On-the-Job Attitude is Everything

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — What is your work attitude? Do you come in each day with a gloomy outlook? Are you often sighing?

Are you bent over most of the day, as if the world’s burdens are on your shoulders? Is your voice mostly resigned, as if you are just waiting for a catastrophe to happen? Is your face clenched in a defensive mode, making you appear fearful, resigned and tired?

I once observed the following encounter between a dry cleaner and a customer. When the customer asked a few questions, the dry cleaner turned his back on her and looked up at the ceiling. His shoulders rose and fell. His sigh sounded desperate. Then he turned and faced the woman, uttering, “What do you want from me? I can’t perform miracles.” I’m sure the customer quickly determined to take her business elsewhere.

Attitude matters. It affects employees. It encourages prospects to do business with you. Vendors like the air of confidence. It colors the spirit of the business. With a positive attitude, there is an air of quiet competence and of accomplishment. With a negative attitude, everything feels like it is too much trouble. Everything feels forced.


A recent PBS Masterpiece Theater television series, Mr. Selfridge, was about a real-life London department store, Selfridge’s, back in the early part of the 20th century. The business lasted 50 years. The owner was an American named Harry Selfridge, one of the pioneers of modern department-store merchandising. If you watched the show (and I recommend that you do), you know that Selfridge was an explosion of optimism.

He exuded confidence. He had the courage to build the store in an unfashionable part of town, insisting that the store would pull in people. Before the store was even built, the main backer pulled out. Yet even though he privately had reservations, Selfridge publicly went forward as if nothing could stop him. And in fact, he pursued contacts until he found a satisfactory investor.

He greeted his staff each morning with a robust “Good morning” and constantly preached, “We are creating something special here,” “We are in this together,” and “I need you just as much as you need me.” It gave staffers pride in their work and elevated their sense of self-worth.

Always an innovator, Selfridge chose a popular entertainer to be the public representative of his product lines. When he discovered that an airplane had just flown over the English Channel, he approached the pilot, Louis Bleriot, and convinced him to let the store display his airplane and to make a personal appearance. Standing alongside the plane, the aviator answered questions. These strategies brought droves of people into the store. Selfridge set up perfume and makeup counters at the store’s entrance, in part to counteract the bad smells of the street.

Now this is a TV show, to be sure, and there is some exaggeration. But in fact, Selfridge was a larger-than-life character who boasted he would change the experience of shopping – transforming it from a necessary task to an enjoyable experience.

He learned his retail savvy as a 20-year executive with Montgomery Ward in Chicago. By the end of his life, his retailing exploits were legendary. He was called the “Showman of Shipping.” He single-handedly developed or perfected selling concepts such as selling by using the senses, perfecting merchandise displays to entice customers, creating bargain basements, and installing main-floor beauty. He began the use of celebrity endorsements. He created event marketing. But, in the beginning of his career, his optimistic attitude paved the way for success.


So what does a TV show have to do with you? Only that your attitude—the combination of values, beliefs, energy, ambition, enthusiasm and confidence that makes up your personality—has a major effect on your business.

Sure, business is tough. Every day, you must solve problems. Of course, you’re not in a glamorous industry like high-end department store retailing. But you can be up to the challenge, energetic in solving problems, positive about the future, and resolute in your determination to succeed. And you needn’t be over-the-top like the Richard Selfridge TV portrayal.

Here are a few examples. You start the day in your office and come out when the first customer appears. Contrast this with you walking through the plant first thing, saying good morning to each staffer and talking to a few individuals about matters that occurred yesterday. Then you give the cleaner a head’s-up about what to expect during the day. As you’re walking back to the front counter, you turn to your staff and, with a positive voice, say, “Let’s do it.”

A different attitude will help your workers face their day more positively. It will show that you are in touch. It will give them a boost to start their day.


A vendor comes in with a suggestion that could make your operation more efficient. He leaves the information. A few weeks later, you get to the material to implement his suggestion, but just can’t face making a change. After all, you’re getting the work done, so why rock the boat?

Contrast this with you looking over the material and determining that you will try a version of the suggestion out in the plant. You call a meeting to tell staffers about the idea and ask them to think about it. You do a bit more research, but ultimately decide that the suggestion won’t prove too helpful.

In both cases, you arrive at the same place. But, in the second version, you show you are up for changes. You give your staff the feeling the company wants to improve, and you’ve done your research, which gives you more insight into the production process.

A machine breaks down. You go into the plant and explode in frustration, accusing your staffer of disabling the piece of equipment. The employee denies that it is his fault and the two of you get into a yelling match. This creates bad feelings that are not easy to erase.

The other way of handling that situation is going in back, examining the problem, and consulting with a few staffers as to how to fix the problem and how to get production up to snuff. Remaining calm and cool demonstrates your steely confidence that a solution will be found. Which approach do you think will inspire confidence?

Attitude. Attitude. Attitude. It matters … a lot. What can you do to infuse your attitude with enthusiasm? Watching the Selfridge series might be a good start.

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at


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