Consistent Company Attire Contributes to Small Business Success

Uniforms make the technician, and help you promote a more professional image for your company.
Consistent Company Attire Contributes to Small Business Success
The Houseknecht family and Sunset Septic team, including, from left: Colt, Aarie, Jonale, Gale, Cody and Jon.

Way back in the Stone Age, I worked my way through school by selling men’s suits in a department store. Until I landed that retail job, I was just another scruffy college student with a closet full of T-shirts and worn-out blue jeans. I didn’t understand the concept of dressed for success. Or that clothes make the man. Or, as ZZ Top so eloquently put it, “every girl’s crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man.’’

Then it was explained to me that in order to sell the store’s $200 (1980 dollars) tailored suits with the shiny gold buttons, I would have to dress like I meant business myself. So I started with a pressed shirt here, a new tie there, and eventually I could effectively play the part of a suit salesman. Just as my supervisor told me, wearing the uniform gave me confidence to sell the product, a feeling that I knew what it was like to act professionally and a greater satisfaction with my job when I dressed for work.

We’re in more casual times now. I often wear jeans and a simple button-down shirt to work. But when I have to go out in the public for my job and meet people, I still like to put on a coat and tie and search the closet for my black leather shoes. I want to make a good impression, because I know good impressions mean something to customers.

EXPO ATTIRE

I would say the same holds true for portable restroom operators. I am a firm believer in a clean, uniformed look for drivers and service technicians. And I’m happy to see that uniforms are becoming more the rule than the exception for PROs. I can tell this is true from the apparel trends I see at the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International (time for a plug: Come see us Feb. 24-27 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis!).

When I started attending the Pumper & Cleaner show in Nashville a decade ago, I would estimate far less than half of the attendees I met were wearing company uniforms. It just wasn’t typical to see people walking the exhibit floor in nice matching shirts sporting their company name and logo.

Every year there seems to be more groups of visitors wearing matching nicely pressed work shirts promoting their pumping or portable restroom company. You’ll see entire families decked out in uniform, walking the aisles of the show and checking out the latest industry products.

When I think about uniforms, I recall the Housekneckt family, who run Sunset Septic & Excavating in Rolling Prairie, Ind. I bump into this happy family every year at the Expo, and you can’t miss them with their matching yellow shirts, blond hair and big smiles. To me, Gale, Jon and the kids exemplify what caring, customer service-oriented small-business operators should look like.

Like when I was selling suits, I think uniforms help PROs command respect, send a message of professionalism, and tell customers that no matter who is on the job that day, they’ll get consistently good service by a technician that takes pride in his or her work. If you already require uniforms, like the Housekneckt family, you know they are a valuable key to success when you’re working out in the public. Whether you’re at a construction site or working a weekend event, you know you’re putting your best foot forward with uniformed workers.

SELL PROFESSIONALISM

If you haven’t made the jump to uniforms, or you are thinking the uniforms you’re using might need a little updating, I’ll share a few pointers I’d give about a uniform program:

CHOOSE YOUR STYLE

My preference is for collared, button-down work shirts in a cotton blend. My second choice would be a polo shirt, which retains the collar, but is a little more informal.

I’m not a big fan of T-shirts for a variety of reasons. First, I feel a collar is a must for a work shirt; it lends a little more formality to the uniform. Second, a buttoned work shirt usually has pockets, which are helpful to carry pens, mobile phones or other necessities. And third, a high-quality work shirt will hold up better than a T-shirt in hard use.

While you’re considering shirts, also take a look at matching baseball caps to round out the look.

SHOW YOUR COLORS

Whether you choose a subdued navy blue or go with a neon pink, make the color work for your company. A muted color conveys professionalism, especially when combined with a contrasting accent color or embroidered logos and nametags. A bright color lets customers know you’ve arrived on the work site and can be memorable as well. My advice would be to stick with a chosen color for everyone, and maybe it’s a good idea to involve your crew in the decision. Pick a handful of designs and let them vote.

One thing to keep in mind when working with shirt color and design: Let safety play a role in your choice. When shopping for uniforms, think about how the shirts will look in low light or at night. Is there an option to add a reflective accent or a neon color somewhere to make your technicians stick out on a busy work site? Can you choose a uniform that will enhance safety in any way?

WHAT ABOUT PANTS?

If your guys wear jeans, do you have rules about the color and condition of their pants? Encourage workers to replace worn jeans with stains that won’t come out, frayed pants bottoms and rips or faded material. Can you add to the uniform look with tan, gray or blue work pants that can be pressed and compliment your work shirts? Obviously the type of work your crew does every day may dictate whether better pants will be practical, but if you can do it, you’ll certainly enhance professionalism.

WHO PAYS THE FREIGHT?

You do. If you are going to require a uniform, expect to pay for it. Many uniform companies sell shirts and slacks at a good discount when bought in bulk numbers of about 30 or more. Even if you only have a handful of workers, you’ll go through a minimum bulk order of shirts quickly, depending on how often they need to be washed and how long they last. If you have a large number of employees, you may want to consider renting uniforms. In a rental program, the providers clean and repair uniforms on a regular basis, helping you maintain a professional appearance.

KEEPIN' IT CLEAN

You have several options to maintain uniforms. For the lowest cost, you can ask your workers to wash their uniforms themselves. The pitfall with this plan is making sure they wash the uniforms regularly and get all the stains out. A second option is keeping a commercial-grade washer and dryer at the office and having a staff member responsible for cleaning – and if need be, pressing – the uniforms for your crew. The third option is hiring a service to clean the uniforms.

The biggest factor in your decision is ensuring consistently clean and well-maintained uniforms. Taking on the responsibility for cleaning would be seen as an employee benefit to your workers – and their families who would no longer have to deal with sweaty, waste-spattered work clothes. It also lets you control the image your uniforms convey to the public.



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