In terms of company success, a little cleanliness can go a long way.

I heard a funny news story on the radio the other day. The reporter said a plumbing company in the western U.S. was offering customers a "guarantee" that employees who visited their homes would be clean, well groomed and not smell.

I tried to find out more about this company and its new policy, but couldn't locate the story, so I can't vouch for its accuracy. But I know the issue of appearances - and yes, even odors - come up frequently at trade show seminars and in magazines like this one.

In ICS Cleaning Specialist, a sister publication of Snips aimed at floor-cleaning professionals, there was a column a few years ago where the author recommended standing 3 feet away from customers, just to ensure they weren't offended by any body odors.

That may be going too far, but the image you project to your customers is extremely important. Whether your company does residential HVAC work, where employees would be dealing regularly with the public, or you're a commercial and industrial sheet metal operation, where most employees spend their time in the shop or at jobsites, you still project an image. Even if it's only projected to your employees, it matters.

Ask yourself:

  • Is your workshop tidy? Clutter is not only a safety and efficiency issue, it can affect the morale of those who work in a dirty or messy environment. Take pride in running a clean shop and your employees will, too. They may even be more likely to help keep it neat.

  • If your company does a lot of residential work, how do the service trucks and vans look? You probably spent a considerable amount of money for a paint scheme that shows off your company's name, phone number and other important information. You should make sure it's always visible by keeping the truck's exterior clean.

    The interior needs to be just as tidy. Not only are parts easier to find in a clean, uncluttered truck, but you won't be embarrassed if a customer peeks inside. You never know when a potential customer might see your truck - it could be in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant when the service technicians are on a break. If they pull up next to your van and it's littered with bags, cigarette butts or other trash, the best you can hope for is they won't remember your company's name. If they do, it probably won't be for a good reason.

  • In what condition do your workers leave jobsites? This is another particularly important issue for residential contractors, but it matters in every area of sheet metal and HVAC work. No customer, whether a department store owner or a family, wants an area left dirty for someone else to take care of. Extra care should be taken to keep mud from being tracked in or leaving fingerprints behind. Some contractors use shoe covers and surgical gloves to keep customers' homes and businesses clean.

  • And that brings us back to personal appearance. I've sat in on many seminars at trade shows and conventions about this topic. Some companies are famous for their appearance policies: The Walt Disney Co. does not allow men to have beards or mustaches, or wear excessive jewelry. The policy applies to everyone from theme-park janitors to the board of directors.

That may not be necessary for most companies, but workers should take pride in their appearance. A company has a right to demand they wear uniforms, do not have body odor and keep fingernails clean and trimmed.

Other policies are a matter of personal and community tastes. A residential HVAC company in a very conservative community may set policies on hair length or tattoos, while in other cities, such things are not an issue.

Regardless of what you do, remember that your company has an image, whether you know it or not.