I honestly think that small business owners and the architects that work with them think these things are the spawn of the devil. It’s invariably shoved in a corner that was probably originally on the plans as ‘storage’ until the contractor pointed out that if they didn’t put a bathroom somewhere the building inspector wasn’t going to pass them.
Guys, speaking as a woman with a very opinionated bladder – this is DUMB! Bathrooms can make a difference in where customer’s chose to spend their money. A customer with mobility issues – even if they can walk – isn’t going to chose a business where the bathroom makes it difficult or impossible to do their business! The first time they encounter a difficulty will be the last time they shop there – or stay long enough to make a few impulse buys.
A lot of the big retailers have caught on. Wal-mart’s bathrooms are showing a lot of improvement – gone are the stark white walls and the impossible to turn off sinks. Similar changes are being made in other major retailers as they update their stores.
Granted, a small business can’t update the bathroom just because – but when you are planning a new building or otherwise remodeling, it’s time to think about making that necessary evil into an asset.
Number One: We Ain’t All Size Zero
Join the 21st Century – most Americans are significantly larger – both in height and waistline – than their ancestors. The building codes haven’t always kept up. If you want to increase you maintenance costs – and you shouldn’t – then by all means make tiny stalls so you can stuff more stalls in the same space. Just do NOT be surprised that toilets have to be reseated on a regular basis.
In truth, toilets that have been properly seated shouldn’t need to be reseated for several years and then only if something goes wrong. What happens instead is that the stalls are too small and customers end up using the toilet itself to push off of in order to get up. All that extra wiggling plays havoc with the bolts and the wax ring. Eventually, one if not both fail and you’re calling a plumber.
And you’re probably having to rehang paper dispensers and trash cans for the exact same reason.
Make stalls large enough that even large customers can get their feet under them – they will be less likely to use your toilet and fixtures as handrails!
Number Two: Accessibility is for Everyone!
One handicapped stall just doesn’t cut it – there are a lot of people with money in their pockets and mobility issues. They can’t use the tiny stalls with no handrails – or if they do, they are having a heck of a time getting the job done.
Of course, only a small number of people are in wheelchairs even temporarily – so while it might not make sense to build more than one wheelchair accessible stall, the remaining stalls can be made accessible for those with less significant mobility needs. Handrails where they can be reached and used will save enormous wear and tear on the fixtures! They will also encourage shoppers to hang around and shop – knowing that if nature calls they can answer without learning new gymnastics!
Number Three: Every Part Counts!
Your building’s bathroom is as much a part of the store as the storefront glass windows – and it can contribute to your marketing!
A person with mobility or medical issues needs to be able to use the facilities like anyone else. But they will frequently judge a retail business by its restrooms. If the restrooms are accessible but ugly they will win out against a similar outlet with gorgeous restrooms of limited accessibility.
But you are trying to appeal to as many potential customers as possible – the able bodied and not so able bodied alike like nice things – a comfortable, good looking and accessible bathroom is a selling point. Even healthy people have to go sometime – and knowing that your company cared enough to make even the restroom appealing may well make the difference between shopping with you or shopping with your competitor!
This is a good time to mention the men’s room in particular. Guys may not be shy but they do like a little privacy – consider adding small stall walls between urinals just to make it a little more comfortable.
Number Four: It’s WHERE?!?!
Look at what major retailers do and follow suit. Wal-mart builds football field sized stores – and puts restrooms on both ends. Frankly, the largest box stores need to up their game and add a few more locations but the point is that they recognize that their customers need to be able to get to the facility.
Your store may not be that big but don’t make going to the restroom into an adventure. No customers appreciate a maze just to get where to go when they need to go. And whatever else you do make sure that the hall/access way stays clear! You customer may climb over boxes once out of desperation – but they will go to your competitor’s nice, open, and accessible store the next time.
Number Five: Ack, there’s no _________!
You can install a residential toilet paper holder – but unless your business has no traffic at all you’ll never keep up with maintaining it. Spend the money and get good retail dispensers – and not just toilet paper. Hand soap, towels, seat covers – whatever supplies you are going to provide make sure the fixtures for them are large and accommodate a good supply. A beautiful, well lit, accessible bathroom with no toilet paper is not going to win you customers. A beautiful, well lit, accessible bathroom with tiny residential fixtures looks cheap – and defeats the purpose of all the money you spent making it a nice bathroom in the first place.
If you opt for hand dryers, get good ones – customer’s don’t want to walk out of your bathroom with wet hands – or hand prints on their pants. Also, spend a little time checking out the manufacturer – unreliable machines are just maintenance headaches and annoy customers on top of it.
You don’t need to cover the walls in marble – but you do need a comfortable, accessible bathroom if you are open to the public. A little extra effort will pay off in customer retention!