When I was growing up, the restaurants my family frequented almost all had something in common, and it wasn’t the type of cuisine. It also wasn’t the type of seating, the ambiance, or even the quality of the food.


Instead, my dad tended to steer us towards restaurants with open kitchens– the ones that allowed you to walk through the kitchen en route to the dining room. The food may have been average, the ambiance understated, but at least Dad didn’t have to worry about my brother and me getting food poisoning. It was always a treat to walk through a busy kitchen, marveling at the quick efficiency of each spic-and-span workstation as we passed.

He’s been gone for many years, but I know that Dad would also be impressed by recent developments in the convenience store industry.  When our family took our annual summer trip to a national monument or Civil War site, my brother and I would beg my parents to stop the car at the most inopportune moments. Often, the only rest stops available were full of exposed rusty pipes, grungy floor tiles, and a fetid stench that – to put it mildly—did not meet my mom’s stringent cleanliness standards.


Things have changed greatly in the last decade.  Sheetz has arguably been the leader in this space, embodying the very best that the convenience store industry has to offer.  They have established an unsurpassed commitment to foodservice and technology, a world-class distribution model, and most importantly, a focus on safety and cleanliness. 

But what does this have to do with your brand? Surprisingly, quite a lot.


The Secret to Consumer Satisfaction


All successful companies spend copious time identifying their consumer’s needs and strategizing the best way to help fill them. For a hair salon, that might means using the right products and techniques, as well as the perfect lighting and furniture to create a comfortable experience. For a fast food joint, it might mean delicious food, tight turnaround times, healthy options, and an easy-to-eyeball menu. After all, customer satisfaction is crucial to the success of any business.


But many companies make the mistake of downplaying one of the most crucial contributors to customer satisfaction. It doesn’t matter how dynamic your employees are, how professional your services are, or how tempting your products are; if your place of business looks like a city dump, your customers will waltz right out. In fact, a 2017 survey released by P&G Professional found that 92% of consumers rank cleanliness above all other factors when deciding whether they should become a repeat customer.


This can obviously be a challenge. For many companies, factors such as a high volume of foot traffic, bad weather, or messy services/products (e.g., food, cut hair or animal fur, fallen leaves and pollen from flower arrangements) can seem to undo any cleaning progress minutes after it has been accomplished. In addition, most management and staff find it difficult to regularly view their store’s cleanliness objectively, from the customer’s perspective.


Luckily, there are concrete steps you can take to make sure that the cleanliness of your place of business doesn’t get lost in the mess of day-to-day work.


Three Steps to a Clean Business


The first step to keeping your place of business spotless is making sure to develop a regular cleaning schedule for your employees. The schedule needs to include built-in accountability checks, ensuring that each cleaning job is completed at a set time. While hiring a cleaning crew can be helpful for deep cleaning, basic tasks usually need to be completed more regularly, which means that employees will need to take on that responsibility. The good news? These tasks are usually easier than deep cleaning; tasks like wiping down the checkout area or giving the floor a quick sweep don’t take hours, but can go a long way towards customer satisfaction.


Secondly, you’ll want to make spend time up front with new employees – or with old employees when you first implement the schedule – making sure that they are properly trained in how to complete their cleaning jobs efficiently and effectively.

Constant Improvement

Last, avoid becoming complacent. On a regular basis, visit competing businesses to make sure that your own location seems comparable. Remember that many customers check online services such as Yelp before booking a hotel room, making a nail appointment, or trying out a gym membership, and cleanliness is one of the top factors that many online reviewers focus on.

The Nuts and Bolts of Clean

But when it comes to cleaning up your act, it can be easy to overlook some details. These are some of the basics that most attractive businesses use to keep their location looking presentable to their customers:

  • Start with sanitary design. When you design your business’s location, set things up for clean conditions from the start. That might mean using protective gloves for dirty tasks, using floor and counter materials that are easy to clean, and installing exhaust fans in areas used for services that produce fumes.
  • Don’t overlook outdoor mess. Dirty sidewalks, smelly dumpsters, or smudged front doors and windows do not belong near your place of business. Remember, the path into your store gives your customers their first impression of your business–one that can be difficult to overcome.
  • Give extra attention to high-traffic areas. This includes the store entrance, checkout counter, or other often-used areas of the store.
  • Put safety first. While all areas of your business should be clean, any areas that may make contact with food should be top priority. A sticky countertop can potentially cause a food safety incident, which should be avoided at all costs.
    • Don’t forget the restroom. No matter what your place of business, any restroom that is visible to your customers should be cleaned several times a day of any noticeable soil, as well as disinfected consistently. Employees should also be instructed to empty and reline the trash can, restock the paper products, and quickly wipe down sinks and mirrors regularly. Nothing has the ability to disgust a customer quite like a moldy, soiled bathroom.
    • Mop, mop, mop. According to P&G, floor shine can increase facility appearance ratings by 75%. So sweep and wash your floors regularly, cleaning up any spills immediately if possible.
    • Mind your dust. Cobwebs and dust send your customers the message that you don’t take pride in your place of business, or that it is disused and old. They can also cause allergy symptoms in some workers and customers. Regularly dust shelves, furniture, fixtures, and electronics to keep your location looking new and cared for.

    In food service and related businesses, cleanliness and hygiene is crucial. But in all industries, when it comes to protecting your brand and selling your business to current customers, cleanliness is a must. It can affect your customers’ general experience, brand loyalty, and willingness to spread the word about your business to friends and family. So make cleanliness and hygiene a top priority by consistently providing your customers with a clean and healthy location that even my parents would love to recommend.

    Written by Rob Brown