They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but whether you like it or not, first impressions do matter. If you only have one opportunity to convince a potential client of your professionalism, the last thing you want is inadequate uniforms undermining your efforts.
Doug Delano, LIC, co-owner of Level Green Landscaping, based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, says he cannot imagine running a customer service business where they are working on customers’ jobs and not have their employees in easily identifiable uniforms.
Level Green supplies pants, shirts, jackets, hats and either face masks or gaiters for their crews. Delano says they supply new employees with three pairs of pants, five shirts, a jacket, a hat and a gaiter or face mask.
Ziehler Lawn and Tree Care, based in Centerville, Ohio, provides their technicians with pants, long sleeve shirts, boots, a winter jacket, a light jacket, hats and all the PPE that they are required to use. Operations leader Craig Gerken says they provide temporary uniforms to new hires and get uniforms specific to their sizes on their first day, along with taking them to get their boots so they are fully prepared for their in-field training.
At Ground Works Land Design, based in Cleveland, Ohio, the articles of clothing that make up their company uniform are constantly being tweaked.
“Because we have year-round employees, and we offer snow removal services, we have to think in terms of the four different (Midwest) seasons and not just focus on the warmer months,” says Tony Nasrallah, president and founder of Ground Works Land Design. “We also like to give our employees different pairing options – so as long as they’re wearing clothing that says Ground Works on it – they can mix and match.”
Currently, the Ground Works consists of a Dri-fit collared short sleeve polo, a cotton/elastane blend collared long sleeve shirt, a hooded windbreaker and/or bomber jacket, a baseball hat and an Anorak pullover water-resistant down jacket for the winter crew. Their new employees receive three of the polos, two long sleeve shirts, one windbreaker and/or bomber jacket, one hat and one pullover for the winter crew.
Nasrallah says they’ve always made a point to offer athleisure clothing that looks good and performs well, compared to the uncomfortable cotton shirt some employers provide.
Benefits of Quality Uniforms
It’s important for your employees to look good and feel good on the job. Providing quality uniforms can help boost the morale of your staff and is a small way to show you are willing to invest in your employees. Gerken says if you are going to hold your employees to a high standard then you as a company need to provide your employees with everything they need to achieve those standards.
“If we send our people without a uniform or in a sloppy/old uniform it will directly affect their morale in a negative way, in turn preventing us from providing our unmatched customer experience,” Gerken says. “Providing low-end uniforms to our technicians is similar to giving them the oldest truck in the fleet they are expecting to break down. It’s very hard for someone to take pride in where they work when they feel the company doesn’t care about the product they are providing the employee.”
Nasrallah says no matter how shy some of their employees are, they all love talking about clothes. They gather their opinions and try to provide them with what they want.
“It’s like Christmas morning whenever new articles of clothing get delivered to the shop,” Nasrallah says.
Providing sharp uniforms can also help with employees’ professionalism and customer impressions.
“We feel like when they look like a professional it will add to our technician’s confidence and credibility when performing the job and interacting with customers,” Gerken says.
Gerken adds that it’s much easier for a customer to accept a diagnosis or recommendation from someone who looks professional versus someone who looks like they can’t take care of themselves, let alone someone else’s yard. Nasrallah agrees that sloppy uniforms don’t give off the impression that you are qualified to beautify people’s properties.
“We are a luxury brand and customers are paying for that luxury experience,” Nasrallah says. “Our average billed project last year was $160,000. When you’re dealing with a client that pays that (amount), and more, they expect a specific level of service. A lot of that boils down to presentation. When customers choose to work with Ground Works, they know the workers showing up to their home do not smoke, all tattoos are covered, shirts are always tucked in and hats are always worn forward. In our industry, this means something. Again, you get what you pay for.”
Quality uniforms are also important so they can stand up to the daily wear and tear from a full season of outdoor work. They can also help with safety needs.
“We want our team members to be in clean uniforms that represent themselves and the company well,” Delano says. “The shirts, jackets, and some hats are made of high visibility material for safety reasons and so our crews can easily be identified on the job site.”
Gerken says because industry guidelines require long sleeve shirts while spraying products, they work to provide their technicians with a uniform that is comfortable and breathes well in the summer heat as it will make their lives more enjoyable.
Company Uniform Policies
Delano says their employees must wear their uniforms and keep them clean. They provide new employees vests to wear the first few days on the job until they have their uniforms.
He says if the uniforms become worn or too dirty to clean, they must turn in the old uniform and replace them.
“We give each employee uniforms up to a certain dollar amount when they start and then on a yearly basis thereafter, if they want more, then they must pay for the extra uniforms,” Delano says.
Gerken says they cover the majority of the uniform expenses, with the technicians having a small amount deducted from their pay each week. They provide lockers for their technicians and their provider washes the dirty uniforms each week. Ziehler’s only requirement is their employees must be in uniform in time for the morning meeting and that they remain in uniform until their truck is filled at the end of the day.
“We have also run contests for different shirts that our technicians can wear outside of the standard uniform,” Gerken says. “We have had specialty shirts made that are more casual but still look presentable and promote our core values.”
If a piece of an employee’s uniform no longer fits Ziehler’s standard of what they deem presentable, the employee gives it to the manager and they get it replaced.
Ground Works covers all the uniform expenses, as it’s part of an employee perk at the company. Their employees are responsible for taking care of and washing their uniforms.
“They bring the uniforms home and they show up to work wearing the uniforms, as we don’t use lockers here,” Nasrallah says. “In return, we don’t make our employees pay for the uniform. It’s about trust.”
If particular uniforms are looking worn, Nasrallah says they’ll pull the employee aside and bring it to their attention. Ground Works keeps extras of all clothing on site so they can quickly replace a piece if needed.
Is the Cost Worth It?
Gerken says they believe paying extra for better uniforms is worth it, but they always do their due diligence to make sure they’re getting what they want for a reasonable price.
“If you want to position your company as a team of professionals and a company that cares about the service you provide, your employees’ appearance helps set the tone,” Gerken says.
Ground Works opts to provide luxury brands such as L.L. Bean because they uphold an image.
“When employees wear these brands, they feel better about themselves which directly affects the quality of their work,” Nasrallah says. “When our customers and the general public see us in these brands, they immediately associate our company and our work with luxury. That’s what we want. We are a premium brand. Not to mention, I do believe you get what you pay for. In this case, we’re getting better quality apparel.”
Nasrallah admits it is expensive, but to him, it is an investment, as the more he can give back to the company, the more successful they will be.
“In the long run, it is a minor cost when you are looking at the long-term picture of serving your employees and clients,” Delano says.
This article was published in the September/October issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Landscape Professional magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.