itself.

Remember how drug stores used to put tons of pegged and stacked product in their windows? It looked busy, and the items were randomly put together. However, in the last seven years or so, the big guys have replaced the product with graphics. The graphics communicate a strong marketing message instantly. It also differentiates the stores from one another. And like a pet store, people already have a good idea of what’s sold in a drug store. They don’t need to see everything in the window.

I know an aquarium store that has painted the exterior glass with a mural! And not a good one. As a customer, you don’t have any idea about the store itself. The immediate judgment is that it’s dirty and dark. And in this instance, it is an outstanding aquarium store! The best one I’ve ever seen. But if you’re a person just thinking about the getting an aquarium, this is not the store you’ll be shopping at. You’ll make a snap judgment about it. You’ll go to a store that looks tidy and clean.

First impressions are our enemy or our friend. Judgments are made very, very quickly. Yes or no? Snap!

Tom Crossman has designed entertainment centers and retail stores for FAO Schwarz, Dollywood, Toys ‘R’ Us. He’s also worked as a buyer at Macy’s, and a store manger at Disney Store, and will be sharing his insights on retail in seminars at Global Pet Expo. His work can be seen at tomcrossman.com, and he can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


 This article originally appeared in the May 2018 edition of PETS+.  

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