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Years ago, while flipping through the pages of the Journal of Retailing, I encountered an imaging checklist that has dominated my approach to image reporting. The eight steps are: 1. identify the elements/dimensions that are perceived, sensed and sought by many potential customers; 2. determine how your store actually ranks on those dimensions; 3. determine how other stores rank; 4. determine the opinions, impressions and image held of your store -- by different types of customers; 5. decide what kinds of images and impressions you would like to ideally create; 6. decide what kind of image you should realistically try to convey -- taking into account present image and cost of change; 7. select the tools to employ -- taking into account cost-effectiveness and risk factors; and 8. monitor results.

The first task I faced when I took over the reins as president of a 15-store chain of retail donut shops in Kansas and Missouri was to research and identify as narrowly as possible the reasons why people buy donuts from LaMar's Donuts.

The history of the concept and the personality of the owner (founder Ray Lamar) has a significant impact, we discovered. LaMar's has a name, even if only in the Midwest, and the name has equity.

Second, the product has equity, too. LaMar's donuts have been served at The White House, favorably reviewed by some of the nation's top food critics, and they regularly draw long lines and lengthy waits.

Method of preparation was the third reason that people patronized LaMar's. The fact that the donuts are handmade and oversized, turned with a wooden stick and always served fresh keeps customers returning throughout each week.

So, steps one and two are complete. We have identified the elements/ dimensions that are perceived, sensed and sought by many potential customers, and we have determined how LaMar's ranks. Our next step, according to the Journal of Retailing, is to determine how other stores rank. I'll cover that next month in September's Field Report.

Katherine Field, president & CEO of LaMar's Franchising Inc., offers an insider's perspective each month on building a retail image step by step, store by store.

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