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Everyone’s Crazy ‘Bout a Sharp-Dressed Advisor

Does your team dress for success? If we want to be treated as professionals, we 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.

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Sally Whitesell is president of sw Service Solutions, which offers in-store training nationwide and Fixed Ops University; engaging online training for managers and service advisors. Sally brings over 21 years of on-the-drive experience to her training, seminars and books, which include her highly sought after “What Drives Women?” program and her book, “Words That Sell Service.” And new for 2019: the ultimate sales tool: the sw Service Solutions Maximizing Menu.

Does your team dress for success? If we want to be treated as professionals, we must look like professionals, so it’s time to suit up!

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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 only two types of professionals you must feel confident about right away, 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.

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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, qualified 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 that once someone gets to know them, others will see how good they are at their job and their appearance shouldn’t matter. While this may be true, research shows that we only have three seconds to set a first impression with female clients and about seven to 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 are not 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. 

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You might be thinking that you don’t have this issue at your store because you have a dress code. But do you? Is it specific? Often, I will go into stores and everyone in service will have the same color of pants and a company shirt just as the dress code specifies, but the shirts are faded and the pants are dirty or 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 often 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.

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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 or continued conflict, we recommend putting a specific dress code in your policies and procedures or 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 and make sure you stress that when you look professional, your clients will treat you with more respect. It really is that simple.

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Click here to view more solutions from Sally Whitesell and sw Service Solutions.

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