Is Your Dealership a Drive-By?

Enhance your exterior and improve first impressions.

I live about 20 minutes south of downtown Portland, Oregon. Within 25 minutes in all directions are about 25 RV dealerships, showrooms, new and used sales and parts/service departments.

People have choices when they’re looking for an RV in the Pacific Northwest. We’re not all riding bicycles! As with everyone everywhere, we do a lot of driving, and while we drive, we look at stores that interest us and capture our attention. When searching for a place to shop for an RV, we notice the quantity of RV units in the parking lots, the signs (if there are any) and the showroom if we can see it from the road. Below are some ideas about what helps us decide to stop and shop.

Movement: There is a dealership east of Portland that put out brightly colored banners on every vertical pole in front of their property. Movement is eye-catching! As their lot is long and large, there were a least 15 banners blowing in the wind. They alternated from red to yellow, and the same banner colors were on the front of the dealership to tie in the promotion. I have no idea if they got permission from the electric company to hang the banners or if they figured it would be best to ask for forgiveness. What I do know is these banners made a strong visual statement and encouraged people to slow down and take a look. What are you doing that encourages people to check you out?

Colors: Having a signature color combination for banners, signage and promotions is a good start. If a shade of blue or green is your logo color, consider a warm complementary color for sale signs and banners. Blues and greens are the most favored colors around the globe. Blue skies and water plus green foliage gives us life. Life would end without those colors in our world. But these are calming, recessive colors. Anything with yellow, red, orange and pink will stand out and capture attention. If your logo is a dark blue, add bright yellow or yellow-green as an accent. Mid-blues work well with yellow, orange and red tones. If your logo uses a shade of green, consider golden yellow or a tangerine hue for your accent color. Corals (orange/red mix) go with everything and are more sophisticated. Pick a polyester fabric that can survive the elements.

The Front: Once you’ve captured someone’s attention, they’re going to look at your store facade. Is your sign clean and fresh? A Chinese restaurant about 10 minutes from my home has good reviews, but I had never considered it as their sign is so faded and the entire building looks sad. I figured, how good can their food be? I went there, and it was OK, not great. Sadly, their sign was the perfect representation of the overall quality of the experience.

Upkeep: If you have lights, are they working? An unlit sign is a waste of space. It’s not always sunny in Philly – or anywhere outside Arizona, so fix it now. Is the paint on your building clean, or is it peeling and cracked? How about your parking lot – clean or dirty, lit or unlit? Can people with walking challenges get into your front door? Is your front door easy to open? If it sticks, you’re creating a bad first impression. Fix it!

Front Door: Speaking of the front door, there are only four things that need to be on or near your front door: store name, street number, hours and (if you choose) a “We Welcome All” sign. An “Open” sign in neon so it can be seen from the street is also a necessity.

Windows: Window dressing may sound like something that all the other retailers have to do but not RV dealerships. Really, what can you do – shove an RV in the window? Well, for a start, yes, that can work. There are many things you can put into your windows to “dress them.” The question is: Why should you?

    • Define Your Image: The windows of a store instantly define your image and are excellent advertising space. They tell people who you are. Windows are considered the “eyes” of a store. The expression “The eyes are the windows to the soul” works for businesses as well. Empty windows are depressing and often make a place look closed. If you have windows, it pays to put something in them.
    • Your Image: If you’re an upscale RV retailer, your windows will reflect that with an interesting display and good graphics. If you are a discounter and price is your defining point, your windows may be filled with huge paper signs or promotions painted on the glass. For those of you in the middle, your windows exist to set you apart from your competitors by drawing attention to your store – hopefully in a positive manner.
    • Be Memorable: Another benefit to doing a window display is that it makes your business memorable. It’s easy to pass by a store that does nothing. It looks like a quiet building with a few cars outside in the parking lot. A window display says to passersby that you care about your products, your customers and your dealership. A window display can impart a sense of permanence, and that is vital for the appearance of reliability.
    • Create an Experience: The window introduces the beginning of the shopping experience. The term so many are talking about is “Experiential Retailing.” Boomers (and younger generations) are interested in experiences and remember a store more for what they experienced there than for the deal – although a good deal is always appreciated.
    • Making Windows Work: Every window display needs one thing to make it work – lights! If you are going to invest in this form of on-street advertising, please consider adding an 8-foot track with warm LED floodlights (2,700-3,000k). If it says “Daylight,” it will look blueish. Depending on the height of your windows, the track should be mounted on the window wall, so the lights point directly onto the face of your display, not over the top of it. If your windows go up (from the floor) past 10 feet high, you may have to have the track lowered from the ceiling. There’s no point in having lights much higher than 10 feet from the floor as the beam of light will not reach your merchandise and light it up sufficiently. Look at a mix of floodlight and spotlight bulbs for the track light fixtures. The floodlights enhance the entire area, while the narrow spots make specific items pop with light.

If You Don’t Have Windows: Special promotions can be advertised with outdoor standing banners or with banners hanging from your roofline. Just make sure that if you’re a full-price retailer that the banners are hung straight and look attractive and professional. There are fewer expectations placed on discounters, but how you hang your signs directly reflects on your installation abilities far more than a banner does. So, full-price or discount, do it right the first time.

Also, adding flowers or plants outside your store will soften the exterior and make it appear more inviting.

If You Can See Into Your Store: What do customers see as they look in through your windows? What they see first are your street focal areas. Even if you don’t have window displays, these focal areas will serve to define your store on a first impression. These are great spots for photo blowups – even an enlarged cutout of people interacting with a small RV would be fun inside.

First impressions can be lasting ones. Make the first impressions of your RV dealership positive and welcoming.

Linda Cahan

Linda Cahan of Cahan & Co. has a proven track record of helping retailers of all stripes to look better to sell more. She consults with retailers of all sizes and categories to improve their bottom line through creative, affordable and appropriate visual merchandising, store design and retail renovations.

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