AKRON (Feb. 16, 2004) — Smart retailers know the marketing value of basic, clean and well-maintained uniforms.
Tire dealers should know and practice this philosophy because they're also retailers, albeit ones who retail tires and automotive services.
Recently, I heard from a Tire Business reader who opened a tire dealership almost two years ago. He explained that the majority of his business experience had been in sales and marketing with a well-known computer company first, then with a major aircraft/aerospace manufacturer. The reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, is curious about the value and appropriateness of uniforms in this business.
Good question, sir! Regular readers know I've been reporting on the auto repair industry since 1976 and training technicians since 1993. The work has forced me to travel extensively. There's no question that Americans everywhere tend to dress much more casually than they did in '76 when I started. Some people in automotive repair interpret this as an excuse to wear whatever they want and/or to look like a slob.
I disagree and I urge owners and managers to inspect the most successful service shops and tire dealerships nationwide. They'll see that everyone from tire busters and lube kids to service writers and managers all wear distinctive, professional-looking uniforms. The worker's first name is on the uniform's shirt.
Better yet, look at the other retailers in your neighborhood or town that you admire. Don't the workers all wear clean, well-maintained and distinctive uniforms of some kind? Don't those uniforms reinforce the theme that these people are part of a professional retail team? Sure they do!
What's more, retailers ranging from Bojangles and Boston Market to Taco Bell and Wendy's have taught us to expect clean, professional and easily recognizable uniforms on all workers. This is the rule rather than the exception.
When I first went to work in this industry in 1967, I had to wear a service station uniform (happened to be Gulf Oil) that clearly identified me as a member of the professional team at Shrader's Service. Once I donned that uniform, I became a representative of Mr. Shrader's business—whether I was fixing a flat tire, changing oil or pumping gasoline. I carry that philosophy with me today, which is why I still find it difficult to take people in civilian clothes seriously whenever I'm in a dealership or repair shop.
Plus, the bitter truth is that the professional uniforms you provide often look a thousand times sharper and more businesslike than anything the employee would choose on his or her own. Too many guys and girls I've met don't understand that a Kid Rock or Nelly T-shirt is OK for the tavern or the bowling alley but wholly inappropriate for a place of business. Promote millionaire pop stars on your own time, not on company time.
Sadly, the uniforms you provide may be the only clothing some workers have that isn't stained or torn. They have thousands of dollars of custom wheels on their cars and rags on their backs. That's an attitude that may never change with some people.
Anyway, plan for it and budget for it, because professional uniforms for all workers should be a fundamental part or your image-building and marketing strategies. Count on the fact that uniforms are an ongoing expense because the things wear out, get lost or get damaged. It's the nature of the beast.
Some owners and managers I know have involved workers in the choice of uniforms. They do this to build morale by keeping workers involved in decision-making at the dealership or service shop. But they also do it to prevent the occasional whiner from complaining about the uniform later on. “Don't tell me now that the uniform looks stupid, buddy, because you helped choose it!”
Last but not least, don't hesitate to dress managers and sales people the best. That's always been an accepted and routine business practice. Give them distinctive sport shirts or golf shirts with their names and the company name/logo. My personal favorite is a basic Oxford shirt bearing the company name. However, I've also seen very attractive denim shirts on some service writers.
Regardless, when you're building an image, clothes still make the man (and woman).