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Increase sales by increasing curb appeal

In this Behind the Gavel column, Wayne Jordan looks at the benefits of applying the importance of curb appeal to a commercial building and business.

Anyone who has bought or sold a home is familiar with the concept of “curb appeal”. Realtors emphasize to sellers that if they want to get potential buyers into their homes for a closer look, then a house must look appealing from the curb.

Considering the Curb

Curb appeal seems to have less urgency when applied to commercial real estate, especially for buildings that are already occupied. Many retailers are surprised to learn that shoppers judge stores in the same way that home buyers judge a house: the better a store looks from the outside, the greater the chance they will go inside for a closer look. According to a 2011 shopper survey by Morpace Omnibus [http :// /]:

• 95 percent admitted that a store’s external appearance influenced their decisions about where to shop
• 52 percent avoided a store because of a dirty appearance from the outside
• 39 percent claimed that they won’t enter a store that “doesn’t look like a place I would normally shop.”

In an article titled “Maggie’s Achilles’ Heel: lack of curb appeal” [https ://], the Smokey Mountain News reported the findings of turnaround consultant Craig Madison. Madison was to uncover the reasons for Maggie Valley���s decline in tourism and suggest solutions.

The #1 problem identified by Madison? In his words:
“The curbside appeal of the town has suffered over the years ... It is one of those things that affects every business ... an estimated 70 percent of first-time sales are based on curbside appeal.”

Countering Distress

Behind the Gavel_Before and After

Before and after photo comparison of the 'curb appeal case study' (Submitted photo)

The 70 percent number isn’t far-fetched; antique dealers rely heavily on tourism. When tourists drive by your store or enter your town, their first question is “should I stop the car and park?” If a town appears distressed – if there are empty storefronts, overflowing trash cans, inadequate parking or littered sidewalks – they will keep driving. If they park and traverse the sidewalks, they will choose which stores to enter by their external appearance and/or window displays.

When sales slump, shops close, the appraised value of empty buildings declines (occupancy affects value), and a downward spiral becomes entrenched. Retailers can’t fix up their stores because they don’t have any extra money, and townships let services slide because the tax base has eroded.

What’s distressing about this scenario is that much of the economic damage can be avoided if merchants and landlords would take responsibility for the appearance of their buildings and surrounding property. A little paint, a few flowers and a bit of “elbow grease” go a long way toward increasing the curb appeal of a business.

Curb Appeal Case Study

A case in point is dealer Martin Warr of Galax, Virginia. A few years ago, Warr bought the building housing the Antique Apple Mall and George’s Cones and Coffee. He renamed the business “Briar Patch Mountain Marketplace” and continued to operate as an antique mall. The building was generally well maintained, but Warr was quick to make the connection between the outside appearance of his building and the number of customers walking through the door.

“The tinted glass in the windows made it difficult to see what was going on inside the store, even for people on the sidewalk,” said Warr. “And the signage was hard to read from the street.” When the Cones and Coffee operator moved out, Warr jumped at the chance to take over the food operation and upgrade the aesthetics of the building.

The store’s existing decorating concept was “French Bistro,” which Warr believed wasn’t a good match for the town. Galax bills itself as “The World’s Capital of Old Time Mountain Music” and hosts several major performance venues along Virginia’s “Crooked Road” Music Heritage Trail. With tens of thousands of music tourists coming through town during a year, Warr wanted to tie in to the local allure.

Positive Gains Following Fix-Up

Warr began his fix-up by applying a fresh coat of bright paint on the front of the building and

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replacing a maroon awning with barnwood awnings. A large wooden sign was placed against the front wall, extending up from the sidewalk. A row of two-seat picnic tables was positioned on the sidewalk. The building sits on a Main Street corner, so rustic signs were placed covering the building’s corner so that traffic coming from either direction could see the business offerings. The tinted windows were lettered.

Warr says that the return on his efforts has been positive. “Last week, a group of prom-goers from the high school posed in front of our big sidewalk sign to take photos. I knew then that the new look was a hit.”

A little paint, a bit of wood, and lots of elbow grease is all it took to make Warr’s storefront a tourist “photo opportunity.” As those photos are shared and posted online, everyone will see the Briarpatch Mountain Marketplace & Cafe sign and recognize the shop when they come to town. Sounds like a formula for tourism success to me.

Cognizant About Curb Appeal

Paint and elbow grease aside, there are other things that dealers can do to improve their curb appeal. Tru-Vue, a manufacturer of custom framing supplies, suggests the following ways for their dealers to improve curb appeal without spending any money at all:

Sweep the sidewalk. Dirt accumulates, and people are careless with trash and cigarette butts.
Straighten signage. Out-of-kilter signs indicate a lack of attention to detail.

Use stand-alone signage. Well placed sandwich-board signs are usually read by passers-by and can increase store traffic.

Keep window displays current (and clean!).

Checks and Balances for Better Business

Check your greenery. Dead plants or weed-choked planters are signs of neglect. If your storefront shows signs of neglect, what does your merchandise look like?

Curb appeal drives business. As Maggie Valley’s mayor Ron DeSimone said a few years ago, it’s up to business owners to take the reins.

“Where it goes from here depends on you,” DeSimone said. “If you could get 20 percent of the people to work in one direction together, the plan would have a life of its own. (But) no action will certainly receive a reciprocal result.”

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