As business owners or even employees, we represent the brand of the company. That means we need to look like it and be it. It is a sad fact but one we must take that the world is a judgmental place. We are regarded based on how we dress and look. For businesses, we need to look as professional as possible. Yet this is very necessary because you take the entire business brand on your shoulders, both physically and metaphorically. Learn as Ken takes you on why and how to look professional.
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Expert To Product
I’ve got the seed idea for this podcast from a movie and a Broadway play called Kinky Boots. I was watching Kinky Boots and right in the beginning of the movie, the father of a longtime semi-famous shoe company is trying to mentor or teach his child the value or the power of a great pair of shoes to an adult male. He’s doing everything in his power to convey that when two people walk up to each other, especially to men, the first thing that is judged are the shoes. There is a lot to be said for that.
I’ve heard that a man’s haircut and shoes are seen ten times further away than clothing. They’re inspected deeper. There is a lot to be said for a man’s shoes. What in the world does this have to do with business growth? A lot. I’m going to bridge off episode 311. I went upwards covering four different nuggets using the history of 1992 to 1993. I’m actually going to continue and I know you’re going to catch the point because I’m going to give you the point when I’m done here.
In the early days, Kerri and I started out our first company was an electric signs company. It very quickly in the first year morphed into a consulting company. We actually got our start wrapping and making and building electric signs. It was so much fun. We were building the signs, out of our basement in Joliet, Illinois. We were on Walsh Avenue and I was using paint in the beginning. A very volatile, flammable car paint. Painting it on Lexan polycarbonate unbreakable plastic. I converted a room in our basement and put an exhaust fan.
One day, Kerri’s dad came over to the house. He smelled the car paint. Run downstairs and he said, “What’s going on? This house is going to blow up. Your water heaters got a flame underneath.” I’m thinking, “I’m so stupid. I don’t realize it at that time.” I did know that paint was flammable, but I didn’t think the vapors from one room to another could blow up a house. That was the last day I used paint in my house. I switched to vinyl, which is like a sticker.Perception is reality. Click To Tweet
For many years I ran a business out of the basement of that one bathroom, three-bedroom home, very small home, very small yard. I loved that place. My wife gave me an ultimatum, if you want to keep this business and you want to keep your wife, you get this business out of our basement and get it into an office, get it into a building. I found another basement of what happened to be a video store at the time and I read in the paper the building is for sale under contract or for lease under contract.
It was perfect. It was four blocks from my house. It had a basement we could start in and we could expand upstairs. There was a video store in there, trying to close its doors. They would be my tenant so it would have some cashflow if they didn’t go out of business. We moved out of our basement home into this building. Very quickly we got more business because we put a sign outside on the street saying C3 Signs. All of the sudden, I had this crazy idea to turn around the video store that was above us and ended up doing really well there.
My wife and I grew it 600% to the point where we had to move the whole thing. We moved a mile west into a building six to eight times bigger. It didn’t have a basement but it had a huge back room that became our new sign fabrication facility. You can put cranes in there. It was 20-foot ceilings. The video store went from 600 square feet to 3,800 square feet, it was a total of 10,000 square feet. I think.
When we moved the sign company into a larger fabrication facility, it was funny how the city of Joliet responded with more business. The big day came where we had grown the national sign company so rapidly, we had 400 signs in Alaska. We had signs in 42 states, and we had sales reps everywhere. When I say we were cooking, we were cooking and we needed to move. There was no way this backroom of a video store, although it was huge, it just wasn’t working.
I knew when we built a sign that was 12×18, if you could picture that your average ceiling height in a typical house is eight or ten feet, picture it a couple of feet taller than your tallest room in your house and probably wider than your average room. It was a substantial sign, Courtesy Motors on 79th. We built it. I welded the frames. We used this unbreakable plastic, aluminum. We had chasing lights going around the whole thing. It looked like Las Vegas. We tried to get it out of our building and I didn’t compensate for the height of our garage door and we had to take a sledgehammer and chisel out our wall so we could turn the sign on a 45. We ended up having to call a masonry to repair that facility before our landlord saw it.
I knew right there we had orders for much bigger signs. I wasn’t about to build signs outside. I went on the prowl and I ended up buying a company called Lotz Signs. They were the second largest sign company in that county. They had two huge cranes that could pick signs up 70 feet in the air, a massive paint booth. You could pull a crane in one door, keep it inside the facility, and then drive it out the other door and steel manufacturers, six to seven massive sites.
It had a full running neon plant with two gas lamps. This building was huge, way bigger than my bridge is, but I believed after every move we made, we’d get more and more business just from the local community. I figured if we build it, they will come. If we get this building, the business might just come. I think we might get a piece of Lotz Signs business to come back.
They wanted so much money for the place we could not afford it. We were able to buy that company and the building and his cranes and everything under contract, meaning a percentage of our revenues. We got in that building and within 18 months, we tripled our business and started putting massive signs up. I remember putting a sign up close to 80 feet in the air in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The scariest day of my life, getting on that crane and manipulating that guy back and forth as he was welding Collision Revision, a national franchise sign for their auto repair place.
What is the point of this? There is only one point and it goes like this. Every time we moved into a bigger building, our community saw the size of our building. Our community saw what we believed was the building representing our brand. Our community saw the level at which we felt our business was worth and they responded with one word, trust.
How does this relate to anybody and everybody listening to this? When you walk out of your house, this is where Kinky Boots comes in. If you have a business meeting, do you have an absolutely, unequivocally the best shirt and pants you can afford? I’m going to say a couple pairs of shoes that you can’t afford. Do you look like $1 million when you show up to play? I will never forget the time when Kerri and I started getting interviewed all over the place. When Income Store and TGC broke open, we became very well-known for building these big money-making websites and buying money-making websites.
At that time, I was so frugal. I used to brag that I had never spent over $40 for a pair of shoes. I didn’t care. Every single day of my life, I wear a pair jeans and black t-shirt. Every day the same stuff and the same shoes. I’ve got dozens of the same underwear, the same pants, the same shirts. I don’t want to spend a nanosecond thinking about my shirt and my pants. When I walk out of this house, I allow my wife and only my wife to shop for my pants, my shirts, and my shoes. I wear $400 Italian leather dress shoes. If I walk out of this house and I’m going to meet anybody, I’m in a Robert Graham shirt. I’m in slacks or expensive jeans.
It is so critical that you put forth the impression that you feel is going to gain the most trust. I will never forget how judged we were when I was living under my father’s conservative values of you save your money. Delay gratification. You stay in that same one-bathroom house as long as you can. We did. I know we were so judged because I drive used cars. I never bought a new car but finally we broke down and said, “Enough is enough.”
Our business is big enough and we moved across town to the ritzy part of town called Shorewood from Joliet, and we moved into a subdivision called Lake Forest. The average home values were legit six times higher than our other home. I remember buying that house and I remember instantly getting comments, “I just Googled your home. Let’s do that deal. Can I stop by and shake your hand? I just want to meet you before we put money with you guys for a website,” and they’d stopped by, shake hands and do a deal the next day.
Then we moved to our current home, three stories tall on a private ski lake and a massive property and I cannot tell you how many people have flown to our house just to shake hands and do a substantial deal the next day. The problem with our society is we are judgmental. You can try to avoid it. You can try to be like me and buy the $40 gym shoes and not care. The problem is perception is reality and when you walk out that door, I want you to never forget that my wife, Kerri, in the ‘90s was a Chicago Bulls cheerleader.Trust trumps everything. Click To Tweet
Two-thousand girls tried out and they took twenty. They made my wife sign a piece of paper stating that from this day forward, as long as you are a Chicago Bulls cheerleader, you represent the brand Chicago Bulls. You don’t get gas in your car. You don’t go to the grocery store, you do not leave your house without full makeup on and your hair done and nice clothing. She had to sign a piece of paper.
If it is that important to the Chicago Bulls Organization, that a cheerleader who is not even on their team but represents their brand is dressed to the nines. You know they make all the Bulls sign that. How important is it that you take a hard look? If you’re getting interviewed on Skype or on Zoom, if you’re leaving the house to meet a potential person for a potential work position or job or whatever, is it important that you look as professional as you can? No, it’s not important. It is critical. You are being judged instantly.
They’re going to look at your shoes first. If you’re a guy, they’re looking at your shoes first and then they’re going to look at your clothes. Then they’re going to look at your haircut. Are you neat, trim and tidy? If you don’t want the $400 Italians, then get yourself an off-type of sneaker. It’s not an actual pair of gym shoes, but it’s really super comfortable and they look expensive. I really hope this helps because trust trumps everything. Take care.