By Derrick Feldmann, CEO of Achieve

“We don’t have a place to put our logo for everyone to see.”
“We have an office, but nothing really to showcase.”
“We are not an organization that runs programs out of our office.”
“We don’t have anything relevant to visitors.”
 
Have you said or heard statements like these? We often hear such comments from organizations that feel they lack a “sense of place” or a “storefront” – that physical presence they believe is essential to gaining respect from the community and allowing others to experience the work they do.
 
Today, though, organizations have another option, a “storefront” that’s markedly different from traditional bricks and mortar: the website, which can offer a sense of place and tangible presence for organizations that lack a physical place.
 
When you think of a storefront, you might think first of a local restaurant or coffee shop. The word reminds me of my favorite eatery: Café Patachou, a local restaurant in my Indianapolis neighborhood. Thanks to a laid-back vibe and conversation-friendly setting, Patachou is known as a “Student Union for Adults.” So, how does my favorite storefront match with the notion of a website as a storefront? Let’s consider a few key points.
 
An Inviting Space
At the Patachou I frequent, recent renovations created outdoor seating and a light, clean and modern indoor décor that’s’ always accented with lively discussion. All in all, it offers an inviting place for the hungry and the conversationally deprived. When I walk in, I’m usually greeted by familiar Patachou employees, who welcome me, ask how I’m doing, and tell me which seats are available.
 
Now, compare that picture to your organization’s website. When interested constituents visit your site, are they met by an inviting space? Do they feel welcomed? Do you thank the visitor for stopping by and sharing an interest in your work? Do you help visitors understand your cause, and direct them to where they need to go? Do you help them create a memorable experience from the first time they arrive? Do you use video, new media and other methods to communicate your openness?
 
Discussion is Encouraged
At Patachou, the tables are the right size and shape to encourage discussion, allowing diners to talk, converse, make business deals and celebrate the latest happenings with friends and family. Along with the standard restaurant four-top table, you’ll also find bigger tables that accommodate large groups that want to feel like they’re around the dinner table at home. The result – an opportunity for diners to share thoughts and ideas – leads to stronger relationships and a tighter bond to the restaurant.
 
Does your website provide a setting for discussion? Are you using social media, chat, and other forms of discussion? Do you encourage conversation by asking for comments, feedback and interaction with the leadership? Do you invite people to share key pieces of information with others through share buttons? Do you offer your contact information in a way that is accessible and easy for the visitor to grab it and pick up the phone?
 
Consistently Pleased
At Café Patachou, my favorite menu item is the cinnamon toast – sometimes it’s the main reason I go to Patachou. It might sound like a simple dish, but Patachou has a special knack for loading cinnamon and sugar onto fresh sourdough bread. Sometimes, when I am trying to be healthy, I opt for a half order. I might get a strange look from my fellow guests, but the wait staff is always willing to accommodate. And if I decide to try something other than my favorite dish, I can count on Patachou to meet my expectations.
 
Do you offer a consistent experience for your website users? Do you allow them to tailor the experience to their needs? Do you provide ongoing relevant information consistently, so that when visitors check back, they are pleased with what they see? Better yet, do you offer enough information and resources or content that screams to the visitor, “You’ll want to hang out on our site, because there’s more where this came from”?
 
Build your virtual storefront
If you are about to embark on a new website project, or simply considering some tweaks to your current one, think about your favorite storefronts. Create a new experience and approach. Become a consistent, inviting host for conversation. And offer something that, like my favorite cinnamon toast, is flavorful and fresh.  Now all of this talk of Patachou has made me hungry. To my fellow regulars – Ernie, Mark, Liz, Theresa, Dave, John and Travis: I look forward to sharing a cup with you soon.
 
A Brief Note About the Achieve Storefront
Achieve is embarking on its own storefront change. This month we are relaunching our website with a new design, adding new functionality for the people we engage, educate and involve in our work. We are going to offer a revamped Achieve Access portal that will encourage discussion and offer a new way to share comments and learning. We also will provide a new space allowing you to navigate our blogs and find articles relevant to you. If you have an interest in becoming a beta tester on our site, send me an email  and we will sign you up – and give you a gift in exchange for your time and feedback. Look forward to the new site in mid-July. As always, I encourage and desire feedback. Please, let me know: What can we offer to create that memorable experience for you?