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Our Showroom Staff Has An Image Problem.

Dear Stephen, 

I'm a sales executive at a contract furniture manufacturer. My company has spent a lot of money designing a great showroom so that clients get an excellent customer experience when they come in. We have a product that is well respected by the A&D community and end-users, and we have first-class dealers. 

Like most contract furniture companies, we've been back primarily full-time for almost a year. I've continued to notice that our customer experience manager (formally showroom manager) and her colleagues dress and act like we're still in the low-key pandemic mode and not in the fully committed customer experience mode! Simply put, they look shabby, and their image does not align with our brand.

Let me be clear: I'm not confusing cool or urban chic, and they are not quite sloppy; I'm talking downright thoughtless and sometimes cooky attire. It might be cool to wear black clothes, but wrinkled black clothes are unprofessional. One of our guys looks like Lurch; another looks like Cousin It! Obviously, I'm taking some creative liberty here, but this is a furniture showroom, not Spirit Halloween! 

Of course, we pay them more than enough to buy clothes and get them dry-cleaned. It's part of our business to look as good as our designer brand. We're in sales. It's what we do. I have heard feedback from our customers that my office team's image and attitude are out of step with our competitors. I've had negative comments from our dealers and designers that our people seem to sap the energy from the showroom rather than create a welcoming atmosphere of excitement - like they are supposed to do. Our staff is pretty tenured, so it's hard for me to make wholesale changes, and I don't want new people; I want my existing people to keep up with what is expected from the roles today, not from ten years ago when they could be hiding from customers. Do I have to instate a dress code? What should I do?


They're Creepy and They're Kooky

Dear Gomez, 

People have certainly gotten lazy with the way they present themselves these days. And I'm not talking about men's stubble or women not wearing makeup, nothing this shallow. And I'm sort of tired of people blaming everything on the pandemic, although the pandemic has played a role, but, in my opinion, sloppy casual seems to be the new normal ever since men stopped wearing ties. (Dating myself, I guess). But you are right about one thing: what we used to call the back office is now customer-facing and everyone needs to look good today, or it brings the entire organization down.

The art of just looking sharp: Clean business-appropriate, neat, and not wrinkled clothes. Suppose you're trying to sell five hundred chairs or a fifty-thousand-dollar conference table. In that case, the person handing customers sparkling water and packaged cookies should not look like they're still working from home dressed one level above their pajamas.

And yes – you should establish a dress code! I'm surprised you don't have one already. Everyone should.

Believe it or not, sometimes people must be told how you expect them to look daily. Shocking, I know. But there had been a lot of leeway in furniture showrooms because not every job is what we would call a "customer-facing" position. Specifically, I mean that if you're greeting the customer who comes into the showroom, you should naturally look absolutely top-notch. It's just good business practice. Then, thinking ahead, sooner or later, the front desk person will have to go to lunch or the restroom, and someone will need to cover for them. And that second person needs to look sharp as well.

Additionally, many showrooms, big and small, have people who work in the back office; perhaps they do customer service, or they're not always customer-facing. Yet, today, if there is a reason that they need to go to the customer-facing space, maybe that's because the refrigerator or the water fountain is there, they should be required to dress accordingly as well. That's a new regular your employees need to be told about.

Let me give you a personal example. I recently bought a brand-new car for the first time in many years. Every single person in the dealership showroom was dressed to the nines. To my surprise, every salesman was wearing a tie, and every lady was dressed equivalently. And this is a car dealership - the place comedians like to make fun of because of the sleazy salespeople. But guess what? I feel like I was getting what I paid for. Why? Because when the person's image is the same as the brand I am buying, I do not mind paying, and isn't that how you want your customers to feel? The same standards apply to everyone in the furniture showroom, and of course, the people in field sales should be doing this same thing! Years ago, one of the major manufacturers promoted a unique policy on customer service; the customer should not just be "satisfied" with your service; they should be delighted by it. What a goal!

Here is another important thing to remember: maybe your employees are completely naïve about this. Did you ever tell the salespeople and the showroom staff that they need to dress equal to the quality of the furniture and the value of the environment? For the most part, I don't think they're intentionally dressing down; I think they simply need to be told to dress up. And what is expected of them and the image of the company - your brand, your customer, requires it. Keep in mind, and you may remind your employees, that they too are their own brand, so the better they dress, not only is it better for you, but it might help them if they decide to find another job. And one other thing – when a person is nicely dressed and "put together", they feel better about themselves, a better self-image, and have more self-confidence.  

Don't assume someone will know this or doesn't need to be reminded. Sometimes, they see how the people around them dress, and they go with the flow. It's not necessarily deep or insidious; sometimes, it's just bad habits. I hope this helps. The image of your employees is just as important as the image of your brand, and they need to be told that by you.