Restrooms are for Customers Only

I am baffled by the widely accepted practice of hanging up a sign at a Retail Location that says: Restrooms for Customers Only. Why would any retail location NOT welcome people into their space? If you know anything about shopping habits you understand that familiarity makes shoppers relax, and when they’re relaxed they spend. One of the biggest challenges for any new retail location is to get people in the door the first time.

What’s your reaction when you see the Restroom Warning Sign? Mine is always “I’m never going in there;” you’ll only let me pee if you make money off of me? I envision myself with my 4 year old daughter bursting at the seams and no where to pee. I think, “Wow, are your restrooms too precious for the truly pee-needy?”

When I ask store owners about this I get lots of excuses:

1. “It was becoming a real problem with people coming in JUST to use the bathroom.”
2. “There were people living down the street under the bridge…”
3. “I’m not cleaning up after non-customers”

Really? Don’t many of your ‘customers’ come in and NOT make a purchase? Isn’t browsing allowed anymore?

Traffic is the life blood of Retail….. there are hundreds of books written on how to use signage to get people in the door, how to layout your store to get people to buy… the psychology of retail is finely tuned. No where in any of those books will you see the suggestion that you put up signs telling people not to come in your door.

IF you are one of the very rare Retailers who has a homeless problem right down the street, you can converse with your maker about how compassionate you want to be to a person in need of facilities. But the vast majority of Retailers using this sign are NOT dealing with that particular issue.

My office is located in an affluent town where we do not have loitering issues, and I see this sign everywhere.

In fact, there is an ice cream shop that has the following signs to make customers feel really special as they wait in line to order:

“Have your order ready when it is your turn.”
“If you drop your Ice Cream, that is YOUR problem.”
“If you are with a large group we will only issue ONE check.”

WHAT message do you think they’re sending? I know that’s an extreme example, but here’s the school of thought I come from:

I love my customers, and I even love the ones considering becoming my customer. I am always grateful and amazed when they turn their hard earned dollars over to me for my services. I think there is far too much negative energy in the world; I don’t intend on pushing any of it on the people who fund my paycheck. If I get to the point that I’ve even tempted to put up a sign like that, I’m quitting.

After everything our economy has been through in the last 4 years let me tell you something:

Every person still in business should be grateful to the people who walk through their door. You never know who you’re turning away with negative signage.

So if you’ve got a sign like that up, and I don’t care if it’s at the Gas Station you own, go take it down right now. Have some pity on the need-to-pee-ers. And have some gratitude that you own your business and people think it’s worth walking through your door.

  • John E.

    “Free the Pee!”


    Great points, Amy. If you want to get some relief from this economy, best to provide some to potential customers.

  • I agree with this 100%. Business owners need to lighten up. Now more than ever, they’re competing with free. Free blogs. Free wifi. Free samples. Free coffee. And, really? You want to charge people to use the restroom? Why don’t you cut the awkward sign out of the equation and just turn the restroom door into a slot machine that you must slip coins into for access.

    You make a brilliant point: you’re spending do much money to get customers in the door. So what if they’re there to use the restroom? They’re THERE. Store owners advertise sale items at a loss to get people in the door and have the opportunity to sell other stuff. Why guard the restrooms so fiercely? Here’s an idea: advertise your free restrooms! People with bladders are people with wallets.

    • Amy

      Love it “People with bladders are people with wallets.”

  • K

    Consider how well Apple is doing despite the economy. Now consider that people go into the Apple stores *just* to use the free wifi and to recharge their devices; without ever buying a single thing and even pretending they are going to. And Apple is just fine with that. Think about it. Where do you think those people will be looking next time they are in a buying situation?

    • Amy

      GREAT Example. There are reasons winners win.

  • That is why Starbuck’s and McDonald’s have free wi-fi…get and keep peeps there!

    • Amy

      EXACTLY. I am uber loyal to Starbucks because all the years I traveled as a VP/Sales, I was never made to feel like I’d overstayed my welcome when I had hour long meetings with reps. there.

  • John E.

    How about advertising your products on the restroom & stall doors too? Make good use of the space. I mean you have a captive audience, right?

  • I see this a lot with doctors as well. They have so many signs that you can barely find the person in the “window.” I’m not sure when we thought being punitive was the best way to serve customers. My favorite one said to give information to “the front desk girls.”
    Thanks for writing this.

    • Amy

      Jessica, I think doctors stopped thinking of us as their customers decades ago. Now, we are their minions. ๐Ÿ™

  • Joey

    Great read and 100% true…

    You kinda want to “pay the establishment back” when they let you use the bathroom or wifi. And one bad impression at one store can impact a potential buyers impression of the whole franchise.

    Impressions are not as good as a sale but they do go a long way.


    PS: thanks Caribou Coffee on N. Chares St. In Baltimore for the free wifi ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Amy

      EXACTLY Joey. I’m loyal to Starbucks because I’m grateful for the free wifi and free drink every 15. I refuse, or at least begrudgingly frequent any establishment that hangs signs like this.

  • When I see asinine signs like this, it makes me think the retailer is abrasive and unwelcoming. I am far less likely to ever become a customer when these types of signs are in place. Like John said, “Free the pee” but I’ll add to it…”Free the pee and increase the profits.”

  • Yep Amberr. Like so much of Sales & Marketing, it’s just common sense!!!