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I work for a gas station chain as their IT Manager. I travel from store to store, fixing issues, doing upgrades, etc.

When I'm the store, customers can't differentiate between me and the clerks (the clerks don't wear uniforms and neither do I). I'm constantly having to explain to customers that I can't help them check out, even though I am standing behind the counter. This wastes everyone's time, and some people just cannot fathom someone behind the counter that doesn't actually work there :)

I know it's a pretty basic question, but what could I wear that would cause a "Oh, he doesn't work here" response? Given that I climb around in dirt and grime, I can't wear a shirt and tie, but I also don't want to have to wear overalls or crazy orange safety vests. I head the department so I can basically wear anything I want.

Any suggestions for how I could appear as a contractor to the customers?

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I wouldn't recommend the tie, although a button down shirt probably works. Clerks don't wear pocket protectors with mechanical pencils. Having a three-ring binder laying out with installation instructions might also communicate that you're fixing something. –  Meredith Poor Dec 24 '13 at 16:32
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3 Answers 3

up vote 26 down vote accepted

I was in an extremely similar situation. I was an on-site technician for a convenience store company and constantly was mistaken for a Cashier when on-site. I typically wore slacks and a button down shirt, but that didn't even cut it.

Here are a couple ways I found that helped:

  • Carried my toolbox and laptop with me, even if I did not need it for that job. This makes it appear like I am there to serve a different purpose, and most people would default to a cashier.

  • Carried a "Register Closed" sign with me for when I would be working on a POS system at the front counter, so they would know to proceed to a different Cashier

  • Placed an orange traffic cone (gas stations almost always have these) around where I was working, which naturally people try to avoid. This method worked surprisingly well for me!

This solved a lot of the issues, but not all of them. It was, however, a noticable difference when our department made the decision to make departmental clothing, as in polos / shirts that would say "[Company] IT Dept." Letting customers know that you are not a cashier

This a pretty niche problem, but I can definitely understand how it gets in the way of trying to accomplish a task. In some rare situations where it was getting frustrating, I would ask a cashier to run interference for me and make sure to guide the stores traffic away from me (again, sometimes utilizing the magical orange cone!)

Hopefully some of these will be of some use to you!

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Well, you can wear a shirt and a tie. People crawl around in the dirt wearing a shirt and a tie all the time.

A set of strudy white shirts and dry cleaners' fee every now and then don't have to be that expensive. There are stain resistant ties, too (think company colors).

Having a couple white shirts and ties in the trunk at all times feels nice, and walking around like that feels even nicer. You should look around for that and give it a try.

If that doesn't work out for you, try branded shirts with your department name or logo across the back and basecap style hats with the same logo. Logo on one piece of clothing may be coincidence but having it on two is a clear sign and people who pay the least bit of attention won't get that wrong.

That logo has to be distinctly different from the chain's general CI, though, which may or may not be a problem.

So, seriously. Give the shirt-and-tie a try.

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You underestimate how lazy I am when it comes to laundry! :) Thanks for the suggestion though, I'll give it a try –  Moses Dec 23 '13 at 22:12
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@Moses that's why I included the dry cleaners :-) –  CMW Dec 23 '13 at 22:13
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Ideally maybe a collection of things, because people can be startlingly dense:

  • A name badge saying your company (the IT provider), and your role. No one is going to bet that the IT manager is going to ring them up.
  • Get a sign that can be placed on or near the equipment you are working on that says "out of order" - presumably if you are working on broken equipment, neither you nor the equipment will be able to help them.
  • Have a pattern in mind for what the clerk should be doing while you are working on the equipment. I'm willing to bet that in most gas stations you are working in tight quarters, so figuring out an arrangement where the clerk can help customers and you can get work done probably takes some discussion. In the process, gently point out that more aggressively helpful the clerk can be in helping customers, the more efficient you can be in fixing the problem.

My basic thought is do anything you can in each store you work in to make getting to the real clerk the most obvious path.

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