That Lovin’ Feeling

Originally published on April 11, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press

When you picture your favorite coffee shop, what is it that appeals to you? Do you enjoy the actual coffee? The people? Or is there something less tangibility associated? Perhaps a certain comfort, a feel, an expression of the personality of the place? The ambiance…

Ambiance is the unspoken secret weapon of successful businesses. Ambiance defines the character of a business and it is just as important as the quality of the products or services offered. Ambiance is the experiential first impression. Ambiance draws people in and keeps them there longer. It does not have to be fancy, expensive or technical. It simply has to be thoughtful.

Although Starbucks may not be your No. 1 coffee shop, we have Starbucks to thank for being ambiance-trepreneurs. Like it or hate it, Starbucks’ concept of the original “coffee shop” is responsible for an entire new industry in this country. The way a room or space feels resides in our consciousness and will have an immense impact on our mood, loyalty and spending habits. Starbucks nailed it.

Often in this column, I’ve expressed the importance of surprising and delighting our customers. The world’s greatest marketers understand this implicitly. Walt-Disney, for instance, has created theme parks that come “alive” as we all experience them with childlike wonder. Ropes come to life when people touch them. Secret trap doors open when pushed upon. Additionally, Disney theme parks are impeccably clean. Why? Disney has identified ambiance as so important that picking up trash is part of company culture. Every staff member from CEO to grounds crew is expected to pick up trash if they see it on the properties.

When considering the ambiance of your space, making a change may seem overwhelming. Some people seem blessed with a magic touch and the rest of us perhaps have talents in other areas… Talents or not, if you’re interested in upping your ambiance game, try starting with the three C’s: Clutter, Color and Character.

Clutter: When I took over the Chamber in early 2017, we were located in an outdated and oversized building on the edge of town. The walls were lined with brochures and business cards and the back rooms were filled with even more brochures and business cards. Shelves were stacked with expired phone books, papers and knickknacks. When I walked into the building, I most certainly did not get that lovin’ feeling.

Fast forward to now. Gone are the thousands of brochures; instead we opt for digital content. Gone is the clutter (as long as you don’t focus on my desk); instead we’ve organized and downsized. We now operate out of a coworking space in a fraction of the square footage. I feel happy nearly every day I walk into that space for work. It offers a feeling to both staff and members that could not be duplicated by a cold, boring cubicle or secluded office.

When we walk by a haphazard stack of outdated magazines every day, it doesn’t take long for them to become invisible from our consciousness. However, someone walking in off the street will immediately notice the magazines and any other clutter that has been amassed. A cost-free and effective way of improving ambiance is de-cluttering everything from restrooms to the storefront.

Color: GE manufactures MRI machines. One of their designers was testing a new machine when he saw a little girl being taken to the MRI machine for her scan. The child was terrified. Medical staff ended up sedating her in order to obtain a good scan. Brokenhearted by this scene, the designer was inspired to design an MRI machine that was less intimidating and more fun for children. Through the use of colorful decals and a little storytelling, the designer was able to create an MRI “pirate ship” that was fun and made the child patient the “star” of the pirate story.

Similarly, paint can make an unbelievable difference in a space for an inconsequential price. White walls can feel cold and clinical. When transformed with a splash of color, a space will feel updated and more personal. Don’t be afraid of bold color selections or adding murals or other artistic features to walls. You may also consider painting doors, fences, floors (if you have concrete floors), or furniture fixtures.

Character: I once had a need for a hotel in Austin, Texas. When looking for an affordable room in Austin, I found hundreds of options. However, I was drawn to the Highlander Hotel because of the quirky feel communicated by its website.

Upon arrival, I discovered the hotel was filled with pink plastic sheep. There was even one in the gym dressed in workout clothes. The walls were painted loud colors and in addition to fun quotes throughout the property. The hotel offered street tacos for breakfast instead of the traditional fare and supplied free beer from a college style keg in the evenings. The character of the hotel sold me over any other attribute.

The feel of a space should immediately convey the personality and tone of a business. Although this seems obvious, we must ensure we communicate that to customers or staff the moment they walk through the door. Is the business quirky or traditional? Formal or informal? Is there a mascot (pink sheep is already taken)? The feel should be consistent with a business’ identity. It is all in the details. People will notice things someone has made an effort to care about and it will become part of the reason they are loyal to the brand or organization.

Axe the clutter, add the color and exploit the character. Then invite them in to stay awhile. And spend all their money.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Contact her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.