Problem Solver: No need for full uniform if customers can recognise staff
Q. What is your view on staff wearing uniforms, as it can sometimes incur a heavy cost?
A. Some businesses have to wear some sort of a uniform as the uniform itself offers some protection or meets some food safety requirement, etc. The approach has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. There was a time when any medium- to large-sized business would obsess about having a corporate look, which included quite a formal uniform and continuity of appearance across all staff.
That has become less formal over the years and some restaurants or hair salons will simply have a policy of asking staff to wear all one colour, but they can wear their own clothes. It wouldn't be unusual to see the staff in a hair salon all dressed in black but wearing different garments. By and large this works.
There are other businesses who take a less formal approach and allow staff to wear their own clothing and perhaps just provide them with an apron or even just a name badge. Some cafes or general retail shops have taken this approach.
There was a time when I would have probably said the only way would be to have everyone in an identical uniform provided by the company. Time has moved on. The only message I would be strong on is, the customer has to have some way of recognising who is a staff member if you are serving the public. We have all encountered the situation where you can't tell customers from staff members when you are looking for something or, worse again, you approach another customer for advice thinking they work in the shop. You simply need to think about either a name badge or some other identifier to help staff to stand out. We live in a less formal world and part of the brand ethos of some businesses is informality and a more relaxed tone. If that means a less stringent look for your uniforms and it works for your customers, then I can see nothing wrong with it.
Q. The street where my retail unit is located has eight other businesses on it, however the overall street is rather tired and buildings lack the love and care they once had. I was thinking about renovating my own shop front, but I am not sure if it is worth the investment.
A. Go ahead and paint your building and upgrade your shop. It is the correct thing to do. During filming of the 'Retail Therapy' series, we had a very similar experience with one shop featured on the programme. The owner, who was in a similar predicament to you decided to decorate their building, invest in some street furniture and ornamental plants.
We were filming at the shop over a three-month period on and off and each time I visited the town I noticed that a different one of the adjoining shops had redecorated their building. In other words, by one retailer taking the initiative, the others followed. That was without anyone talking to each other or asking them to do so. By the time we were finished with the project, the street had taken on a whole new life and was vibrant, colourful and alive.
Don't be waiting for someone to make the first move. Let you be the shop seen by customers as the one taking the lead.
Q. What are the key elements to make a success of a business in your opinion?
A. That is a question that has really got me thinking! Without a doubt, business leadership is critical. You can have the best business idea in the world, but if you don't have a leader with vision driving that, the business is unlikely to ever maximise its potential. Leadership is a complex issue itself and requires charisma, passion and a clear understanding of what the business is about.
Added to that, the business leader needs to be surrounded by a strong management team. No leader has all of the qualities required to run the business. A multidisciplinary complementary team around the owner are also part of the success factor.
While I am a big fan of structure and process, a successful business also needs to be nimble-footed and have the ability to implement initiatives without a lot of red tape.
Finally, that recipe for success needs to include an understanding of your customer needs, so that the consumer proposition is always in line with what the consumer really expects. I am sure you will find lots of different definitions but, for me, that represents the core elements.