AKRON — This month Chris Wyborny, vice president of Ramona Tire & Service Centers, adjusted the dealership's employee dress code and grooming policy by clarifying what constitutes a professional appearance.
What's prompting the change for the Hemet, Calif.-based dealership is Mr. Wyborny had noticed a technician at one of Ramona Tire's 14 stores had grown a goatee about 8 inches long and told him to cut it much shorter. Rather than follow through, the technician resigned.
Mr. Wyborny decided it was time to revisit the company policy and set more clear guidelines. Male employees now are required to keep hair lengths above the top of their shirt collars and beards to no longer than a half-inch and neatly groomed.
“I think how (employees) look kind of defines who they are to themselves,” he said. “I don't want somebody who wants to look like a biker or wants to look threatening. We want to look warm and inviting and professional.”
Ramona Tire's policy states that all employees must wear uniforms with shirts tucked in and a belt. Women can wear a pair of stud-type earrings, but dangling earrings, multiple pairs of earrings and facial piercings are forbidden for all workers.
The policy doesn't specifically address tattoos, and Mr. Wyborny said he hasn't made a rule concerning tattoos. However, if a salesperson or store manager gets a visible tattoo that he deems in poor taste, Mr. Wyborny said he wouldn't hesitate to have them wear long sleeves.
“Tattoos are more socially acceptable than they used to be,” he said. “The problem is even if you've got the nicest guy in the world at the counter, (if) he's got those tattoos and he looks intimidating, that's one more hurdle he's got to overcome before he can sell somebody something.”
Mr. Wyborny's views on a professional appearance are not unique. Joe Henry, owner of ACT Auto/Truck/Staffing, an automotive recruiting firm in Palm Harbor, Fla., said high-end tire and auto service shops, as well as store chains that focus on fast service tend to be the most concerned about employees' appearance and professionalism.
Mr. Henry said he's had dealership clients who have expressed resistance toward hiring employees with visible tattoos, piercings and dye-streaked hair. He recalled one shop owner who asked him, “What are you sending me?” when Mr. Henry sent a candidate with a nose piercing for an interview. Meanwhile, another shop owner didn't care as much about facial piercings.
“Certainly, I have heard owners say it sends a negative message out there,” Mr. Henry said. “You have to weigh out if a person is a good employee.”
He cautioned that being too picky about candidates' appearances could greatly reduce the pool of available and qualified job seekers for tire and service shops.
“It's harder now to find good people than before the recession hit,” Mr. Henry noted. “So many (job seekers) have given up looking.”
Mr. Henry said he thinks people's views on tattoos, hair, piercings and other appearance fads differ by generation, with baby boomers generally more apprehensive about the issue—especially in a workplace environment—than millenials.
Mike McGee, president of Lakeland, Fla.-based McGee Auto Service & Tires, agreed that employees with visible tattoos and piercings send a negative message to customers, and he requires his counterpeople to shave, wear dealership shirts, cover any tattoos and not to wear white tennis shoes or jewelry.
Technicians can wear an earring or show or leave tattoos visible, but they can't have long hair, he said. Job candidates who interview with McGee Auto are told the dress code standards if they're offered a job.
Most of McGee Auto's customers are senior citizens, and Mr. McGee believes they have high image standards for counterpeople. He said he definitely thinks a less-than-professional appearance could jeopardize the dealership's relationships with older customers.
Mr. Wyborny said he's not sure if image is a generational issue or more of a gender issue, as his 25-year-old daughter recently told him she felt intimidated by one of the employees at Ramona Tire who had a neck tattoo. He said more than half of his customers are women, and he believes a professional image is more important to them than men.
“We need to elevate ourselves to the level of professionals, not just grease monkeys anymore,” he said.