Perception Counts, Even in Apartment Maintenance

Perception Counts, Even in Apartment Maintenance


I rarely get called Mr. Blackwell, although one colleague insists on greeting me that way. Just so you know, I’m no relation to the fashion czar who ruled Paris and Rodeo Drive until his death a decade ago.

You may recall that his designs had no boundaries and that annual style lists of the rich and famous became his hallmark. He’s the boy from Brooklyn who got away with wearing large, tinted glasses and sneered that one celebrity dressed like a centerfold from the Farmer’s Almanac.

If Mr. Blackwell said it, runways from Avenue des Champs-Elysées to the Garment District took note.

Looking pretty isn’t my thing, although I could turn out a clean Windsor knot on a power tie a few years ago. These days, an oversized t-shirt, cargo shorts and Top-siders make the fashion statement while typing thousands of words into a computer. My only critic is Callie, our beloved Australian shepherd.

If anybody could have a fashion influence on me, it’s probably a football legend. While watching an installment of “A Football Life” on vaunted wide receiver Jerry Rice the other night, I straightened the fit on my sweatpants. Rice, the NFL 2011 Hall of Fame inductee who made his mark in the Bay Area, held appearance in high regard.

On game day, he didn’t arrive at the stadium wearing a cocked, backwards baseball cap, designer sweats and the big sneakers that were in vogue (oh, Mr. Blackwell is rolling over). Instead, Rice walked into Candlestick Park in a pressed shirt, slacks and sport jacket. In the locker room, he painstakingly slipped into his uniform and made subtle alterations with scissors after going through a few gyrations to determine fit.

Look good, feel good, play good. Mr. Blackwell would be proud.

The Mr. Blackwell closest to me, my dad, was a stickler for looking good, too. A successful welding supply salesman, he gave many brazing demonstrations to his sales team in a white short-sleeved shirt, Sansabelt slacks and wingtips. He took off his blazer, but coveralls were never an option. After all, salesmen had to look good in the field, even when welding.

Dress for success, he always told me, even if you’re not leaving the house. Mom backed that by insisting I wear a nice pair of undershorts. “You don’t want to be in a car accident and the paramedics see that you have holey underwear.” Not my idea of seizing the day but it made sense.

So when a plumbing or HVAC technician arrives at this Blackwell household, it’s hard for me to cut some slack. Not that I need to, because it appears that the private service industry is going out of its way to put its best foot forward. At least that’s the impression after a couple of recent service calls.

Trust me, over the years some pretty grimy service techs have knocked at the front door. One plumber was so offensive in looks and workmanship that the company got an earful after the job was complete. I learned he got fired some time later.

But when neatly attired and knowledgeable techs came to fix an air-conditioner compressor on one occasion and a plumbing issue on another, I knew the jobs would be done right. Both looked ready to help and were polite and empathetic.

When they finished, I felt like the repair was just as important to them as it was to me.

Across education seminars, you hear multifamily instructors stress that successful service calls start the moment a resident sees the apartment maintenance technician. The men and women who have to get down on their knees and get dirty to keep America’s apartments humming don’t get a fashion break. And they shouldn’t. Apartment maintenance staff should be held to the same high standards as the leasing agents who are often that first impression.

Granted, there’s only so much you can do with a blue-collared uniform. But if it’s clean and doesn’t look like it was wadded in a corner the night before, it earns style points. Same goes for showing up with a neatly organized tool pouch and booties over the shoes.

The statement reads like a Who’s Who of apartment maintenance.

I confess it’s hard to uphold fashion etiquette when fine dining apparel has been reduced to jeans and a pair of Crocs. Sadly, you see that everywhere, even in Paris.

But Jerry Rice has it right. When you look good, good things happen. And you really don’t need a go-to list, either.

From leasing agents to apartment maintenance staff, listen to the greats — always dress to impress!



Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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