Uniforms help your employees stand out
No matter how dirty you get at work, there is no excuse for having an unprofessional appearance when you show up in the morning at your client’s door. The easiest way to convey a professional look is for you and your workers to wear a uniform.
“If you show up with ripped jeans and a soiled T-shirt, you are saying to your customer that you are second rate,” said Jennifer Lemcke, chief operating officer for Weed Man, USA, a lawn care maintenance franchise company with over 107 franchisees operating in the United States. The company requires its franchisees and workers to wear its signature green and yellow uniforms.
“Our industry needs to be a professional industry,” said Lemcke. “Think of the difference it makes to have some poorly dressed person mowing the lawn versus someone mowing the lawn in a professional uniform.”
Why bother with a uniform?
Uniforms help build both a company’s brand identity and trust with customers, according to a study by the Uniform and Textile Service Association (UTSA).
Many customers prefer landscape workers who wear uniforms, according to a study the organization conducted with market research firm, J.D. Power. Forty-six percent of those surveyed said that they would rather have a uniformed landscaper than one dressed in street clothing. The study also concluded that customers in a variety of industries are more likely to buy from and have a positive image of a company when its workers are wearing well-maintained uniforms.
“Uniforms convey the message that you are a member of a professional group or association and not a rag-tag employee,” said Sandy Dumont, an image consultant who owns The Image Architect, and consults with individuals and companies throughout the Washington, D.C., area. “You don’t want your workers to look like you just pulled them off the street and hired them yesterday.”
Liz Goodgold, a branding expert from San Diego, Calif., agrees. “One of my favorite reasons for wearing a uniform is that it distinguishes the public from the company,” said Goodgold.
“When [a] landscaping business has a uniform, the customer knows that some stranger isn’t in the yard mowing the lawn … that the person is an employee of your company,” said Goodgold. “The uniform immediately answers the question, ‘Does that person belong here?’”
Plus, said Dumont, uniformed workers can usually charge more for their services. Goodgold agreed, “By putting uniform on, you have permission to charge more … especially if [your workers] come out on time and do a great job.”
In addition, if you’re looking to gain government contracts, many agencies now require that contractor uniforms be easily identifiable when working on public property; this is also true of many homeowner associations and property management companies.
Choose the right uniform
Work uniforms don’t have to be expensive or flashy. If you are on a strict budget, buying T-shirts that are the same color and asking workers to wear denim pants that are neat with no holes or tears, and maybe even supplying identical baseball caps to shield workers from the sun, is a good start. If you already have an established color pallet for your business, translate those colors onto the shirts and hats for uniformity.
A step up would be T-shirts with your company’s logo silk-screened on the back and front (which is also good advertising for passers-by while your workers are outside), or a polo shirt with the logo embroidered in the front.
Dumont also suggests that the owner of the company, or anyone who is going out to make a sales call, dress in the same color scheme, but, for a man, a dress shirt and pair of dark pants; for a woman, a professional-looking pantsuit is appropriate.
When it comes to the color scheme of the uniforms, take the colors you have already established for your business (those on your business cards and/or trucks). If you don’t have a color scheme, you may want to think carefully about what colors mean to customers. While the American favorite color is blue (it is the number one color of cars and corporate logos), it is not very distinctive. You can use blue, but play up a secondary color.
“Red signifies high energy; purple is considered regal; brown is earthy,” said Goodgold. Green is a favorite among landscapers, “but if all the landscape companies are green, you won’t stand out,” she said.
Lemcke said that Weed Man chose green and bright yellow as its colors to make it distinctive. “It is the color of a dandelion,” said Lemcke. “We make sure green is on the bottom, such as in the uniform pants, and yellow at the top, in the shirts,” she said.
Approaching workers about uniforms
If your business has never required a uniform, your workers may balk at the suggestion. One way to get employees on board is to make it fun and get them to participate in the decision-making. Help them understand that the uniforms have a direct effect on business success—which can affect their bonuses or pay raises. Once employees understand that you are trying to make more money that will benefit everyone in the company, attitudes will change.
Management also has to wear these uniforms, or a variation of the uniform, as well, in order for employees not to feel like second-class citizens within the company.
Also, don’t expect your employees to dish out money to buy their own uniforms. “As long as the employer makes a contribution or does the purchase, employees are usually okay with the uniforms. Employees get disgruntled when uniforms are mandated and they have to pay for it out of their own pockets,” said Goodgold.
Expect to purchase at least five shirts per employee—one for every day of the week—and replace the shirts quarterly or semiannually as they become soiled, torn or start to look shabby.
When selecting the uniforms, solicit the opinion of all your employees. “Have them vote on, say, three designs that you have selected,” suggested Goodgold. Share the results of the poll immediately through a newsletter, meeting or e-mail, so your employees know that their opinions shaped the decision.
While outfitting your crew with uniforms takes money, time and some persuasion, it will probably be the smallest marketing investment you will make that will have the highest return.
“Uniforms increase professionalism, brand loyalty, will allow you to increase your prices, and will get word-of-mouth referrals,” said Goodgold. “If you’re the first in your community to do it, you will stand out.”
The author is a freelance writer from Keene, N.H.