-by Sally Whitesell for AutoSuccess Magazine.
Does your team dress for success? If they want to be treated as professionals, they must look like professionals, so it’s time to suit up.
We’d all love to wear our comfortable weekend clothes to work, but if we want to be treated with respect and taken seriously, we have to show we mean business by creating a professional image.
When my husband and I moved to a beach town in Florida, we needed to find a family doctor. The first one we visited was nice enough, but he was very casual and didn’t wear socks. Yes, you read that right, no socks! It was the first thing we noticed. Did we really want to put our medical care in the hands of someone who looked like he was ready to kick off his shoes and grab his surfboard at any moment? He may have been a brilliant doctor, but neither of us was comfortable enough with him to find out. If he had been dressed professionally, with simple things that we city folks were used to: like a lab coat, a dress shirt and yes…socks; we would have been able to focus more on his abilities than his bare ankles. If there are two types of professionals you need to feel confident about, it’s the person who is going to diagnose and take care of your body, and the person who is going to diagnose and take care of your car. Both can be a matter of life and death.
A 2014 study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology put 128 men of diverse ages and backgrounds through simulated business negotiations. The results showed that those who dressed professionally were perceived as more knowledgeable, professional, and confident. The casually dressed group did not provoke the same feelings. Although this test did not include women, my experience has taught me that it is even more important for females to dress appropriately. The automotive industry is still a male dominated industry. In order for women to be taken seriously by peers and clients, they must dress in a way that instills respect and confidence. This is not the time for your female employees to insert their personal style, individuality or sex appeal. They can tap into their creative side on their own time. At work, our goal should be that every person in every department looks sharp.
I have heard people say, “Once someone gets to know me, others will see how good I am at my job, so my appearance shouldn’t matter.” While this may be true, research shows that we only have 3 seconds to set a first impression with female clients and about 7-10 seconds with male clients. Why should your employees waste time trying to prove they can do their job after a bad first impression when they can start off looking confident and knowledgeable with just a little effort? If we aren’t showing our clients that our team is made up of competent professionals, then they won’t want to buy a vehicle or services from us.
You might be thinking you don’t have this issue at your store because you have a dress code. But do you? Is it very specific? Often I will go into a service department and everyone will have a company shirt and the same color of pants, just as the dress code specifies, but the shirts are faded or the pants are dirty and worn out. Other times, the pants so tight they are inappropriate for work. You know what I mean, those few female advisors who want to wear leggings (tight stretchy fabric) and leave their shirt hanging out. Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, the baggy pants that look like they are going to fall off. These trends should never be allowed in a professional environment. Everyone should have the same style of clean wrinkle-free pants and the same style of shirts so they look like a team. As a woman, I will suggest that you do not buy your female advisors shirts in men’s sizes. These will not be cut right and will be big and sloppy.
Another issue comes into play when it is cold. Advisors will cover their uniforms with a variety of coats, or worse yet, sweatshirts. I have seen hoodies from Victoria’s Secret to Alcatraz on the drive. Are any of these setting the right impression? Unless they’re an underwear model who just got out of prison, the answer is no! Of course they need to stay warm and comfortable, so we recommend that the dealership help with the expense of a company or manufacturer hat and jacket so that everyone looks uniform, and more importantly, your guests can tell who works in your store.
Tattoos are quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception. Most people are accustomed to seeing them. However, tattoos that are provocative or political must be covered. In order to avoid debates about which tattoos are acceptable, many stores are implementing a “must be covered” policy.
Piercings and bright hair colors can also be off-putting. I find different standards in different parts of the country. Just be sure to set a standard in your store so that every job applicant is aware of the rules before you hire them.
In order to avoid any of these issues, we recommend putting a very specific dress code in your policies and procedures and job descriptions. State that anyone who shows up for work in unacceptable attire will be sent home to change and risk future suspensions or termination. Make sure you don’t turn a blind eye to the few who will want to push the limits. A dress code should not be negotiable. You have spent a lot of time and money creating a nice environment for your clients. Now it’s up to you to make sure that your staff is doing their part by dressing for success. Use this article for an open discussion in your next team meeting. Make sure you stress that when you look professional, your clients will treat you as a professional.