There's an old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness.
Tire dealers and service shop operators who are image-conscious must take that expression to heart. You can bet that savvy competitors do.
Obviously, automotive service and repair is dirty work. But the fact that we do dirty work doesn't mean we have to look filthy, spread the dirt or wear it—especially wear it with indifference. Unfortunately, plenty of service personnel throughout this industry still seem oblivious to these points.
I began hearing presentations on cleanliness and its role in a professional image way back in the late 1970s. My own travels within this industry spurred me to scold and cajole readers about cleanliness many times in the 22-plus years I've been writing this column. Nonetheless, my field experiences suggest that these messages still fall on many deaf ears.
A reader's reaction to an earlier column prompted this column. Matthew Gabriele, a tire dealer from South Amboy, N.J., commented that television personality Mike Rowe aptly described our business as being "car doctors." I agree wholeheartedly—and not just because I've used this analogy myself several times before Mr. Rowe's TV appearances. (Mr. Rowe stars in Discovery Channel's popular series, "Dirty Jobs," and recently became a pitchman for Ford Motor Co.)
If you've seen this show, he tackles a variety of filthy tasks, punctuating the work with his tongue-in-cheek humor. Usually, the jobs are well out of sight, out of mind of the general public.
It's interesting and noteworthy that outside this TV show, Mr. Rowe doesn't carry any of its characteristic filth or slime with him. Rather, he's clean and attired in his casually hip-but-wholesome denim clothing. Although he's made his name in dirt, he doesn't flaunt that dirt elsewhere.
Now let's apply this attitude to the automotive service industry. For instance, I cannot count the times I have seen technicians get into customers' vehicles wearing absolutely filthy uniforms. Many times I've watched fellows sit on filthy workbenches and then jump into a customer's car—without putting any kind of seat cover on the driver's seat first.
What's more, I've observed this behavior in everything from new-car dealerships to traditional repair shops. To boot, I can't remember the last time I saw a foreman or service manager reprimand anyone for this carelessness. (We should share lots of things in life but dirt isn't one of them.)
It takes seconds for techs to put a disposable seat cover on a seat and a mat on the floor. The time and cost of protecting the customer's property is a pittance compared with the cost of the potential damage to the business' image and reputation.
On top of that, I often see technicians arrive at training seminars and classes looking and smelling like they've just crawled out of a grease pit or solvent tank. I commend techs who are dedicated to ongoing education, but what does that say about the image or the business—not to mention the worker's self-esteem—when techs go out in the world looking filthy?
Managers should be responsible for tending the business' calendar. They should know well in advance when and where techs are supposed to be. Then they should schedule accordingly, giving techs plenty of time to shower and change clothes beforehand. Whether or not the boss realizes it, the workers represent the business when they leave the business—especially at industry events.
Finally, some techs have grown up in this business literally wearing the dirt with either indifference or a perverse pride. Savvy managers must teach these workers that image-wise, there's no pride in looking filthy outside of the bays. If you don't teach them this lesson, who will?