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On-foot observations offer valuable business perspectives

SUNDAY, SEPT. 4, 2011

I wear out more shoes than tires, burn more calories than gasoline, and I see the streets of Spokane at a level that most people miss as they whiz by in cars or on bikes. I notice the successful urban plantings and those left to the weeds. I stand next to citizens as we wait for the “walk” light, and strike up conversations with people from every income level as I walk to my destinations.

I see businesses from the ground up – some welcoming, some scary. I am a firsthand witness to the successes and failures of how we care for this city – its green spaces and parks. The view from the sidewalk is just different. And when you spend enough time on that beat, you learn many things.

This was such a delayed summer that I made a point to spend as much time outside as possible once it warmed up and the rain stopped. I began to walk to appointments that were reasonably close, scheduled lunch meetings at assorted downtown eateries, and even made an occasional bank deposit on foot. When the gray days of winter set in, I want to feel confident I soaked up every moment of glorious weather while still being productive.

It’s hard to look at your business through the eyes of customers or potential customers, but every business should re-evaluate these perspectives seasonally:

• How would you feel if you were a brand-new customer approaching your place of business?

• Is your sidewalk or parking lot inviting? Is it clean and well-lit? Can you see the parking lines, or are they so faded or covered with dirt that they are a mystery?

• Are cobwebs taking over your windows so that people expect to see the “going out of business” sign any day now?

• Is there trash just around the corner? Do you police the area where your customers might walk?

• Remember all the money you spent on that spiffy landscaping? Does anyone keep it clean and weeded, or was the investment wasted?

• Do you have outdated posters and sale flyers in the windows?

• When it snows, do you quickly clear the way for your clients?

• What about the graffiti on your building?

A neglected gateway to your business sends a message most business owners do not want to send. Make your place look cared for, prosperous and ready to do good business. Grime and lack of attention does not encourage someone to come in expecting you know how to care for them. Would you allow your front-line staff to look messy and unkempt? I doubt it, but your parking lot and storefront area are the real front lines.

I have a short list of pet peeves when it comes to storefronts, sidewalks and parking lots. Some will keep me from doing business with you, some are beyond your control, and others are minor irritations.

• Smokers blocking the sidewalk or doorway outside your business, or a large pile of cigarette butts, will always make me turn away or keep walking. You can count on it.

• Abandoned landscaping surrounding your business will diminish my perception as I walk in.

• I am annoyed by those who ride bikes on the sidewalk, pedestrians who walk in front of cars while ignoring the red crosswalk light, and similar breaches. But an overheard conversation last week restored some of my faith:

A man, his three kids younger than 12, and I were standing on a corner waiting for the light to change. There was little traffic and his oldest daughter said, “Let’s go, there are no cars.” The man replied, “The definition of integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody is watching.”

It was all I could do not to hug him.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at

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