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A Uniform Approach

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Dave Hartley was dirty. After working on a car in the back of the shop, he knew he couldn’t speak to his customer looking the way he did. Hurrying out to his car, the Butler’s Collision shop foreman replaced his work-spattered T-shirt with a clean one. Satisfied he looked presentable enough to assist the customer waiting for him, he then headed back into the shop.

“You need to do what you can to make a good first impression,” says Roy Schnepper, president of Butler’s in Roseville, Mich. “I think the way a person dresses leaves an impression.”

Butler’s pulls in $1.5 million in annual revenue and spans 10,000 square feet, and Schnepper, owner since 1995, knows what it takes to give his customers first-class service. And as shop foreman Hartley’s story about changing his shirt illustrates, Schnepper’s employees take pride in their work—and in their appearance.

At a time when every customer interaction is critical, shop owners like Schnepper are realizing the benefit of having their employees wear uniforms to create a strong positive image and to reflect competence and professionalism from the get-go.

“A primary benefit of uniforms is that they support and reinforce a collision repair business’ image and identity with customers,” says Matt Benkosky, national accounts program manager for uniform provider UniFirst Corp. “By wearing uniforms, customers inevitably view collision repair workers as being more professional and as taking greater pride in their work.”

In fact, research has shown that customers “believe better work has been done on their vehicle when workers wear uniforms,” Benkosky says.

WHY A FIRST IMPRESSION MATTERS

Communication theory backs up Schnepper’s and Benkosky’s experience with the importance of employee appearance.

Connie Ringlee, a senior lecturer in speech communication at Iowa State University, says “We tend to communicate holistically, which means that we use all of our senses to communicate with and understand each other. The verbal message is less than 20 percent of the message that a customer gets. The visual message is especially important.”

Even how a professional is expected to look plays an important role in customer perception, Ringlee says. “Do professionals look like who they claim to be? The auto body repair industry is a competitive one. In most areas, there is more than one shop. Your appearance is your calling card.”

Schnepper understands this idea well. He knows the quality of his shop, in large part, is determined by customers who pay close attention to how his employees dress. “If a guy comes in with a raggedy old T-shirt and jeans on, it gives a negative impression. [My employees] take pride in looking professional.”

LOOKING THE PART

At Butler’s Collision, Schnepper’s shop employees wear navy pants and a blue shirt with gray stripes. The uniforms bear the company’s name. Members of the office staff wear polo shirts sporting the company name and logo. The shop, rather than the employees, pays for the uniforms.

“Per employee, it’s about $11 to $12 per week to have them in uniform,” Schnepper says of the uniforms provided by Cintas. Uniforms from UniFirst are priced similarly, and both work wear providers are part of the Automotive Service Association member benefits program.
“The daily cost is about the same as you’d pay for a cup of coffee at your neighborhood diner,” Benkosky says. “You get a freshly cleaned uniform to wear every work day.”

Sizing and ordering of the uniforms also proves easy and efficient.

“When [a new employee] is hired, a rep will take sizes and the next week, he’ll come out with the uniforms,” Schnepper says. “Cintas keeps track of the clothes, and they come out each week to launder them. They also notice if they’re in need of replacement. The service manager takes care of any issues.”

UNIFORM PERKS

Schnepper says his employees prefer wearing uniforms rather their own clothes. “[They work with] paints, resins and oils,” he explains, “which will pretty much ruin any piece of clothing.”

Creating a great first impression by wearing uniforms, whether or not it results in bottom-line bigger business for the shop, is an integral part of a shop’s overall image.

“When employees wear uniforms, they feel like they’re part of a team, and they tend to take greater pride in their work,” Benkosky says. “When employees take greater pride in their work, they perform their tasks better.”

And that pride is something customers notice. Ringlee says it takes mere seconds for a person to form an initial first impression.

“It is also important that the shop is clean and well-equipped and obviously that the shop does quality work and stands behind that work,” she says. And, there’s a lot of truth to be had in that old cliché about never getting a second chance to make a first impression. “You want that first impression to be a positive one.”

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