I'm not interested in clothing. You might be wondering why I sell any. Well, for my business I hand-pick items that solve specific problems for designer/builders. Because of the nature of business, this sometimes has to expand beyond tools for them to wield and books to educate them. Here's what I mean:
Americans are probably the most casual dressers in the developed world. Any smart salesperson here knows they cannot judge a customer based on how they dress. But, and this very important, the reverse isn't true. If you're selling high-end furniture or cabinetry, customers will judge you all the time.
It's about first impressions. You might have just gotten out of the workshop (which destroys clothing), and you might be an honest craftsperson who produces well-made products, but the first impression your customer will have is of a guy or gal wearing beat-up clothing. (We know that making things is dirty work, but you'd be surprised how many people don't.)
On the other hand, if you show up to a meeting in a suit and tie, you're breaking the connection the customers want to have with the "maker," with the "craftsperson". Even if you happen to be the person making the stuff, you come off as a sales guy/gal and lose your maker cred.
Most folks I know who are in this situation make sure they aren't wearing their shop clothing when dealing with clients. Instead they wear clean and stylish versions of their shop clothing: Something that's clean, fits, seems informal but respectful, and most of all is well made and looks it. When you're selling your work your clothing ought be stylish enough that people don't think that you and your work are old fashioned.
Instead what you wear should have the details and quality that they are looking for in furniture. You want your clothing to advertise that you are a person who understands quality and that your bid, while on the high side of your competitors (of course), reflects your plan to deliver exactly the quality product they are looking for because you understand exactly what the customer is looking for.
Before you yell at me and tell me I'm exaggerating, think about how hard it is to convince anyone what quality is and why they should pay you for it, and then think about how we can all use any help we can get in moving a deal to close. Even if clothing isn't something you are naturally interested in—and as I said, I'm certainly not interested in clothing—it doesn't mean you can't be better at it. Fortunately, unlike learning to play the banjo, dressing better is mostly about finding sources for well-made clothing, and making sure it fits.
This is a lesson I learned late in life. Preparing a presentation is just one more part of a project, and the accessories, including clothing, to make the presentation go well are just the cost of doing business. I think of it as a presentation tool like any other.
Am I bringing all of this up to sell you something? Of course, but it's something I think is useful and important. We stock, in very limited quantities, a few styles of work clothing by "Engineered Garments". EG clothing is all made in a 50-mile radius of New York City, and the quality comes from using top-notch fabrics and extreme attention to detail.
We were introduced to the brand when Nepetheles, the NYC garment firm that owns them, invited us a few years ago to have a pop-up store in their store; we were so taken by the quality of the stuff they make, we thought we would give it a try. I have personally bought two pairs of pants and for the first time in my life I'm getting a few compliments because the pants are properly tailored in the first place and they just fit me better. In my biased opinion Engineered Garments is one of the best makers of work clothing in the US, and uncoincidentally they happen to be at the high end of quality and price.
We also sell an even more limited number of work clothes by Blaklader, one of Sweden's leading producers of heavy working clothes. We're not trying to be a major clothing vendor, but we understand the role of workwear in our customers' lives.
That's the end of my sales pitch. Whether you buy EG or Blaklader stuff from us or something from another manufacturer elsewhere, I do urge you to upgrade your clothing game if you're dealing with clients. Look around, ask around and find a clothing maker who speaks both to how you want to be presented and to your budget. You will find that you will walk into a sales meeting with more confidence, you will create a better impression, and both advantages will make it easier to close a deal.
This "Tools & Craft" section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.