Are you sitting comfortably? You may well be at your desk, in your workplace and wearing a suit and tie (or the woman’s equivalent) and during one of the hottest summers since 1976 that strikes me as rather strange.                                                     

Dressed to impress? Why a suit and tie may be yesterday’s workwear

02 October 2018

Malcolm Miller 

Dressed to impress?

Are you sitting comfortably? You may well be at your desk, in your workplace and wearing a suit and tie (or the woman’s equivalent) and during one of the hottest summers since 1976 that strikes me as rather strange.

We’re now into autumn, and (at the time of writing at least) we’re also experiencing something of an Indian Summer. It’s still warm.

So in a car retail environment, even with air con, why are we still wearing ties?

I understand that we want to be seen as professional and I also know that car salespeople have acquired an unfair public perception when it comes to trust. However, I propose that dressing in the stereotypical suit, tie and heavy gold watch isn’t helping. In the words of Shania Twain “That don’t impress me much”.

First impressions count

We all know first impressions count. Some experts claim it takes 30 seconds to size someone up – frankly, I think it takes less time than that. Researchers at Princeton University found that in less than a tenth of a second people were prepared to rate attractiveness, competence, likability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness. And that first impression, once formed, is extremely hard to overturn.

In any retail role it is important to look smart and presentable, to be recognised as ‘someone who works here’ and above all to look friendly and approachable. An important part of that is what we wear – so just what are we saying to our customers, clients and the world beyond by being thoroughly suited and booted?

Some of the world’s wealthiest and most successful people, like the jeans-wearing entrepreneur Richard Branson, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk, are famous for their relaxed approach to clothing. Maybe their wealth and power do the speaking for them. Indeed, the richer they are, the more wedded they appear to be to their denim (although I suspect it’s rather more expensive denim than I have in my wardrobe).

Is there a scale here? The richer you are, the less likely the expectation to wear a tie? What I do know is that a visit to a dealership should be a relaxed and enjoyable experience, and not like visiting my bank manager, which, trust me, is never fun.

Dress code or no code?

Dress code is important. I am not saying anything goes, and I fully I respect that you may have a rigorous dress code in your dealership or group, or be required by your brand to wear a uniform. I am not challenging that decision. I’m merely posing this question: does a suit and tie actually support your brand message? Dress code can mean whatever you decide it should mean, so if that’s jacket and open-necked shirt then why not?

You may have realised by now this article is not just about ties; it’s about creating trust, brand message and influencing the personal impact you have with your customers.

My accountant, the children’s headteacher, my solicitor (all men as it happens), are all habitual tie wearers. Their ties and suits are saying they are professional, in a serious work mode, trustworthy, and worth the money (or taxes) I am paying. Likewise, your archetypal hotel managers probably sleeps in their ties, unless they manage a very cool boutique hotel brand where the customer expects a T-shirt and jeans.

So it seems to be a given that certain professions, as mentioned above, still need a tie-wearing, ‘trustworthy’ representative.

But I’d argue this no longer applies to the car retail environment. First impressions do count and what message are you hoping to give out? A first meeting with a potential customer has to create trust and a positive relaxed experience and I think that a suit and tie is just getting in the way of that in 2018. Especially in a heatwave.

By focusing on ties, I am not ignoring women’s business dress dilemma. Maybe a suit, high collar, or neck scarf are the equivalent. You decide. Either way, dress code is an issue worth debating and, I’d argue, overhauling.

Six steps to making a great first impression:

  1. Work on your ‘hygiene’ factors – car parking is often the biggest challenge your customers face. Make it as easy as you can, so they enter your world relaxed rather than irate at having spent ten minutes trying to park.
  2. Walk the plot – try to look at everything as a new customer would, on their first visit. If you notice a patch of weeds then so will your customers and they will judge you. Tim Martin, founder of Wetherspoons, says he parks a short walk away from the pubs when he visits them, walking in as a customer would to get an understanding of their first impression (invariably smokers hanging around near the doors, in my experience, but you take the point.)
  3. Smile at customers and say hello before they beat you to it.
  4. Invest a disproportionate amount of your time and effort into keeping your toilets clean.
  5. You don’t have to ‘dress to impress’ but you need to be recognisable as a member of the team.
  6. It’s a happy experience!

If you’d like to find out more about how the RTS Group team can help your car retail environment create a great first impression, why not drop us an email or give us a call?  Or you can read more here about our RTS Retail programmes which will help you increase your profitability.

Malcolm Miller

Malcolm is RTS Group’s managing director so he oversees everything in the company and spends a large proportion of his time on new business development. He joined us initially as an associate, setting up the Mazda Academy, and became MD in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry.

Malcolm’s background is as a freelance trainer, largely in the automotive sector but also within the finance industry. His first ever job was as a paperboy – he delivered 40 papers a day from 6am, and was paid double on a Sunday because of the weight he had to carry!

He admits he has a somewhat untidy desk and should probably get the coffees in a bit more often, but his good humour and go-getting approach mean the team let him off. In his spare time, Malcolm is a rugby referee travelling across the south of England, and he has three grown-up children. Malcolm describes himself as “curious” which makes him the perfect person to explore new opportunities for RTS Group.

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