What’s in Your Storefront?


Ruthanne Terrero
Vice President—Content/Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero

I felt like a voyeur on New Year’s Eve. I was on Long Island searching for post-Christmas deals when I drove past Syms, a discount clothing store that was closing down.

I couldn’t resist thinking I might, somehow, find some amazing deal put up by the store I had shopped in for most of my life. Every time I had a job interview or wanted to look ultra-corporate, I headed to Syms for a suit. Anyone who was headed back to school or making his first Communion or going to a wedding would go to Syms to get ready for the big day.

Last year, however, when Syms announced it was closing forever, I wasn’t surprised. As much as I had enjoyed having a discount retailer I could depend on, I’d always felt that Syms had made the shopping experience pretty uncomfortable. Its fluorescent lights made you look dour even on your best day and forget about using the restroom. You’d have to track down a sales associate to unlock it for you and then you’d regret having been let in once you witnessed the state it was in.

I suppose this was in line with the concept of being a discount store; why pretend you’re anything else? My thoughts? It would have cost little to put in lighting and other facilities that made you feel happy and attractive. Don’t we purchase more when we’re feeling good about ourselves?

On New Year’s Eve, Syms was almost empty. Among the few shoppers stood the remaining employees, smiling wanly under the harsh, white lighting. These were career retailers who knew their clothing lines and what would fit whom. You couldn’t beat the tailors at Syms who could alter a suit to look custom-made for you. Realizing I was witnessing the end of the line for them that evening, I quickly left. I had tears in my eyes as I considered their loss.

Why am I telling you this? Syms served up an uncomfortable store experience that detracted from its merchandise and personnel. Consider the image you’re providing to shoppers. Is it a drab store experience, real or virtual, depressing potential clients before they even enter your space? Maybe you’re not selling ultra-luxury, but why not make the consumer feel you’re special, that they want to be a part of your retail experience?

Also, are your co-workers projecting the image you want to portray? The other day, I got a hair cut by a great stylist. But, as I was getting my hair blown out, her colleague next to me—devouring a liverwurst sandwich with mustard—was shouting across the salon floor. All of my senses were enraged. Will I go back? I’ll consider it when the hearing in my left ear returns.

How are you dressing up when you interact with suppliers? I marvel that I’m still seeing the occasional pair of sweatpants and running shoes at travel agent conferences. What are you asking suppliers when you meet them? Is it about how you can sell their products or is it whether they provide free travel to agents?

You, personally, are the product you are offering to customers and suppliers. Do they want to shop with you or would they prefer to be somewhere that’s more welcoming and aware of their needs? If the latter is true, the fate of your business may be no better than Syms.