First impressions are important in business. Research by retailing expert C. Britt Beemer uncovered the standards by which women shoppers judge a retail store. One crucial standard is salespeople’s attire.

Would you do business with these people? Research shows that a salesperson’s appearance can affect sales. Those who are more professionally dressed are not only more likely to close the sale, but more likely to gain the consumer’s trust.

First impressions are important in business. Research by retailing expert C. Britt Beemer uncovered the standards by which women shoppers judge a retail store. One crucial standard is salespeople’s attire. When men shop, they are on a mission - to get in, buy, and get out. They rarely notice surroundings. Women, on the other hand, notice everything, especially the appearance of the person helping them. And, the key point here is women buy 94% of all home furnishings.

Nearly all women notice clutter or dust in a showroom and do care about their clothing. Few men care about the details of their clothing or the clutter or dust in a showroom. I believe we could increase sales by upgrading our appearances.  

In my seminars, I preach how important dress is, but I always get static from some women like: “We don’t want to turn off our customers by being over-dressed”; “You don’t understand our market”; “Sometimes, we have to unload a truck full of cushion.” I’ve heard it all. It’s just an excuse. 

Research proves that a salesperson’s appearance affects sales. Dress and grooming advertise your standards, and send messages about who you are. Thus, they affect others’ responses to you. Proper attire leads others to treat you with more respect. Professional salespeople are walking billboards.

Look at your salespeople’s attire. Does it accurately reflect their identity as representatives of your company and your vendors?

A number of years ago, while training retailer salespeople in a rural western city, I noticed that every associate wore a clean, crisply pressed white shirt and tie. Into my seminar walked a manufacturer’s territory manager wearing a golf shirt. His lower standard clashed with theirs; he lost my respect, and probably some sales. Fair or not, we make judgments about each other’s professionalism based upon attire.

We all know that a salesperson’s pleasing appearance increases sales. But it’s crucial to understand how it does that. I’ve found that attire and grooming affect both the customer and salesperson. Sales rise not solely because the customer perceives the salesperson more professional, but also because the salesperson feels confident, which enhances his or her attitudes and sales abilities. There is a relationship between how we dress and groom ourselves and how we are inclined to feel and act. 

As a consequence, peak-performing salespeople do all they can to enhance their emotional state, including dressing up. They know their emotions can encourage or discourage sales as much as anything they say. Most of us realize that when we look good, we feel good!  And, when we feel good, we walk and talk more confidently. Of course, there is a circularity of influence here. When you feel good, you feel like dressing better.  And when you dress better, you feel better. Each influences the other. So, when you feel down, you can use clothing to heighten your hope and confidence.

“Confidence and enthusiasm are the greatest sales products in any kind of economy. Have confidence in your products and the house backing them, have enthusiasm for your job … and you will find that your customers will not have to be sold - they will be glad to buy.” (O. B. Smith)

Here’s a test to let you know if you are dressing appropriately. Do customers notice your eyes and smile first? You want them to get your message from your face!  By contrast, if the first thing they notice is something odd or immodest in your clothing, they may consider you unprofessional. Instinctively, people know that one’s attire reflects what that person is on the inside. Thus, the wrong clothing can decrease the customer’s attention and respect. Look in the mirror each morning before going to work. Adjust your attire so that customers will notice your face, first and foremost. 

Is more formality in dress coming back? I am pleased to report “yes.” At Surfaces this year, I found many vendors were dressed in coat and tie. It was refreshing. According to a February 5th article in the Wall Street Journal, formality in dress is returning. Bill Brewer, of the Bickel and Brewer law firm says, “I think people expect high-powered lawyers to look like high-powered lawyers.” I have been bothered for years that our fashion statements have been going south. I’m glad they may be heading back north. 

Tell yourself, “In order to sell at my best, I must look my best.” Note, however, that dressing well does not require a fortune. The best wardrobe advice I’ve ever seen is, “Buy half as much, and spend twice as much.” Create a checklist for your personal appearance. 

Check your hands and nails. Manicure them. You don’t need to color your nails; you may simply buff them or apply a clear coat.

Remove excess hair. Tweezers or a nose-hair trimmer can remove hair in your nostrils, between your eyebrows, in your ears, and on the back of your neck. Manage your eyebrows.

Whiten your teeth and freshen your breath. Never, however, should you chew mints or gum while selling. One rep that called on me perpetually chewed gum, and I paid more attention to his looking like a cow chewing cud than to his pitch. 

Match your belt to the color of your shoes. Speaking of shoes, keep them shined.  It’s a little thing, but in sales, little things mean everything …and women notice.

Accessorize. You can often enhance your attire by adding a necklace, ring, bracelet, wrist cuff, or other tasteful accoutrement. Avoid things that look cheap and mass produced – even if they are. When in doubt, err on the side of simplicity.

Studies done by Robert Cialdini at Arizona State University show that people who dress like experts (white shirt and tie) or wear a uniform (company shirt and dress slacks) tend to influence more customers to buy. Being seen as an expert increases the customer’s trust. Cialdini calls this a weapon of influence, the Law of Authority. Nametags help customers remember your name and help them to know who to talk to. 

Never implement anything in your business arbitrarily that may affect results. Always test first, then measure. If the process or change improves results, then implement. If it doesn’t, forget it. 

Here’s this month’s recommendation: upgrade the dress code for yourself and your people for the next six weeks. Measure results: sales, margins, average tickets, and closing rates of each salesperson. If the new dress code works, adopt it as policy. If it doesn’t, forget it.

If you want your personal billboard and your teams’ billboard to shout: “Sounds good and looks good,” y’all better dress for success!