Today's my third post in a series during Write 31 Days covering anything and everything that comes to mind this month related to owning/running/working/learning about all things business. Mostly, I'll be covering topics related to our salon company in Athens, GA with a sprinkling of love from my small calligraphy biz.
During training, one of the first things we discuss with our new hires at City is our dress code. Thus, it makes sense that, on day three, let's talk about that. Actually, let's talk about when we break dress code. Because it's Friday (praise!) and it's the second "casual" Friday that we've had since we released a more structured and neutral dress code back in May.
First, let's just talk dress code as a business principle. Occasionally, I am asked why we even have a dress code at all. "You don't have to wear black/white/grey to look professional." "I think color looks more professional." "I think your clients probably like it better when you wear color." Etc, etc, etc... I don't believe I can do real justice to the importance of dress code in our current culture in just one post but, in short, we adhere to a dress code as part of our commitment to consistently elevating expectations and aiming for world class service with our guests. The expectations of our dress code are crystal clear so that no one is standing in their closet wondering if what they're about to put on looks a) professional or b) fits dress code. Truly, it sets our team up for success during one of the first step of their "work day." Which is why, in a minute I'll tell you, on the two "casual" days we've had so far we all spend at least a few minutes in the back room talking about how much longer it took us to get dressed and how much more we had to think about it.
Frankly, and the most important piece of this to me, is that most (I would dare say all) people just can't deliver world class service in blue jeans. That's not to say that a Blue Jean Experience is bad, it's just not characteristic of a market leader in any industry. Unless you're managing a construction site. Or if you're representing a lifestyle brand in sales that sells jeans or uses them to market their product. If we want our guests to feel like they are getting market leader experience and service (because we do, and they are), jeans just don't reflect that. At City, we shape our entire culture around the market leader experience, from dress code to coffee grounds. We're tweaking systems and shifting processes a little bit all the time to make sure we're getting it right. To me, dress code is the easiest way to elevate the level of service your guest experiences without ever changing a thing about the service itself. What we wear says so much about who we are, who we're expecting and how we want to be viewed by the world.
Simply put... it matters.
Have we always operated this way? NO. When I first started working at City (almost two years before we bought), there was no dress code to be found. Our owners weren't present - they lived across the country - and while we were a hip, major salon destination in our city, we were far from being the Market Leader. Aside from "Look professional" and some notes on scandalous wear we didn't have clear, descriptive standards for the way we should dress in the workplace. And guess how we dressed... blue jeans, tees, flip flops, hair in snot knots... we were casual, sure, but we were messy and inconsistent! If you're a lazy employee, this is great news! Low standards, low performance, no problem. But if you're the bird that's out to get the worm, you're a Neiman Marcus pop-up shop in the middle of a Target. And if you're the customer? You're just downright confused. We had a beautiful space that made, and still makes, most of our visitors envious. We were using elite haircolor brands and an expensive retail haircare line but nothing about the way we looked reflected that. (And, I can't be sure without looking back but I would dare say that our retail sales reflected that during that time as well.)
Once we bought the business and started a major push to re-brand and build a market leader foundation, we pushed back just a touch on the dress code. We cut some of the more casual items on paper and that lasted for a short while. But then there were technicalities and grey areas and managing a system with so much room for interpretation became exhausting so... guess how well that system worked for us. *Womp womp* Simply put, it didn't! We were back in casual wear in no time and our service was right there with it.
Side note: I think my favorite borrowed thing to say about systems is this... Not having a system is still a system. It's called chaos. We were living in a system of chaos as it relates to how our people represent the brand we're killing ourselves to elevate.
Over the next several months, I longed to make a more structured dress code happen. But even I am a lover of color, pattern, texture. I LOVE getting dressed. And I love that my outfits say something about me to the people that I meet. It makes getting dressed important. You can tell where a person's value lies based on what they're wearing. Do they value slow fashion? Thoughtfully designed and durably made? Or do they value fast fashion pieces from big box stores? Quickly produced and pieced together for one season's wear? At the time, I was also afraid of the roar I might hear if I cut blue jeans out of the daily fashion diet. (Spoiler: At first, people will feel like you are taking away their personal style. It's a lie, don't fall for it.)
Fast forward to earlier this year and everything changed. Our manager and I did a "trial" of sorts for the dress code and stuck to what would eventually be our code for 2-3 weeks before we were going to unveil the new structure. Every. single. day. we got compliments from our team and our guests. People noticed. In a good way. Words we heard a LOT of: professional, fancy, boss ladies, sharp. Our behavior and our voices changed. The way we spoke to each other and our team changed and the way our guests reacted to our processes changed.... and we had barely gotten started!
Dress code matters. Your presentation matters. Louis Vuitton does NOT matter. And neither does Chanel. This is in no way a conversation on brand snobbery. The way you hold yourself when you wear pieces that are clean, durable and fit well? That definitely matters. Unity with your team, even in visual appearance, is a really big deal. I could talk about all the ways this has changed our business in ways big and small for hours. It was ONE SYSTEM and it changed so much. (And we still have personal style out the wazoo.)
Our dress code is comprised of a strictly neutral palette - patterns and textures with any of the neutral colors allowed are great but we don't wear colored clothing, sneakers or any kind of denim. Colored accessories are totally acceptable and encouraged. So, a couple of weeks ago, we had our very first "casual" Friday where color was welcome and, begrudgingly, dark denim was okay. I'll be honest, it felt like chaos. And also Heaven! For the first time in many months, I had no idea who was on our team by just doing a pass on the room. But when we were all together chatting, the air was light. Sure, we'd relaxed a little bit - too much for my taste in customer service - but it was good for our souls. It also reminded me that while I love the way my blue jeans feel at the end of the week, I much prefer the way it feels to deliver great customer service from A to Z. From what I'm wearing to our check out procedure.
In August, we ran an intense customer service contest and those who met their customer service goals were granted full access to sneakers and black denim through the month of September. Those of us who hit goal were pumped... for about five days. And then we were back to dress code. We know how it feels to be dressed professionally and we know how much our level of service benefits from even the simple act of getting dressed in the morning. The comfort of denim and sneakers didn't outweigh the comfort of delivering great service and brand presence. It was an incredibly interesting thing to watch and experience.
Today and tomorrow, we're having a Colorful Weekend. After yesterday's water main fiasco, I was craving the joy of color in my wardrobe! But by the end of the day, I wanted my streamlined neutral palette back. I love that when I'm getting dressed for work, I'm never worried about how I look in my clothes. I know that they're quality pieces that look professional and fit me well. Over the past several months (after reading Jen Hatmaker's 7), I've been capital P Purging my closet of things I don't wear and donating them to people who need them - things I've been holding on to since college ten years ago. I'm on a quest to create a solid capsule wardrobe that fits our dress code but still allows for some color joy here and there.
Tomorrow, I'll continue to go down this road a little farther because I believe that great business starts with getting dressed. When you're killing yourself to build a brand and not just a business, this one thing seems silly but I promise it's so huge. It's one system that has easily and efficiently managed the chaos of how we represent our brand as individuals and managed our starting point for great service. I'll share the capsule wardrobe I'm building and how I'm keeping our neutral dress code fun and interesting with pattern, texture and lots of layering. For a few days next week, I'll be sharing some OOTD's on my instagram if you want to follow along over there.