CSD: What Do Your Restrooms Say About You?

Feb 26, 2010

By Erin Rigik

Through a special arrangement,
presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience
Store Decisions

With the c-store industry’s growing presence in foodservice,
a clean restroom can literally be the difference between a customer making
a purchase or heading to the nearest restaurant. But a restroom is often
a destination at a c-store.

QuikTrip, which operates 537 stores across the
Midwest, attracts a large number of commuters that specifically stop in to
use the bathroom. Parents also seek out clean restrooms where they can take
their young children. “When
I’m at my kids’ soccer games or baseball games and you see some of the toddlers
who need a restroom break, it’s interesting to hear a parent say, ‘hang on
until we get to QuikTrip,'” said Mike Thornbrugh, a spokesperson for the

McDonald’s has one person on every shift personally responsible for checking
the restrooms on a set schedule to ensure they are stocked and clean.

“I think they’re rewarded with a lot of customers who wouldn’t go to
a place without clean restrooms. A lot of elderly customers sometimes can’t
go anywhere without a restroom whether it’s a restaurant or a c-store,” noted
Brandon O’Dell, a consultant for O’Dell Restaurant Consulting.

QuikTrip, like
McDonald’s, has a planned schedule for when restrooms are to be cleaned as
well as the store itself. But, Mr. Thornbrugh said, that while having a cleaning
schedule is important, that alone is not always sufficient — a chain’s employees
also need to be ready to respond to various factors. For example, bad weather
days can lead customers to track in mud or snow, or one day could see a huge
influx in customers using the restroom, meaning more frequent cleaning and
restocking could be necessary.

Rutter’s Farm Stores also uses a restroom cleaning
checklist and requires employees to check the facilities restroom for any issues
a minimum of two times per shift, and also to clean and correct any problems
they might see when they themselves use the restroom. The chain also provides
each store with a mobile cleaning device to make the cleaning process more
efficient. What’s more, the chain provides a button in each restroom that a
customer can press if they are unhappy with the condition of the restroom.

what should restroom checks involve? Employees should be checking supplies
of toilet paper, soap and paper towels, as well as emptying trashcans and cleaning
any wet spots on the floor. Sinks must be cleaned and the handles checked to
ensure they are working. Equipment, such as hand driers, should also be tested
regularly. Employees should also make sure the bathroom smells good and automatic
air fresheners should be replaced if needed.

Other factors to consider include
the overall condition of the restroom. “If
paint’s chipping off the wall or the floor is in disrepair, that defeats the
purpose of cleaning the restroom,” Mr. O’Dell said.

Questions: To what degree should operators encourage customers to see restrooms
as a destination in their stores and restaurants? Are clean restrooms, as
an attribute, underplayed by most retailers?

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14 Comments on "CSD: What Do Your Restrooms Say About You?"

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Ryan Mathews
12 years 2 months ago

Hey it worked for Holiday Inn and McDonalds. I’m not sure if you want customers thinking bathrooms ahead of your other brand attributes, but there’s no question clean restrooms say a lot about an operation — particularly one selling food.

Jonathan Marek
12 years 2 months ago

It all depends on location, location, location. In downtown San Francisco, I’d hate to be trying to maintain a free public restroom in a c-store as it becomes disgusting every 5 minutes! But outside of urban areas, it’s a great idea, especially from multi-unit retailers that can establish a brand. Yes, QT and McD are the classic examples, but many regional c-store chains and QSRs could help their business by following suit. As a father of 3 small kids, it wouldn’t take long to develop that brand with me!

The difficulty, of course, is the operations. QT and McDonalds pull it off because their operational controls over store activities are the best in the business. It’s going to be harder for a Shell or a Burger King. But of course, investments in improving operational process execution have many other benefits as well.

Al McClain
Al McClain
12 years 2 months ago

Here is one of the most basic things retailers can do – clean their restrooms well and regularly. And yet so many don’t do it. The c-store channel is so inconsistent that I think many consumers are like me and will seek out a McDonald’s, Starbucks, or similar chain with a better reputation for cleanliness because with a c-store you never know what you’re going to find. I like the idea of the “push button for service” but the key is in the execution – is there anybody who cares on the other end?

I also agree with the point about urban areas being tougher, in terms of maintaining clean restrooms. Part of the reason for that is so many retailers give up and don’t offer public restrooms at all. But, build a reputation for clean restrooms and clean operations in general and more business will eventually come your way.

David Zahn
12 years 2 months ago
For longtime readers of retailwire, my comments will probably come as no surprise (remember, I was the guy who was “down” on the idea of medical clinics integrated into or attached to grocery stores because I did not want to encourage people who are KNOWINGLY sick handling or coughing over produce, handling products, or in any other way risking infecting other shoppers – it is the “germophobe” in me). The idea of a bathroom being a destination for a retailer (C-Store or restaurant) resonates with me because the ability to live in a bubble protected from bacteria, virus, and other contaminents has not been perfected. I imagine it would be even stronger if I were not a male who does not have to interact with the bathroom quite as intimately. Walking into a bathroom that is a sewer above ground, with wet floors, towels strewn about, unkempt units, etc. is an automatic invitation for me to begin to question where else the retailer is cutting corners and what else is not quite up to standard… Read more »
Steve Montgomery
12 years 2 months ago
Gas stations were the traveler’s source of restrooms for many years. As gas stations morphed into c-store gasoline locations they remained important, but many customers found that QSR’s like McDonald’s had more consistently clean restrooms and offered the chance to get in and out quickly (larger facilities). As c-stores got more involved in foodservice they began to place an even greater emphasis on their restrooms because they realized the impact a clean restroom had on the traveler’s perception of their food quality. When working with clients in the c-store industry we tell them they need to have a restroom tactic as part of their foodservice strategy. In addition to simply being very clean, we advise them to include the following: A restroom pledge stating that we offer clean restrooms (and mean it) A cleaning schedule that is posted where the customer can see it and that is adhered to. Sign posted that emphatically states that employees must wash their hands before returning to work. An 800 number posted that the customer can call if the… Read more »
Eithel Simpson
Eithel Simpson
12 years 2 months ago

I’ve been teaching retailing at the university level for almost 30 years. One of the major concepts I teach the students is customer service. Within that unit, I emphasize the fact that clean restrooms show that a retailer really cares about their customers. One example I use is the bathrooms at Nordsroms. They have great customer service and it is reflected in clean restrooms, which are truly “rest”-rooms. This concept should be easily carried over to any type of bricks & mortar retailer.

Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
12 years 2 months ago

Walmart’s mantra in operations: “fast, CLEAN, friendly” is there for a reason. They and other retailers now see clean bathrooms as a critical success factor as they court female shoppers and more specifically, the ever-important “mom” demo. Attend a few focus groups with moms and you’ll start to look at every shopping cart, package, restaurant high chair and bathroom as a mine field!

I’ve noticed the trend toward restrooms being positioned within C-stores vs. outside and that’s smart. Anything that has customers moving through the merch in order to get to something else, then staying a while and going back through makes for higher register rings. Public restrooms should be seen as yet another customer touch point, one that drives destination shopping and incremental sales.

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
12 years 2 months ago

In my comments on human needs yesterday, I neglected this urgent one! By all means, deal with your customers holistically. Years ago a supermarket executive told me that their target demographic was the stock-up shopper. So who do they thing is making those 50% of the trips buying 1-5 items? These are stock-up shoppers, just on a different trip.

The very same principle applies to rest rooms. Are you serving your customers, or serving yourself? No need to tell me whether you are customer focused. The fact that we are having this discussion at RetailWire pretty well proves that the vast majority of retailers are NOT customer focused. They lie to themselves about this, and pay with lost sales due to lost traffic.

Craig Sundstrom
12 years 2 months ago

To what degree should operators encourage customers to see restrooms as a destination in their stores and restaurants?
> To the degree that they actually buy something when they come out.

Bill Hanifin
12 years 2 months ago

This should be the biggest “no brainer” on the list of low-cost improvements that a c-store could take to improve its business.

There are iPhone apps and web sites devoted to the topic and whether you are on the road with the family or a road warrior looking for some sanity (and cleanliness) during a long day, there is nothing better than finding a clean restroom.

The move by major oil companies in the US to rid themselves of distribution opens the door to inconsistency in the C-store product. Keeping the franchise name on the sign should be predicated on several factors and consistency of cleanliness to corporate standards in one of them.

Store staff are a perishable resource. They are paid for a shift and every moment they spend gazing at a magazine is investment wasted. Using this resource to deliver a higher quality product makes perfect and easy sense.

David Livingston
12 years 2 months ago

I will tell you how important this is. One time about 15 years ago I was doing an acquisition analysis of some retail chain on the East Coast. I think it was Jamesway, which is long gone. The client required a facility analysis of each store and being short on time and manpower, we decided that we would go into the men’s room. Whatever condition the men’s room was in, that’s the grade we would give the entire store. Over the years I have learned that if the bathrooms are in poor condition, most likely the overall store is as well.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
12 years 2 months ago

No c-store–or any other store–should encourage consumers to view the restroom as a destination. The destination should always be the store and the lure should be an overall pleasing shopping experience–which includes a clean restroom.

I’d venture that customers visiting Ratter’s and QuikTrip do so for the clean restroom, as well as other equally pleasing reasons. Similarly, for chains with dirty, smelly bathrooms, I’d venture that the overall shopping experience stinks too. It’s the smart merchants who remember that clean, well-maintained restrooms are just as much a shopping enticement as unique product, foodservice and friendly/helpful associates.

Scott Knaul
Scott Knaul
12 years 2 months ago

As a former District Manager I have a very clear point of view about restrooms, if they are dirty it’s an indication of how the rest of the operation is run.

Christopher P. Ramey
12 years 2 months ago

Driving traffic into your store is essential to succeeding. So is managing the facility. I needn’t tell this august group the importance of a positive customer experience. Restrooms are an integral part of that experience. A dirty bathroom isn’t acceptable whether it’s a destination or not. Perhaps it’s also appropriate to mention that design and accessibility are also important components of the bathroom.

If you manage your operation so well that the bathrooms become a reason to enter your store. then you’ll be rewarded with increased revenues.


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