Cintas is a company that provides work clothing services, restroom cleaning, document management, and facility cleaning. They run a “Best Restroom Contest” and this year the finalists are CHOP, a steakhouse in Richmond B.C.; Steamworks Brew Pub in Gastown Vancouver, British Columbia; MoRoCo Chocolat restaurant and dessert lounge in Toronto, Ontario; Marché Restaurant Toronto, Ontario; and perhaps most interestingly, the Valleyview Shell Super Station in Valleyview, Alberta (population 1,884) (http://www.bestrestroom.com/canada/vote.asp).
The case is another example of how delighting customers is, at its root, often a matter of business people putting themselves into the shoes of their customers rather than staring at PowerPoint decks of “consumer insights.”
Joe O’Connor’s piece in the National Post describes the delight and appreciation the washroom in Valleyview Alberta elicits from its patrons:
Granite countertops polished to a high shine. Travertine tile floors, sparkling stainless steel fixtures, chandeliers and heated floors and solid alder wood doors and a delightful smell, a scent of freshness, the fragrance of a welcoming space that has been buffed and scrubbed and loved and that speaks to all those who enter: “Come on in, why don’t you, and stay a while.”
And some women do stay a while, while other women take pictures, while still more gush a thank you to the staff at the Valleyview Shell Superstation, in Valleyview, Alta., for all they have given to them. Which, in a word, is the most serene gas station ladies’ washroom quite possibly anywhere — and quite probably ever.
“It is a spa feeling, you walk in and it just has a wow factor — it is a total wow,” says Silvia Barks, a supervisor at Valleyview, her voice flush with pride. “It is all very overwhelming. The chandeliers, the granite, the doors — it is a better place, even if it is just a washroom.”
But it is not just a washroom. In fact, it could be The Best Washroom in Canada and, if it is, it might just transform our image of the gas station loo from a place to be feared to a place to be frequented, just for kicks. So fine is the view inside the Valleyview Shell Superstation women’s restroom that it has been named as one of five finalists for Cintas’ Canada’s Best Restroom contest.
Contests aside, Valleyview Shell is the obvious winner because it is a potential game-changer, a tipping point. I can’t speak to the women’s side of the gas station restroom ledger but I will say, as a man, and as a driver who’s trundled around a good chunk of Canada, that the men’s rooms are at best OK and at worst awful, smelly, unspeakably miserable places. There is a lot of caffeine and bad food consumed out there on our open roads.
And yet, in Valleyview, women are high-fiving, or at least lingering, chattering about the solid alder wood doors with privacy glass panels. (Men enjoy a more manly version of the same luxury — different lighting, darker wood.)
“We get comments about our washroom every day, women thanking us, and they take pictures of the washroom. They don’t even ask — they just take the picture,” Ms. Barks says. “We even get men thanking us for the men’s washroom. For a man to say thank you for a washroom is extremely unusual.”
Ms. Barks knows the misery of most public bathrooms; she suggests there is no place lonelier than some parts of Saskatchewan where the best bathroom survival strategy is to cross your legs and hold it and hope for a better option further down the line.
“Toilets not fastened to the floor — I’d rather go in a ditch,” she says. “You walk in. You walk out. You hold it for as long as possible. Some places are so nasty they shouldn’t be allowed to call them restrooms.”
At the Valleyview Shell, the bathrooms are cleaned on the hour, more if necessary. The toilets have seat covers to make matters more civil. The toilet paper is not of the sandpaper gas station variety. The room is sprayed with a scent.
“People love stopping here, even our locals,” Ms. Barks says. “There are other places to go in this town but they come up here, just for the washroom, which sounds odd. But I know if I’m away from home and I gotta go — I go here.”