dressing for dollars
Photo credit: ©istockphoto.com/m-imagephotography

Dead Head T-shirt, muddy work boots, a local sports team baseball cap, beat-up blue jeans, a plaid hunting jacket and sporting three-days growth of facial hair.

Am I talking about the look of technicians I encounter when I first come onsite to do my one-on-one work?

Unfortunately in this case, I’m talking about the appearance of the owners who I meet for the first time. I’ll come back to techs a little later.

One time as I started with a new client in the Northwest, I walked into the shop and encountered this guy who was dressed so poorly and sporting a stubbly growth for a beard. I was tempted to ask him where I might find his boss. Glad I didn’t because this guy was the owner … yikes!

The first item on our agenda became the need to dress better. And here’s why I made it Item No. 1. The way we, as owners, dress and the way our staff dresses affects self-esteem. And just as importantly, it affects the way customers perceive us. The net effect is when you don’t dress like a professional, you don’t get paid like a professional.

This owner was obstinate at first — he wanted to be perceived as being one of the guys. I told him he wasn’t one of the guys and he shouldn’t try to be. The leader must dress at least one level higher than the techs at the shop or maybe even two levels higher. Whatever level the leader dresses at the techs will be one level lower. So, if you lower the bar, they’ll lower it even more.


More customer respect

How do I know that? At my own shop, the guys couldn’t keep themselves or their uniforms clean. So I lowered my standards and got darker and more unprofessional looking uniforms. They proved to me they could still be sloppy. That’s when I decided to go the other way and set the example by dressing for success. I raised my own personal appearance and dress standards as I raised theirs, too.

When they saw the change in me and that I wasn’t backing down on them either, they got on board. And we began to raise our standards well beyond just how we dressed. We took more care of the customer’s property. We took more care to stay neat and clean looking all day, whether that meant wearing overalls or keeping a fresh uniform in the truck. From this one good change, many good changes followed.

The net result was more self-respect, more customer respect, more sales and more testimonials.

Today, I have consulting clients who tell me I don’t have to wear a suit and tie when I visit them. I appreciate their offer to make me feel more comfortable but I tell them I do have to dress this way. Then, I share why — it makes me feel professional when I dress the part. My clients deserve my best and dressing that way brings out my best. I do it as much for them as for me.

Now, understand I didn’t dress in a suit and tie when I was a contractor but I did dress professionally, which meant an always-clean button-down shirt, pressed black dress pants, shined black shoes and a watch with the company logo on it. I was a walking billboard. I made sure I set the example because I knew my employees also were walking billboards.

Here’s the great end to the story about the contractor in the Northwest. He spoke with just two of my clients who had dressed at the same poor level when I first arrived at their shops. They got serious about their need to change and to set the right example for their employees. They convinced him to listen to me. The next time I was back at his shop to work on the manuals, he was clean-shaven, dressed in a button-down logo shirt, khaki pressed pants, shined black shoes and a leather jacket with a company logo embroidered on it.

He was bursting at the seams to share more on what had happened since he raised his and his team’s dress standards. “My guys told me they were wondering when I’d grow up and get dressed like a professional and not a sloppy tech,” he said. “A week after I changed the way I looked to how you see me today, a customer I had worked for a year ago came into the shop and asked me if I knew where the owner was! I laughed and told him it was me and he was floored.”

I also did “Sales Power!” training for him and his techs. They had already transformed from the same shabby grimy look as he had to wearing clean, white pinstripe uniform shirts, dark pressed pants and shined shoes. The week following training the guys set records for sales. The good news is they continue to get better and better.

Look in the mirror, raise your own personal appearance and dress standards, and put some money in your cleaned-up pockets.