Professional Dress for Woodworkers

What's the right dress and grooming strategy for a woodworker who wants to make a good impression on customers? October 13, 2010

I am just starting a custom furniture business. I am wondering what everyone thinks about how a woodworking professional should look. How should your hair be cut? Beard or shaved? Jeans and t-shirt or button-down and khakis? What does everyone think?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor Z:
It depends what youíre trying to sell yourself as - a salesman, craftsman, or an artist? If a salesman then a shirt, tie, jacket, and etc are appropriate. If a craftsman clean, neat cloths including a flannel shirt, jeans , and neat overall appearance.

Be neat and clean sell your work and confidence in your ability. Most folks don't expect to see someone looking like a banker working in a wood shop. On the other hand donít carry your tools in a used spackle pail and work from the trunk of your car.

From contributor E:
The customer may dress like a vagrant, but they expect you to be different. You must put this in writing and have all employees sign it, so they can't cry foul. Jeans are ok, no holes bigger than a dime, no piercings, and tattoos within 10" of the nose! You are going to have to pay more to find them, but their skills will be better anyway. I don't mean to sound bitter about employees today, but they think they can do, act, say, smell, however they want and the man just has to take it. No we don't. If you provide the shirts, you will get a better response.

From contributor A:
Cut your hair - it saves time in the morning, and looks somewhat more professional. Any beard should be ultra-trimmed. Your shirt should have some buttons and a collar. The polo style is good, as is the flannel. If the temp is near freezing, you will be wearing a sweater so it doesn't really matter at that point. Jeans should be clean and no tattered edges or holes, and not be so faded they look to be several years old. Comfortable, clean shoes. Clean sneakers are ok. The above will let you work in the shop, then stop and talk to a customer, then get back to work. If you are going out to see a customer, bump up your shirt a notch in style and professionalism.

From contributor M:
I believe you should always try to dress for the next position up the ladder. The only exception I make is when I'm in the spray room. I actually change clothes a minimum of twice a day, depending on what I'm doing. Since our employees go into homes with us, I warn them in advance to dress nicer than usual than when we are working in the shop. I feel it is an honor for a customer to allow me and my help to come into their home and it is the least we can do to look nice. Appearance says volumes about you. I may be old fashioned, but I have a problem when some people over promote their image. I have hired a couple of these guys and I found them to be too independent for my taste. I don't hire people either that I find their appearance to be distracting.

From contributor F:
Put yourself into their shoes. They are paying a lot of money for your product. How would you want people to look if you were in your customer's position? If you're selling a job, show up in work pants, whatever footwear is comfortable to you, and a nicely embroidered collared polo. When you (and others) are working on a job, try to dress with the same shirts on to show you are a team.

In terms of hair, I don't have much left. Just make sure that you and those around you don't look like a mountain man - but if they do they should have the intelligence to back it up. If you look like you care about your appearance, it conveys to your product.

Let's face it - the flannel man is gone. He's a thing of the past. People want to buy our stuff because we're the one's selling it, and not necessarily making it. They put their trust into our hands, and we should act accordingly. So break out your iron and sell some jobs!

From contributor A:
In a perfect world, my guys would all show up with black tee's (in decent condition), jeans or Carrhart style carpenters pants (any color), and construction footwear. Shirts and pants should not be oversized and baggy. They would wear belts, with their tapes attached, along with a pencil or two. No rings, bracelets, watches, etc. (safety). Cell phones in pocket is ok. That being said, I don't care what they look like, as long as they're clean and well kept. I know it's hot sometimes, but you work in a shop not a gym. Having the proper equipment and attire speaks more about professionalism than any haircut or style.

From contributor C:
I'm surprised there has been no mention of focusing on the quality of your work rather than what you look like - especially if you want to be a furniture maker. There's much more to this thing than how you look. Intelligent people look deeper than appearance. Focus on gaining the skills that make you a person who is in demand. Be yourself. People respect people who are confident and comfortable with themselves. Be true to yourself and all will be well. Your level of competence is your most important tool.

From contributor B:
First time customer meeting, collard pressed shirt with company logo/name, nice pants without paint, nice shoes. I have these shoes I can kick off when entering the house. And you should take off the shoes without asking when entering.

From contributor M:
I certainly don't dress nice to manipulate people or to make them think I am something I am not. I dress clean, neatly and like a professional because I am clean, neat and a professional. Some days I don't have my best clothes on, because the work I do may be messy. There is such a thing as dressing appropriately for the occasion. I also know when I go into a customerís house, I don't want to have them not to be able to ask me to sit down either. Itís called respect. You can't get respect by not giving it. I expect the same from the people who come to my house.

From contributor B:
We all know or have been told it is wrong to judge by appearance, but first impressions are lasting. When I meet customers at their house or business I am clean, I wouldn't want a pile of dust showing up at my door. More important than my appearance is being professional. When my guys go they always take drop sheets, vacuum and cleaning supplies. There is no bigger turn off for a customer than having to clean their own new cabinets. I can't tell you how many customers comment on how well we clean up after the job, treat it like it was your own house.

From contributor K:
I have a beard (neatly trimmed), wear a shirt with a collar and logo and khaki or green pants. First impressions are very important. You make an impression the first 17 seconds you meet someone. They literally look at you top to bottom. Are you clean shaved? If a beard, is it trimmed? Do you have bad breath? Did you brush your teeth or are they going to be distracted by that piece of whatever stuck in your teeth?

No matter how good you are as a woodworker, if you come across the wrong way it works against you. If you show up at a clientís house in your work clothes for a first meeting, you honestly don't think that will convey things to them that are negative? While people don't expect a suit and/or tie from woodworkers, they do expect it from salespeople, which shows you they have preconceived expectations.

A polo or shirt with a collar and a logo, along with items with your logo (card, notebook, pricing book, photo-book, pen, background on your laptop and screen-saver) comes across as professional. Add some meat to that perception with your knowledge and skills and you'll go a long way to putting them at ease as to whether or not you are right for them. It's all about making them feel comfortable. Thatís hard to do if you work against expectations.

From contributor S:
I think itís more about how your work looks than how you look. You work will speak volumes about the type of craftsmen you are, than if you are wearing a suit and tie, or jeans and a tee shirt. You should show confidence and knowledge about what you do for your customers, they will overlook the fact that you brown shoes don't match your black belt.

From contributor T:
Although a lot of you guys bring up some very good points, what it all comes down to is dress how your customers expect you to. Anyone of us could lose a sale for being over, or under dressed. Know your market, know your customers, and dress accordingly. Do what you feel comfortable with and what works for you. Some people would give the caveman the job based on quality alone and never consider the suit and tie guy, and some people would not consider your work if you didn't wear a suit and tie. Just my humble opinion though.

From contributor K:
It's important that the presentation of your business is outstanding at all times! Everything from the facility your business is based out of, to the style and quality of the letter your business uses is a reflection on its professional appearance. Just as your employees are the public face of the business, the presentation of the company in a professional manner is essential to establishing a world class reputation for your business. When it comes to the presentation of your business no detail is too small to ignore. Everything the public sees must present you business in a professional light.

The building, the uniforms worn by your employees and even how the phone is answered all reflect on the professionalism of your business. Prospective clients and customers want to do business with professionals! If your business image doesn't meet their expectations you'll never get the opportunity to make a personal pitch to them.

From the original questioner:
Thank you everyone for the responses. I was and still am leaning toward the clean shaven, button-down shirt wearing look. I feel that while you should not be fake in how you look and act, you should not look like a bum because your customers do judge you based on appearance. I know several of you stated that you do not agree with that, but I feel that people only like you for what you can offer them. If they want cabinets, they will like the person who can give them what they want. If they want a new car, they will like the person who can give them what they want.