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Are your profits in the toilet?

Why you need to know the secrets of the unhappy customer

By Dolly Penland

It has happened to most people. You walk into a public restroom only to find there is no toilet paper or paper towels, or that the restroom is unclean, or worse — downright disgusting. Rod Dornsife noticed a few messy situations and wondered how it affected the businesses, particularly when he saw a wife grab her husband from a fast-food restaurant line and announce they were leaving because the restrooms were so bad.

“I realized this restaurant thing is a big deal. So, I looked into it, and came up with the plan and did market research,” said Dornsife, CEO and co-founder of Restroom Alert, LLC, with Max Leaver, COO. Dornsife and Leaver capitalized on their marketing background and focused on maximizing the user experience, creating a system where customers can anonymously report bathroom troubles via text messaging. He says that most people won’t take the time or don’t want the hassle of complaining about dirty restrooms or a lack of supplies. But many people don’t mind sending a quick, anonymous text to alert management of an issue.

“It’s a very important aspect of keeping customers happy to make sure their experience from beginning to end is a good one,” said Dornsife. “That’s why franchisors have process documents—to make sure every franchise operator sticks to that. Not true of the restrooms. Our text system brings that process to the clean restroom aspect of the business.”

To make sure they knew who their B2B customers were, Dornsife and Leaver researched potential clients, starting with restaurants. “There is a link between the cleanliness of the restroom and the consumer’s perception of the quality of the food, and the cleanliness of the kitchen,” said Dornsife. “One recent study (in 2013, conducted by Mintel) in the restaurant industry found the number one factor consumers use in choosing a restaurant is the cleanliness. And a Cintas Corporation telephone survey shows 94% of customers will not return to a business if they encounter a dirty restroom. We’re bringing 21st century technology into what has always been an analog and manual process. State of the art was clipboards and cleaning logs, which are misused or underused.”

Restroom Alert also provides managers or owners with real-time data so they know if their employees are doing their restroom checks. Dornsife says they interviewed owners and managers as part of their customer research. They toured and took photographs of restrooms and checked the maintenance activity logs. They researched review sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon to identify comments about dirty restrooms. They found that with literally millions of public restrooms in restaurants, retailers, hospitals, car dealers, and gas stations, particularly those known as restroom destinations for travelers, they had a wide business customer base. Restroom Alert launched its beta-testing phase about two months ago and is currently in more than 30 organizations and more than 300 restrooms.

“We signed last week and we’ve had a couple of reports, but nothing major… out of paper towels or toilet paper, that kind of thing,” said Brian Bush, eCommerce Manager, Tom Bush Family of Dealerships. “We have Wi-Fi and a coffee bar, even a free shuttle. It’s really important to us to get good reviews for our stores. It shouldn’t come down to if the restrooms are clean to get a good review.”

Every business needs to know who their customers are. B2C organizations need to gather consumer demographic information such as age, sex, income level, zip code, and other information relevant to the product offering. B2B companies need client data too, such as industry, sales, company size, location(s), and other information pertinent to the product or service.

“The number one mistake made by businesses of all sizes—and it doesn’t matter how good or revolutionary your product or service—is not understanding that you will not succeed if the market doesn’t perceive a need,” said Michael Jones, owner of CEO Focus of Jacksonville. “You must find the need and fit your product or service to fill the need. Most do it backwards, they design the service or product and then go out and try to find the customer.”

Jones says small to medium sized B2B businesses should start their customer research by identifying which businesses are in their potential market, through online or local databases for small businesses. “There are multiple sources available depending on who is in your target community, with some of the most common sources being business magazines, trade groups, Chambers of Commerce, civic groups, and demographic list providers such as Hoovers, InfoUSA,” he said.

And avoid paying too much for the data. “Places you can get much of this information for free include libraries, universities, small business development centers, and economic development councils,” said Jones, who adds, “It’s important to then use surveys, focus groups, and third party research to find out what the customers need and how your product or service fulfills that need.”

Health Designs produces measurable results for its client companies that want healthier, more engaged employees. They use proprietary, evidence-based coaching and reporting to achieve increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and lower health claims. Last year, Health Designs coached more than 70,000 employees serving more than 300 employers nationally

To expand their client base, Health Designs was part of the State of Florida’s GrowFL program. “GrowFL was an initiative based on research from the Edward Lowe Foundation that focused on second stage businesses with 10-99 employees, and $1 million to $50 million in revenue, giving them access to strategic research that typically only large employers have,” said Gwen Griggs, Growth Strategist with Health Designs.  “They searched the database to help us identify great clients. They also were able to dig deeper and find out additional information about those prospective clients.”

To learn their prospective clients, they started by surveying existing clients. “We identified which ones were great fits, and then in minute detail, described what made them great clients,” said Griggs. “Then, in addition to demographics, we look at the psychographics–a word learned from the GrowFL team–determining the pressures, problems, personality, and background of someone in those positions. This helped to inform our message so we are speaking directly to the person about the challenges they face.”

Griggs then took steps to identify other clients that fit using local, regional, and national publications to create lists of companies. GrowFL provided research and access to subscriptions that much larger companies might utilize. And she said sources like EDGAR,, and LinkedIn also served as research tools.

“We always say that we’re building the bicycle while we are riding it,” said Griggs. “One component is to continue to make full use of the information that we have and create systems and processes around business development. And the other is using the data to make sure we are reaching out and communicating with, and being good partners to, our clients that we have identified.”

To learn more about Restroom Alert visit their website:


By Dolly Penland

Dolly Penland is a contributing writer for Advantage Business Magazine. She can be reached at


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