I am wondering what you all wear when you interview or sell to new clients. Do you think that there is a correlation between your appearance and the price you command for your work? Are suits appropriate for generating professional appearance to your customers? I know this all sounds cheesy but, someone once told me that the key to making good money in this industry is not in the wood; it's in the marketing. So what role does your professional appearance to your customers play in your marketing plan?
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
I dress neatly and I wear a shirt and tie. This shows them that I am prepared to make an effort to get the sale. This is important because it's very difficult to do business with someone who doesn't particularly want your business. I show them that I do want their business. I then charge the kind of money that is associated with a professional operation
This works because my shop is impressive, and the clients can see the quality of work in progress. When I am going to meet a client who has never been to the shop, I will dress appropriately, up to a shirt and tie if necessary. It really is about confidence: in order for your client to be confident in your abilities, you have to be confident in them yourself. People who know their business tend to project it. Of course, clothes are only part of the whole proposal. Professional, neat, accurate, CAD drawings and proposals are another important part of it. In a nutshell, my approach has been: You can look at me if you want, but take a close look at our work, as that's what you'll be living with.
I'll supplement my computer generated drawings with quick hand drawn design ideas. Another potential customer may make mention of sloppy work and missed timelines of other trades. I prepare with pictures showing detail, client references, sample boards, etc. I will also upgrade to a dress shirt and khakis. I can't imagine wearing a coat and tie, but it may benefit certain situations.
While it is very true that its good to make a first impression its also true that that first impression only lasts about 10 minutes - then you better know something. When folks call a cabinet maker or some other trades person they expect to see one, not a lawyer or banker. Be neat, be organized and be knowledgeable. In short be who you are. Confidence in your ability to do the job is what wins clients. For us, like most established businesses, our reputation and ability gets the job before even meeting most clients. It all comes down to what works for you.
I wear black khaki's and maroon silk shirt for dressier times, otherwise blue 501's and a white cotton company logo shirt. Always wear work shoes, but work shoes that are clean and never been worked in. Make sure all shirts are collared, and all pants are pressed (even the jeans).
My standard first visit to a client is khaki pants and a denim shirt with logo. For shoes I wear comfy clogs that can easily be slipped off when I come into a client's home. Make sure during the job that you are clean. Shorts and a tee-shirt are fine as long as there are no holes in the tee-shirt. Don’t wear frayed shorts and make sure tee shirts do not have funky stuff on them.
Make sure the shoes are non-marking and don't have deep treads to track stuff in. My car is my simple Astro van with logos and is always washed at the first meeting. I do almost no new construction, thus all my work is in existing homes and many times that is a "socks only" environment or lots of drop cloths.
Who would you rather buy from - someone who cares about their appearance, is prepared for the meeting and is willing to show you respect by taking the time to look the part of a professional, or someone that doesn't care?
It's not that people won't buy from you if you don't "play the part" and take the time to look nice, however when you're selling your woodworking, you're selling yourself first; so why not take advantage of everything you can to close the deal?
If people instantly feel comfortable around you, and feel welcome to have you in their home, they are more apt to want to do business with you; even if your price is higher. Frankly, people buy the whole package, not just the product. I honestly believe the person who offers the best customer experience can consistently command higher prices and close more business.
I currently go to clients' houses for first and second consultations. I arrive wearing my Dockers, shirt and tie and White's handmade boots. I've got canvas and denim shirts slated to have logos embroidered on them. I also am considering having a few shirts printed with the company logo for my delivery and setup helpers to wear.
On the flip side I don't dress up any more than usual in the shop when a client is dropping in, unless I'm unusually grubby. I do have a beard, but try to keep it trimmed.
Most customers take adequate skill for granted; it simply doesn't occur to them that the person may not be capable of making the cabinets, etc. that they want. What they are looking at is the overall shopping experience, and starting that with a visit from a person who hasn't made an effort to smarten up is not a good start.
I gather from some of the replies here that some people have a big thing about not wearing ties (and shirts). I can see that, but I think simple logic shows that some kind of visible effort towards neatness and cleanliness of appearance must be made if one is going to have the best chance of closing the sale.
Now, are first impressions important? Yes, but they are not final - they are initial. I had lunch with a friend the other day. He was dressed in Bermuda shorts, a t-shirt, and some sandals. He looked as if he had been in the attic all day. The first impression of this guy would not have been accurate. He is an investment banker and has put deals together worth millions. He may be responsible for the funding of your favorite stadium. And yet, if you were to get past the visual of this guy and talk to him you would quickly realize that he is a sharp guy, and maybe even like to do business with him, if you had enough money. The point is that if they let you in the door, the rest is going to depend on what you say and do – they are not going to worry about what you wear or drive. And if this is a referral, then probably very little will depend on what you wear or drive.
I shave once a week and when I go out, I wear clean clothes that I work in. When I leave, there is no doubt in the client's mind that I have mastered this trade, and that I am their advocate. If they show up at my shop, they are not confused. I am the same guy that met them at their house, and talked to them on the phone initially. There are no surprises. I don't need to be something different to compensate for a lack of confidence or competence. I realize that it is what happens after the handshake that is most important. Most of the people who choose me do so because I am a hands-on owner. They know that they are dealing with the head guy and the one who will be building their cabinets. A tie is not going to affect the quality of their cabinets.
If you are a tie guy, fine. Dress up and show up on time. But realize that it takes more than a white collar impression to get a check. That initial visual inspection is only a small part of their overall impression. If they let you in the door and shake your hand, then you have passed the first test. Success is determined by what you do next. Listen to them. When they are finished, demonstrate to them that you understand their needs, and tell them how you can take care of them.