Image Matters When Making a Good First Impression

Tie-wearing plumbers stand out from the competition.
Image Matters When Making a Good First Impression
Brham Trim

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When plumber Brham Trim decided to form Action Auger in 2001 in Calgary, Alberta — a very competitive market for plumbers — he figured differentiation from other companies would be critical to growing his business.

So he readily agreed when his father, Marty (now retired from plumbing), suggested Trim require his servicemen to wear uniforms and clip-on ties. Eventually, his customers renamed the business by asking if Action Auger was the company with “the gentlemen plumbers.”

Today, it’s one of the largest plumbing companies in Canada. A primary factor in that growth is a professional image that rejects the public stereotype of slovenly plumbers whose pants hang, well, a little too low.

Q: Why is it important to make a good first impression?

A: If you come to a customer’s home and look and act professional, people will think you’re professional. It’s all about perception. If you look and act like a dirtbag plumber, you’ll be treated like a dirtbag plumber. If you look and act like a professional, you’ll get treated like one.

When I was growing up and working for my dad, I saw a lot of plumbers at (parts) warehouses that looked real dirty and grubby. As a group, they looked so nasty. And I always heard the jokes about plumbers, and we were always the punch line. I never liked that. So I wanted to create a perception that would help build a better name for plumbers as a whole. If the first impression you make is positive, it helps build trust and likeability.

It also helps our marketing efforts. When your company name is The Gentlemen Plumbers and your servicemen wear a tie, it all comes together. People remember the ties. They not only create a good impression, they also serve as a great marketing tool. If it’s just Joe Smith Plumbing, there’s no differentiation.

Q: What are your uniforms like?

A: Our plumbers wear clip-on ties for safety reasons. They don’t take them off while they work; they usually just tuck them inside their shirt buttons. You get used to it — after a while, it’s not an issue. We also wear light-blue button-down shirts with button-down collars, dark-blue cargo pants and steel-toed, black slip-on dress shoes.

If it’s snowy outside, we take off our shoes and use another pair for working inside. We roll out a small mat that we stand on when we change shoes to make sure nothing from the outside gets inside. When the weather is nice, we use floor saver shoe covers. We don’t consider a job finished until the job site is completely clean.

Q: How strict are you about enforcing this dress code?

A: Some guys don’t like wearing the tie, especially when they first start working for us. Sometimes I see a guy without a tie and he says it’s on the dashboard of his truck. But if I see you without a tie, you go home for the day. That tie is important — it’s how people connect with us. So when the shirt goes on, the tie goes on, too.

Our customers named us, and if our guys don’t dress the same as when they first saw us, it leaves a bad taste. We want our servicemen to look the same every time.

Also, their willingness to wear a tie tells us a lot about them. If they do well with little things, like being required to wear a tie, it sets them on a path toward doing well with the big things. And if they can’t do the little things, they’re probably not doing all the other things we ask them to do to differentiate us as the premier plumbing company in Alberta.

Q: Have competitors copied your uniform-and-tie concept?

A: No one has copied it yet. Some companies put a picture on their websites that show a plumber wearing a tie, but their plumbers don’t actually wear ties, which must be a bit of a letdown for their customers.

Q: Do you use a uniform service that provides the shirts, pants and ties?

A: We used to have a company supply and clean the uniforms. But now we buy them and our guys wash their own uniforms. Some even press them so they look really sharp. We replace the uniforms and shoes every six months. … They do get dirty and stained and we want them to be nice and clean.

Q: Doesn’t that get expensive?

A: Well, each guy has seven uniforms, so with 25 guys, it adds up. It costs us about $45,900 a year to keep the guys in uniforms and shoes. (That’s in Canadian dollars, which converts to about $34,650 in American dollars.)
But I think it’s worth every penny. The number of times that people comment about the ties and uniforms makes it all worth it. I think it’s definitely a big part of why we have so many repeat customers. … I’d estimate that 60 to 70 percent of our business comes from previous customers. And I believe that the value of a customer is about $25,000 during a lifetime of service. So you can see how important it is to develop relationships with customers and get them to like and trust you — that’s what builds a business. At least that’s what has worked for us.

Q: So it’s safe to assume that off-color jokes and sophomoric humor have no place in your company?

A: Yes. I’m a religious guy, so I don’t allow any coarse language or swearing. We have a 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantee, and if a customer ever told me that one of our employees was swearing on the job, I’d refund their money.

It all goes back to the things I didn’t like about the industry when I was growing up as a young man. Anyone can make a difference in this world, and this is how I’m doing it — making a difference in our trade by improving our image.


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