Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve … or Cap

I just learned that tomorrow — May 15 — is “Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day,” and while I must admit my first reaction was to laugh, it got me thinking. Sometimes, something as simple as what you wear carries a big message for the people who see you, know you and work with you.

It can also be a great marketing tool.

In the fishing industry, appropriate attire runs the gamut from T-shirts, shorts and sandals to suits and ties. Depending on where you are, what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with, just about anything might fall within the fishing industry dress code.

What’s the dress code in your shop? And don’t tell me that you don’t have one. Every business has a dress code, whether it’s written down or not, and every employee knows what he or she can get away with wearing at work.

In the many hundreds of shops I’ve visited in my life, I’ve seen everything from embroidered polo shirts to random T-shirts and caps. And while I suppose most anything can work as long as you’re doing everything else right, a good dress code has value.

There may be better uniform options in your store...
There may be clearer uniform options in your store…

I’m absolutely certain that one of the most disturbing scenarios I’ve ever seen will be repeated this year at ICAST. At some point, I’ll run into the owner of a small retail shop and one of his or her employees. The owner will be dressed in a branded shirt with the name of his or her shop on it somewhere. The employee may be wearing a matching shirt, but will also have on a cap promoting a big box store or online retailer. The employee might even be wearing a shirt with the logo of the big box store or web outlet.

I’ve seen the same thing inside small retail shops — employees wearing shirts or caps from the big boxes or online retailers.

I’m not sure in what alternate universe this is acceptable, but I can tell you it would never be acceptable to me if I was the shop owner. In fact, I’d fire that employee just as soon as I saw the outfit.

But I wouldn’t fire them for being disloyal. (I’m not convinced that their wardrobe choice is a sign of disloyalty.) I’d fire them because they’re obviously too stupid to work for me, too stupid to understand the message they’re sending … too stupid to even dress themselves. And I don’t want anyone that stupid to be involved in my livelihood or the livelihood of my family.

If you think that’s harsh, I’d probably agree with you. But it’s also practical. Judgement that bad is not conducive to good business sense and it’s tough enough to succeed out there in the real world without defective thinking.

Maybe I’m old school, but I think there’s value in a store “uniform” that tells customers you’re part of the staff and are there to help. Don’t make them guess and don’t make them ask, “Do you work here?” If you have to answer that question, you’ve already messed up somewhere.

Once — entirely by accident — I went shopping at a Target store dressed in a bright red polo shirt. I must have been stopped half a dozen times by customers who needed help. It was kind of funny (though I’ll never do that again!) and taught me a lesson about retail dress codes. They’re important. They’re valuable. And they work.

Next week I want to tell you some things you can wear on the job that will actually help you make more sales — a different kind of dress for success.