The Sidewalk, The Storefront, and the Back Room

One time in Oslo, Norway, I found myself standing out in front of a shop, not far from where they hand out the Nobel prizes.

(Now that’s a way to start a letter to you! I’m drinking hot water with lemon instead of tea or coffee today. You?)

This shop sold touristy things: trolls, Norwegian flags, Viking helmets, and you know. I had a pocket full of Krone (their money) and no idea how it translated to dollars, so I was willing to be overcharged to buy something to bring back to the kids.

Only, the strangest thing happened. No one came out. They stayed inside, way in back. And so, I wandered off, and bought from some airport store that was as forgettable as most airport stores. I’ve had that memory embedded as a strong part of service craftsmanship for a long time. Let me tell you how it relates to you.


Your business (even if it’s the business of being you, or preaching, or whatever) has certain “places” and areas to it. Touchpoints of opportunity, I tend to like to call them. In the physical world, what lures us in is what we see from the sidewalk.

Joe Sorge puts a chalk restaurant sign out in front of AJ Bombers and more folks take an action. He’s given us something to see from the sidewalk. Hold that thought.

Your storefront is where you do your business. It’s where the cash register is, and it’s where the context of ‘just browsing’ shifts to ‘and I’m ready to buy this.’ Many people praise the Apple store’s design, but one facet I’m not so fond of is the lack of cashier’s area. Space-wise, it makes sense, but the ‘I’ve got this in my hand and I just want to pay for it’ subsection of buyers always feels uncertain what to do.

The back room is where even deeper deals and partnerships happen. When teams up with Coke and creates Ekocycle, a project to embed recycled plastics in several other products, he’s using his leverage to get even more of a partnership made. There are other ways to consider this back room, but basically, it’s “more than sales” back there.


Your Sidewalk is the approachability of what you create online. Do people have a reason to browse in your store? Do they know what you even offer? Can I see what you sell EASILY from my mobile device?

Your Storefront is whatever transaction you’re hoping to have that advances the relationship. I sell courses. When I give a webinar (part of my Sidewalk), I make sure people know where to buy (my Storefront). You might have a different mechanism, but you have to have some mechanism or you’re leaving people looking for the cash register.

Your Back Room are your partnerships and other not-so-simple interactions. I am a professional speaker. When we decided to build new speaking rates that were more flexible for organizations to better afford me, we put a process in place so that we could be sure to always nurture our relationships with our clients.

So, the question to you is this: what do you need to do differently to improve your sidewalk? Blog more? Create a podcast? Make a more visible way to find your site or your offerings? Are you spending all your time on the Sidewalk of Twitter or Facebook?

What does your storefront look like? Are you encouraging people to “buy?” (Remember that “buy” can mean “take a next action”.) How have you built up a back room?

That’s for you to answer.

There’s an audio version of this, if you’d like to listen.

See you next week?


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  1. Another inspiring and thought provoking post Chris!

  2. Good stuff. And great to see it related to services, where there isn’t always a bricks & mortar store front or tangible product.

    Now to apply this to my business…! Lucy :o)

  3. Reading your emails are always a great way to start a Sunday Chris, along with a ‘lazy sunday’ coffee from Taylors of Harrogate :)

  4. Great post Chris. I feel my sidewalk of approachability is pretty good. It’s the storefront that I’m working on as I merge a couple of interest and focus Daniel-son, focus.

  5. Nice post. Cafe Brit coffee from Costa Rica, checking emails while lying in bed. Always useful to approach your shopping experience through your customer’s eyes. At market you can always predict which vendors will score high sales because if their level of engagement.

  6. One time, in New York City, I was trying to find Little Italy. Finally found it and was walking down the street to try to decide where to have dinner. There were a number of restaurants to choose from, but in front of one, a man was on the sidewalk talking to people walking by. He told us that we should come into his restaurant because we’d enjoy the food. He was a great representative of the restaurant, and might have also told us about some specials. He sold us on the sidewalk.

    Great post Chris. I’ve got a little work to do on my website.

    Your speaker page looks great.


  7. Straight black coffee here, medium strength organic beans.

    So the ‘sidewalk’ is the fun stuff, the ‘storefront’ is the grunt work and the ‘backroom’ is the magic stuff that you save for the right people at the right time ?

    I think my ‘backroom’ is good, the ‘storefront’ is getting there, but the ‘sidewalk’ is where I am throwing a lot of effort at the minute.

    Thanks again for the weekly insight and inspiration.

    • I would say that the sidewalk is the flash and promotion, the storefront is where you get to the serious work. Not the grunt work, but the business. The backroom is partnerships that take you beyond what you’re selling today.

      • Okay, so looking at it that way turns it on its head. My storefront is average, my backroom is in need of serious expansion and the sidewalk is where I have been trying to gain some traction over the last 12 months.
        I have been reading ‘six pixels of separation’ by mitch joel, in the last chapter he was talking about splashes and ripples. I spent all of last year throwing boulders into the pond to create splashes, but since the new year I figured that lots of small pebbles to create ripples. So far it seems to be paying off.

        I thought I would stick a comment over here this week rather than reply to the email. Next week ? It’ll be a surprise, but I will turn up somewhere ;)

  8. Sundays are for coffee with chocolate mint Bailey’s, jazz on the radio and the newspaper.

    I love your use of sidewalks as the path to your door.

    • My folks live in Vegas, and I go there for work often enough to know and understand your analogy. You’re right, of course. How does that translate to your digital presence?

  9. I’m drinking a high vitamin shake this morning. I love the analogy! It definitely changed my perspective a bit. I think my problem is that I spend too much time creating the sign for the front, making the windows look pretty and keeping the store nice and tidy that I completely ignore the back room. When someone is ready to make a purchase I realize that I have nothing in stock. That’s what I’ve been working on lately…this post helped me see that I’m now on the right path. Thanks!

    • The store and the back room are what will keep you in business. You need the sidewalk and all the pretty displays, but without something to sell and partnerships, you’re doomed to work harder than you have to work.

  10. I always look forward to your newsletters. I especially appreciate your heart. Blessings.

  11. Randy Brososky says:

    A cappuccino at a little shop in Las Vegas’ Venetian hotel.

    I think people often confuse their sidewalk, storefront and back room. It’s essential that you can also identify which part of your store your customer is standing in at any given moment, so you know what conversation to have with them.

    Excellent analogy!

    • Swell place. My folks live in Vegas now, you know. I’ve probably had coffee where you’re sitting.

      You’re right about that, but curious if you mean digitally to use a heat map or similar.

      • Randy Brososky says:

        Not so much digitally, as philosophically. If you don’t understand the difference between the sidewalk and the storefront, you may be sending advertising messages to people who are already ‘inside’, or trying to close a sale with people who are still ‘window-shopping.’

  12. William L Smith says:

    Great analogies. Thanks for sharing. We can each put these words to great use… if we will but remember to do so! ;-)

  13. Eunice Coughlin says:

    It’s afternoon while I am reading so it’s just a glass of cold, cold water for me.

    Right now, I am waiting for my storefront to be built (I am launching a new business) but I am working on the sidewalk while construction is happening behind the scenes. My “storefront” is going to be offering a fairly commonplace yet competitive line of products but I have some ideas on how to present it in a whole new way to make it more appealing to my customers. Great inspirational piece you’ve written here for me and so many others. Thanks!

  14. I have just one digital offering for now, a course, and it has not been selling very well at all. I’ve just recently decided I need to work on testing it – so I recorded a new video and will try out different prices. This blog post comes along at a good time for me because I need to be thinking about these issues. One thing I was thinking of doing more is to put in softs plugs for my course in my blog posts and maybe even in my podcast – as in, if you liked this post or podcast, you may like this course…

    I am really enjoying these Sunday newsletters and have been looking forward to them more and more.

  15. Barry’s Irish Tea, with cream and sugar. Yum.

    Great post! I’m a jeweler and I always try to keep the front page of my online shop filled with my best selling items, so I think my sidewalk(or is that my storefront?) is pretty good. Those are the items people will see first when browsing on a mobile device as well. I really need to blog more – that is my biggest hurdle because it seems like it just takes sooo much time – I probably need to stop looking at it like that…hmm. I’m pretty consistent on FB and Twitter, also Instagram.

    My backroom is pretty good, I think. I take custom orders constantly, and people seem to have an easy time reaching out to make those requests. At least from what I can tell. ;)

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