Harper Grey: A Stinky Store


The Savvy Shopper - Harper Grey

Do you have a stinky store or office? I know . . . it’s kind of a touchy subject. Like telling someone they have bad breath or body odor. But here’s the thing. If no one tells you that your store is odiferous, you might be wondering why business is so bad. Customers come in, but they don’t seem to linger. And they rarely buy. Maybe that’s because you’re making them sick with some kind of icky smell. I went to lunch with a friend last week who told me about her recent experience with a stinky office and we both realized that there are many stores that we avoid because they smell bad.

My friend Amanda is in sales, so she frequently calls on clients in their offices and stores. She stopped by the office of one of her favorite clients last week and had a very unfavorable visit. It was lunchtime, and one of the guys in the office had just microwaved his lunch. Amanda told me, “I don’t know what it was, but it absolutely reeked. The whole office smelled like school lunch. Remember the nasty breaded hamburger patty with gravy that they used to serve? Yeah. That.” Feeling nauseous, she excused herself. Amanda was there to sell her stuff to the client and she still left. Imagine how the client’s customers must react to the school lunch odor. If Amanda didn’t want to stick around to make a sale, it’s a pretty safe bet that customers don’t want to stick around long enough to give these guys money.

Amanda and I go out to lunch together about once a week. In the summer we like to swing by a great little sandwich/soup shop near my office and then picnic in the park. But we can only go there when it’s warm out, because we can’t stand to eat inside the place. You might think that the scent of piney-fresh floor cleaner would be a positive attribute in an eatery. I do like knowing that my deli is nice and clean. But this little shop uses some really, really strong cleaning products. It doesn’t matter what you order . . . ham, turkey, tuna. It all tastes like piney-cleaner. And we both get a huge headache if we stay inside for more than about 15 minutes. The food is really yummy, but I’m not willing to get cancer breathing in toxic cleaning fluid while I eat my ham and swiss.

There was a quaint little independent bookstore in my town a few years ago. It’s since gone out of business. I could blame that national chain bookstore (they built a shop nearby) or that big online book seller for chasing the little guy out of the game. But that would be unfair because I think the guy really did himself in. Like many other independent bookstores, this one had a resident cat. Sparkle was supposed to make the store appear more friendly and I suppose she (or he) was a nice addition. I’m ok with cats. I’m not allergic and they are kind of cute and cuddly. Turns out, I’m not ok with litter boxes. The guy who owned this little book shop wasn’t very diligent about cleaning out Sparkle’s poopy litter box. Sometimes I’d go in for a browse and the store would smell fine. I could wander around to my heart’s content and would often drop a hundred bucks on books. But other times, I could smell the litter box the moment I walked through the door. Yuck. I don’t want to smell cat poo while I peruse the shelves looking for a good read. On those days, I turned right back around and walked out. I suppose other people did the same because the cute little shop closed its doors within a year of opening.

The way your store smells really does have an impact on your sales. A Canadian study in 2000 showed that a bad smell was as much of an irritant to shoppers as loud music and bad customer service. (1) When you irritate your customers, they leave. Without buying anything. Here’s a short list of culprits that can cause bad smells to infiltrate your shop:

– Water leaks. A tiny water leak can make your shop smell like mildewy laundry that got left in the washing machine over the weekend. Or worse, it can smell like mold. Which is not only a bad smell, but a sign of a bigger problem.

– Lunch. If your business is in a small, confined area, stick to cold lunches. Microwaved leftovers and meatball subs from the sandwich shop might taste good, but they don’t smell very good to everyone else.

– Cleaning products. Yes, you should clean your store. Often. Either use the strong stuff at night after the shop is closed, or find a product that doesn’t smell like ammonia, pine or vinegar.

– Animals. You might be able to bring Spot, Fuzzy or Tweety to work with you if you have the right kind of business and a clientele that won’t mind. But if you do bring your pet, bathe him often and keep his food and doo-doo out of the store. It goes without saying that if you’re in the food biz, this is a huge no-no (the health department will close you down in a jiffy).

– Strong perfume or air freshener. It just makes people wonder what kind of nasty smell you’re trying to cover up. And the smell of overly-cloying roses reminds people of funeral homes. You don’t want customers to think about dead people while you’re trying to sell them stuff.

(1) Alain d’Astous. “Irritating Aspects of the Shopping Environment.” 2000.