I can recall sitting in many a Performance Group meeting listening to a business owner telling the rest of the group how they have had to integrate accessibility features into new, or renovated buildings at extra cost. Whether it be a holiday park cabin requiring ramp access, a disabled toilet being installed in a supermarket or having to allocated valuable customer parking spots for disabled parking. At the time I sympathised with the business owner’s plight and thought it harsh of the planning authorities to make these requirements mandatory for small business owners who don’t have capital of larger corporations. However, having spent the bulk of the last 12 months in a wheelchair my opinion on the matter has somewhat changed.
It’s not so much that I now have more sympathy for those with disabilities, although I’m sure this is true. It’s that I have come far more aware of how many disabled and elderly people are out and about and how some business are benefitting from their custom , and some are turning them away.
My inspiration for this article has come from a local shopping centre in North West Sydney, Carlingford Court. There is nothing special about this suburban shopping centre. It’s big enough to have a Coles, Woolworths and Target, but small enough that is more of a convenience than a destination. But one thing I can tell you about Carlingford Court is that the car park is full everyday of the week, from early until late and I am convinced that this is partly due to their strong focus on attracting and keeping elderly and disabled customers.
The first thing they came to my attention (after driving past the thirty or so dedicated seniors parking places) was that when I visited the shopping centre in my wheelchair every staff member (security staff, concierge , trolley collectors, managers) all acknowledged me in a very friendly manner that made me feel welcomed and valued. I hate to write about toilets but the disabled toilet facilities in this shopping centre are second to none, and I have never found them to be anything other than spotless. In fact the only problem with this shopping centre is that they have become a victim of their own success. It is very hard to find an empty an empty disabled parking space, and let me tell you there is nothing that disabled people love more than their dedicated parking spaces; they are the equivalent of the Qantas lounge to a frequent flyer!
Most of the traders within the shopping centre have also done their best to attract disabled customers. Wide aisles, checkouts that are wide enough for wheelchairs are clearly marked; staff are helpful, and used to dealing with the elderly and those with a physical disability. However in every shopping centre there are businesses that are doing their best to deter these customers. The first warning sign is a cluttered shop with aisles packed with floor stock that prevents easy access for those on wheels. The best example of this I have ever seen was a baby shop that had such narrow, crowded aisles that you couldn’t get around the shop while pushing a pram! Some shops do have clear aisles most of the time, however staff are not trained to be wary of creating hazards for disabled customers. Recently my trip down the aisle of a newsagent was blocked by a fresh delivery of magazines sitting on the floor. Not only could I not reach the magazine I was after (so no purchase made) but I had to turn around in a narrow aisle with other customers having to get out of my way. I no longer patronise this newsagent, not out of spite, I just want a repeat of that situation.
I was planning to end the article with a list of tips to attract disabled or elderly customers. However I found a comprehensive list on the website of UK supermarket chain Morrisons (see below). The full extent of their facilities might not be realistic for smaller businesses; however it gives a good guide of the key areas to look at. To get started, welcoming entrances and aisles are vital, and also having staff trained to be on the lookout for disabled and elderly customers who may require assistance, or just a warm greeting (hopefully all customers are already getting this!). If you are a tenant, why not put the pressure on your landlord to make sure they are doing their best to attract the disabled dollar?
Australian Disability Facts and Figures:
- Over 4 million Australians have a disability. That’s one in five people.
- Almost 90 per cent of disabilities are not visible.
- Around 3.4 million Australians (15%) have a physical disability
- 1 in 6 Australians are affected by hearing loss. By 2050, it is project to be 1 in every 4 Australians who will have hearing loss.
- Around 300,000 Australians have a substantial vision impairment (i.e. not correctable by glasses), with around 20,000 being totally blind.
- In 2009, 54.3% of people with a disability participated in the labour force compared to 83% of people without a disability.
- A disability is any condition that restricts a person’s mental, sensory or mobility functions. It could be caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease. A disability may be temporary or permanent, total or partial, lifelong or acquired, visible or invisible.
- 2.1 million Australians of working age (15-64yrs) have a disability.
(Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009, Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC).)
It’s interesting that the list below shows that Morrisons dedicate 5% of their parking to disabled spaces. Does this mean that they expect 5% of their trade to be generated by customers requiring this facility? Is that 5% you’re missing out on?
List of facilities for disabled customers
Source: Morrisons UK
- Car parking
At least 5% of car parking spaces are dedicated to blue badge
holders. The spaces are easily recognisable, painted blue with
the wheel chair symbol featured prominently in the middle.
All our stores have entrances that are accessible with wide
automatic doors or wide revolving doors.
- Assistance dogs
Welcome at any of our stores.
All stores have a range of trolleys including shallow/high
trolleys and low/deep trolleys for wheelchair users. A trolley
with padding and straps for disabled children up to the
age of 7 years is also available.
There are standard wheelchairs in stores plus an extra wide
wheelchair in most. These can be found next to the Customer
Please check our store facilities to see which of our stores offer
- Motorised carts
There is a motorised cart in most stores, found next to the
Customer Service Desk. These can be booked by telephoning
your local store.
- Customer café
Cutlery and crockery designed specifically for customers who
have difficulty gripping is available at every store. Easily
accessible tables have a sign stating that priority will be given
to those who require the use of these tables. For menus in
Braille and large print, please ask a member of staff.
- Induction loops
Are fitted at all stores and are located on the Customer Service
Desk, Petrol Filling Station Counter, Cigarette Kiosk Counter
and on up to three Checkouts.
Wide aisle checkouts are available in all stores and we offer assistance with your packing.
Benches are provided in store for customers’ use. If a customer with specific requirements needs a chair, one will be provided.
- Help is on hand
All members of staff in stores have undertaken disability training and will ensure that as far as possible any additional needs are met. Please ask at the Customer Service Desk if you require any assistance.
Chris Young, Training and Implementation Manager
Chris Young has 14 years’ experience in retail business management. He has worked with food retail franchisors such as McDonald’s UK and Boost Juice Bars in both store and regional management.
He completed the McDonald’s Management Development Program and worked for the McDonald’s training department in London, where he ran courses ranging from people management to accounting practices for both franchisees and corporate management.
Chris is responsible for Resurg’s education strategy. He develops and helps run the workshops and performance groups that are a key part of Resurg’s profit improvement methodology.
“My favourite part of my job is working with business owners,” Chris says. “No two people approach their business in the same way. I particularly enjoy the performance groups because the business owners involved really enjoy giving and receiving feedback on their businesses and some of the tangible results that come out of this forum are fantastic.”