DIALING BACK THE DECOR
In some regions, such as Seattle, it's hard to go wrong with jeans and fleece jackets - so Barbara Potter makes a point of steering away from appearing too rich. She's specifically scaled down her office decor.
Potter serves as an executive vice president and a managing director for Laird Norton Tyee Trust, which has $4 billion in assets under management. About 10 years ago, she removed several Oriental rugs after hearing clients complain about splashy offices at other service providers. Those clients wondered aloud if their fee-paying supported luxurious furnishings in their lawyers' offices, Potter recalls. She got the message and pulled the rugs.
Her office attire is mostly suits, but she schedules casual dress days and even allows for the occasional "jeans Friday." Her justification: "This is Seattle. It's a pretty relaxed environment."
DRESS CODE MAKEOVER
Andrew Hunt of Guide Rock Capital Management in Omaha, Neb., tested a sharper dress code - and liked what he saw. When he launched the firm three years ago, Hunt and his staff sported "fairly casual attire," he says, which in Omaha means polo shirts and trousers. But earlier this year, Hunt and his employees decided to try out a suit-and-tie dictum. The results were a surprise.
"I got multiple comments from prospective and existing clients," says Hunt, whose firm has $12 million in assets under management. "They really liked it. They would be explicit, like, 'Hey, you look sharp today.'" Hunt has kept the revised dress code in place.
He describes Guide Rock's workplace as "fairly swanky in downtown Omaha, with excellent views and a well-manicured lawn. And the car he drives apparently makes an impact too. When one prospective client asked Hunt what kind of car he drove, the 2000 Volvo was the right answer - Hunt says the man reacted positively, referred to the vehicle as "a pretty conservative car" and signed up as a client.
In the sprawling suburbs north of Dallas, proximity and not flash helped determined the offices for Earl Jefferson's LegacyTexas Wealth Advisors, which opened its doors six years ago and has $160 million in assets under management.
"I don't need to be on the 43rd floor of a high-rise building," says Jefferson, who chose a plain-vanilla brick building in Plano on a nondescript suburban stretch of a main road. He chose the suite, Jefferson says, primarily because it gave him a five-mile commute from home.
But Jefferson says he uses other cues to establish "subtle points of credibility" with prospects beyond his education and professional credits. He drives a Lexus, and says he chooses garments that are "clean and professional," and reasonably fashionable - although there's a limit to that.
"If you go too far, it sends the wrong message," he says. "I like to wear something that, when I see it in pictures 10 or 20 years from now, I won't cringe."
Miriam Rozen, a Financial Planning contributing writer, is a staff reporter at Texas Lawyer in Dallas.