Credibility and trust are the most formidable advantages any retailer can create. To be successful retailers, tire dealers must ensure that employees' personal appearance reinforces rather than undermines these attributes.
Let me emphasize that I recognize the cold, hard facts of retailing life. First, workers with pleasant dispositions and decent communication skills are hard to find. Second, our lawsuit-happy society is suffering through an era of stifling political correctness. In short, employers-instead of employees-are on the defensive.
At the same time, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and fashions come and fashions go.
However, the sometimes scary appearance of front-line sales and service personnel I encounter in my travels convinces me that many retailers-including some automotive service establishments-need a wake-up call.
That call is: Clean up the people who represent your business!
Regular readers know I repeatedly emphasize two themes:
You only get one chance to make a first impression; and
Before you can sell something to someone else, you must first sell yourself.
Talk to any sales or public relations professional. Ask any retailer who prospers year in, year out. They'll agree that personal appearance is critically important to achieving both goals.
They'll also tell you that in today's fast-paced and brutally competitive retail world, wary consumers form opinions within seconds. If consumers are turned off by the looks of a service/sales person, it's extremely unlikely an owner or manager will know it.
I have yet to meet a retailer who ever had a consumer confront him about his staff's appearance. Instead, people just form an opinion and then leave.
My experiences at the service desk and as an everyday consumer are that people are affected by what and whom they see more than we realize.
From an early age, they've been taught not to judge people by appearances nor to criticize another person's looks. But let's face it: It's human nature to judge people by their looks anyway and, like it or not, most of us do it instinctively.
However, one of our society's strongest taboos is openly criticizing another's looks, so you rarely hear about it occuring. Furthermore, slamming another person's appearance is one of the hottest confrontations you can engage.
My retail experience tells me most consumers avoid confrontations. Simply put, they don't want to make a ``scene.''
In my last column, I stressed that fluent English is vital to front-line service personnel because English is the native tongue of an overwhelming majority of people purchasing tires and auto service today.
In order to appeal to the largest number of people, broadcasters discourage use of regional accents or expressions as well as overly trendy words and phrases. They know these things are roadblocks to effective communication with the broadest audience.
Likewise, the vast majority of people patronizing most tire dealships don't have pierced ears, eyelids, navels or noses. They don't adorn their nostrils with jeweled stud pins or large metal rings. And most men and women don't wear five to six enormous earrings per ear, nor do they have visible tattoos.
Most people don't have black, metallic blue or multi-hued nail polish. Most people who pay your store's bills have haircuts that look very conservative compared with those you see at the local high school or college hangouts.
Still unsure about what's acceptable?
Then study leading retailers such as Nordstrom's and Neiman-Marcus. Check into a Biltmore hotel. Let me know if you find any front-line service people there with metallic nails or pierced noses!
Whether or not you realize it, your store's front-line personnel tacitly begin projecting your business's image the moment consumers lay eyes on them. Successful retailers will tell you service/sales people must speechlessly sell themselves the instant the customer walks in the door.
Overly trendy or downright bizarre appearances impede this subtle sales process by distracting the customer.
Instead of quietly reinforcing that the consumer is approaching a ``regular person'' like themselves, these appearances often raise nagging doubts about service personnel's knowledge.
When you cut to the chase, outlandish fashion wear prompts many consumers to conclude: ``They need extraordinary measures to project themselves. If someone has to go to such extremes, they aren't very sure of themselves.''
Then people begin to wonder: ``If they're so unsure of themselves, how sure are they of the goods and services they sell? I'm about to make a big investment in tires or service here!''
I recommend this rule of thumb: When appearances distract consumers or detract from the important ``silent sales pitch,'' it's time to refine the look.