Want a successful home improvement business? Tuck your shirt in.
I started my business Service Meisters in 2005, ran it profitably for 10 years, and closed it on my own terms. Over that decade, I did everything from home renovation and repair to commercial lawn and property maintenance.
I never lacked for work and my customers were extremely loyal. I mean really loyal. Like I was never fired from a single job. People waited months for my services when I was backed up (a whole year in one case).
After a while, I didn’t even have to advertise, the word of mouth was so strong. I had customers offer their vacation homes to me and my family. I even performed a wedding for one.
In other words, if I had one strength in business, it was building and maintaining strong customer relationships. And it wasn’t because of the quality of my work, though that certainly mattered.
It was trust. My customers trusted me completely. They would give me keys to their homes so I could check on things while they were out of town – that completely.
Customers trusted me like that from the beginning, but I remember the moment when I realized why, and how powerful a motivator it was for them.
I was painting a garage door one day when a man walking his dog called to me, “You don’t look like a painter.”
I spun around and asked him to repeat himself.
“You don’t look like a painter,” he said. “I mean, look at you.”
He meant it as a compliment.
My work uniform was a pair of Walmart jeans, a black t-shirt with my Service Meisters logo on the back (my brand colors were red, white, black), and a red hat to match my logo.
Nothing special. However, when I asked the dog walker what he meant, I realized the difference.
“Your shirt is tucked in and it’s not all splattered with paint. I’ve never seen a painter so clean.”
In my work, I got extremely dirty and messy (just ask my wife), but when my jeans would get too blotched with paint or caulk or roofing tar, I would buy a new pair. Same with my shirts, which I always tucked in, no matter the job.
What the dog walker was telling me, and other customers would confirm, was that I did not look like the typical “handyman.” I looked more respectable and so he trusted me more. I still had to show up on time and do good work, but my clean-cut appearance set me apart and gave me an advantage.
If I say the word “handyman” or “construction worker,” what do you think of? Do you see a shirtless guy in ripped cutoffs and a neck tattoo, putting out a cigarette on your front porch?
Everything about my appearance was the opposite of that, and it got me work. Simple as that.
At the end of the day, it’s not about money. Most of my customers were elderly widows and retirees. They had the money and were going to spend it on someone. It was about who they trusted to be on their property, around their loved ones and special possessions.
Understand and respect that, and your business will grow. Tuck your shirt in.
That dog walker became a customer, by the way.