Jodi Wallace

Special Contributor

Monarch Solid Surface DesignsAs a business owners we stake everything on our name and reputation. In years past, if a customer was unhappy with the products or services they received, their complaints would fall to family and friends, which for the most part was  a small and contained orbit.     

In today’s world where anyone at the push of a button can post or read a review about our company, our services, our employees, it’s a whole different ballgame. Even the best companies and their employees have an off-day once in a while. The difference today is that one small off-day by an employee can have cyber-world visibility – forever.   

From a customer’s viewpoint, an employee’s appearance, their attitude, their language, (do not swear on MY job sites!) are judged as a direct reflection of our company, our employees, and the business owners. 

For good or bad, when I am wearing my “today-I-am-a-consumer-hat,” the first impression I receive from someone is going to definitely bear weight on my choice to work, or not work with a company. 

I’m sure I pay more attention to the details being a business owner than most people would, but I want to work with someone who LOOKS professional, someone that is respectful to both myself and my home, is polite, and can answer my questions knowledgeably. 

That being said, when I am back in my business owner mode, I want to make sure my employees are representing my company and themselves in the most presentable and positive way to our customers. My thought is that I want my employees to make the same, good impression on our customers that I would want someone else’s employees to present when interacting with me.

Putting It Into Action

At our shop there are three non-negotiable rules for employees –you must be clean-shaven, you must show up in a clean shirt, and there is no smoking at our shop, in our vehicles, or around a job site. I would like to say that being a small shop we pull this off effortlessly, but those who own their own shops know otherwise. Still, these are battles neither my husband nor I are willing to give up on. 

To start with, I like facial hair. Three of our employees including my son have facial hair and as long as it is kept trimmed and neat-looking, we are fine. It is the I-just-crawled-out-of-bed-three-days-ago-and-can’t-find-a-razor look that is unacceptable. 

I wasn’t impressed with the look when Don Johnson wore it on “Miami Vice” and it definitely doesn’t work for my guys, whether on a commercial site or in a customer’s home. The younger crowd may find this attitude of shaving “if and when” they get around to it a nice perk of the new world order, but in our shop, your appearance is a direct reflection of the customer care and service we strive to offer.

Everyone has on off day – the alarm didn’t go off, the car broke down, Jupiter wasn’t in its correct orbit. But if you show up looking like something my dog dragged through the backyard, be prepared for the consequences. 

For example, there was a time when someone chose to show up at work looking scruffier than my dog and was sent home for the day without pay (they had previously been warned). 

Another time an employee was pulled off an install team and kept in the shop because they were not going out to a customer’s home looking like THAT. Were they unhappy? Most definitely. Was I unhappy that we had to scramble and rearrange the workload so we could pull someone else off a job and send them out in the field, when it wasn’t anticipated? Absolutely. 

But it was more important that the person showing up to install our customer’s beautiful new kitchen countertops looked professional and ready to work, not like they had just come from an all-night binge. If you choose to show up at our shop looking like that, don’t count on a paycheck for the day.

If I as a consumer am spending a significant amount of money on new countertops or shower walls with your company, I want the person walking into my home to reflect the same professionalism and care to their appearance as the quality of the product I expect to receive from your company. 

That may seem a bit extreme to some people, but my husband and I stand firm on this. When times are good and money is flowing in, people tend to get lax in their attitudes about their employee appearances.  

A couple years ago I stopped by another shop to borrow something. The guy packing the truck looked like he had slept in the same jeans and shirt for a week, was unshaven and was wearing a dirty baseball cap. I asked the owner if he was new shop help and he said, no, he was a new installer. 

I was shocked he would send someone to a customer’s home looking that way. His response was, “They (the customer) get what I send them!” If I was the customer on the receiving end of that job and his employee showed up at my home looking as unkempt as that, I promise I would be on the phone with the owner of that business in a heartbeat. If you want my future business or references, have the courtesy to send an employee who looks like they (or you) care about what I think. 

To combat this occasional “oops,” and to avoid having to deal with the wrath of myself or my husband, a couple of the guys at our shop have taken to keeping disposable razors and an extra shirt in their lockers.  And you know what - that works just fine for me. It shows initiative and some forethought.

Another thing we are adamant about is being in uniform, and please note I use the term “uniform” loosely. As long as the guys have a Monarch Designs t-shirt on the top half, they are free to encase the bottom half of their bodies in whatever style of pants or shorts they are happy with, as long as they are clean and presentable. We also encourage and provide baseball caps with the Monarch Designs logo as well. It may seem petty, but we really believe the details make a difference. 

In addition to our residential work we do commercial as well. One thing my husband has always complained about was walking onto a job site and having no clue who the plumber was, the electrician, or the contractor in charge of the job site because everyone was wearing whatever t-shirt happened to be grabbed in the morning. 

But anyone walking onto a job site where we are working can easily identify my husband and our guys immediately. We want Monarch to be easily recognizable and allow anyone in a quick glance to know who the countertop installers are. We also hope it instills a sense of pride in our employees. 

That shirt you are wearing? People associate it with the quality of the product you are installing. It’s easy to do substandard work when no one knows who you are. But when you walk in advertising your employer, you are representing not only your company but yourself as well to everyone on the job site. 

We have been on jobs with other trades and had the general contractor approach my husband and tell him, “I don’t know you personally, but I recognize the butterfly on your t-shirt. I know I won’t have to worry if the job will be done correctly.” We take pride in having earned that reputation and brand recognition, and it may work for you, too.

T-shirts are required working in the shop as well. I admit I get frustrated when a brand new shirt–handed out just the day before– is ripped because it got caught on something, but we want each of our employee to remember they are representing Monarch Designs at all times, on the job or the job site. Like the spokes in a wheel, we work best when we work together.  

Lastly, we hope it instills a sense of pride in our employees and that it will encourage them to put their best work forward. (We can hope, OK?!)

Our last and semi-controversial rule with our employees is NO smoking. How does a shop with a no smoking rule end up with half of their employees as smokers? I have no clue! But our rule is clear and people are always trying to get around it. 

Several weeks ago I was at the shop with my husband and as we were talking, he opened the door to one of our trucks. The smell was so overpowering that I had to take several steps back. We were furious – no smoking means no smoking. 

When we brought it up the employee acted surprised. His response was that he hadn’t smoked in the truck; he had put it out before getting in. But, he added, he didn’t see a need to toss a perfectly good cigarette that he hadn’t finished smoking, so he stored it in the proper place- the ashtray! 

I’m not sure we even knew how to respond to that one, except, “Here’s your sign!” (Anyone familiar with Jeff Foxworthy or Bill Engvall definitely will understand this!)

When you enter a person’s home you are a visitor. Walking into a customer’s home smelling of cigarettes or leaving a lingering odor behind when you leave is just plain bad customer care. It all comes back to showing courtesy, respect and professionalism to your co-workers, and your customers.  

Trouble is, most smokers do not realize how penetrating and pervasive the smell of nicotine can be. Nicotine deadens your sense of smell. Another of our guys consistently walks in with smoker’s breath bad enough to stop a charging rhino! He has been asked to take care of it: chew gum, eat mints or go home– a short and simple policy.

I admit, there are days when I feel more like their mother instead of their employer! Our smoking employees are even encouraged to bring a shirt to change into while they smoke (just not in front of my shop), for odor control. 

The point is– smoke and smell like cigarettes in one of our company shirts and they are going to be warned or written up. Are we making it difficult for them? I don’t argue that there are definite grumblings that reverberate throughout the shop, but my customer’s satisfaction takes priority over their smoking habits. That’s the bottom line.

Opening a “real” showroom/office last year (versus the 300 square foot “showroom” in our shop that was by appointment only for the past 11 years) has had a direct influence on me as well. Gone are my days of working in our home office in my slippers and sweats and changing into a pair of jeans when I ran out to meet a customer at the shop. 

I don’t have to dress fancy, but I want to look nice enough that potential customers walk away with an impression of professionalism, customer care and knowledge of the products and services I offer. 

Like it or not, appearances have a direct impact on our business and reputation. We can have the best product and services in the world, but if the consumer perceives us and our employees as less than stellar, it doesn’t matter how good we are if they choose to take their business elsewhere.

Jodi Wallace is co-owner of Monarch Solid Surface Designs in San Jose, California. Readers may email her at