Let’s Talk About Perception

Let’s talk about perception. No, not the kayak manufacturer. I’m talking about the way customers view your store. Why? Because what they see could be drastically different than what you see.Lonoke, Ark. — There’s not much here. A McDonald’s and a gas station have beckoned me away from a westbound journey on I-40. Soon, I’ll be in Oklahoma scouting out the latest and greatest from Rat-L-Trap and Gene Larew for FTR. But for now, I’m taking in the sights and sounds of Lonoke, and one of those sights is not something you’d expect.

Maybe that’s because, in certain businesses, you expect certain things. It may not be fair, but it is true. You expect the interstate to be full of semi trucks, you expect McDonald’s to be out of ketchup, and you expect roadside gas stations to be dirty.

But sometimes your expectations are wrong.

If you visit Lonoke, Ark., you’ll find the interstate is indeed full of trucks, and McDonald’s is most likely out of ketchup (again), but Doublebee’s number 131 will leave you in awe. Doublebee’s is a gas station that is different: it is clean, it is crisp, and it—despite what you might imagine—is quite small.

Presumably, there are at least 130 other Doublebee’s stations spread throughout…uh, somewhere. But this particular service station had the unmistakable air of a small business, not a corporation. A friendly clerk greeted me when I walked in the door—emphasis on friendly. The isles were cleaner than a PineSol commercial. The restrooms defied the human experience of a service station. All of this was a completely unexpected and unusually pleasant experience. In the midst of taking the store’s well-lit aisles in, I noticed an awesome deal on bottled iced coffee that comes from a company that rhymes with Carducks.

Enough about the gas station.

It was clean, it was unexpected, the service was great. You get that.

And what you probably also get is that tackle stores don’t always have a glittering reputation for friendliness or cleanliness. It’s the filthy truth: some tackle stores are just dirty. Part of that is the nature of the beast. I’ve yet to personally meet a clean cricket or a well-groomed shiner minnow. But part of that perception is habit.

Because perception is reality, a gas station in rural Arkansas has convinced me that it’s always a clean and tidy place. It’s also always a place for me to stop and get cheaper expensive coffee. It might not be, but that perception is now planted in my mind … based on one experience.

What is the experience like for a new customer in your store? Do you make it a point to defy expectations? Are well-lit isles, well-organized displays and a friendly smile part of your daily surroundings? Or are you one of those tackle stores that feel more like the inside of a roadside bathroom?

It’s not meant to be an offensive question; it’s meant to be a real question. That’s because the real answer can make an actual impact on the way people perceive your store.

To be sure, you can run a good tackle store without being crisp and clean, but can you run a great one?