When Herb Kelleher, the self-proclaimed nut and CEO of Southwest Airlines wanted to announce his high-flying airline's jump into the air cargo and freight market, he did it in a rather unorthodox, yet fitting, way. He rolled up his sleeve to show his commitment to his new line of business, and there on his bicep was a shiny new tattoo that said, "Southwest Airlines does freight."

The minute I saw it, I thought, "Wow! That is a CEO who is committed."

For the eccentric, fun-loving businessperson that Kelleher is, it was a stroke of brilliance that launched his already successful airline into a new dimension, and all because of that tattoo.


That got me thinking about the HVAC trade and the type of tattoos seen on the individuals in this industry. Do they make the same statement? How do the tattoos that many employees proudly display position the company?

On a recent weekend getaway with my wife to Sarasota, Fla., I endured an afternoon of shopping in St. Armand's Circle. As the afternoon wore on, I took my seat on a bench outside while my wife earned the "Most Valuable Shopper" award from the credit card company.

As I sat there and watched the crowd go by, I saw all walks of life baring a variety of tattoos. Some were bright and flamboyant. Some were tiny and barely visible. Some had sunk lower from where they once were. Some were on ankles, some on arms, and everywhere in between. There were tattoos on everyone; including 60 year olds, teenagers, large men, and skinny models. A few women even made it seem, as Vince Vaughn said in Wedding Crashers, that there "might as well be a bull's-eye on her."

I started to wonder what was going on in each person's life when they got their tattoo. What made them choose a tattoo? Was it a thought out decision, a bet, a dare, or a lifelong dream?

Regardless of the reason, every person that walked by left me with an impression, based on that tattoo, of who they were and what they were all about.

Some thoughts were positive. Some would probably be viewed by most of the tattoo wearers as undesirable and probably not portray the image they wanted.


After we left St. Armand's, we returned to our hotel, the Ritz Carlton, where we were invited to go to the Ritz's exclusive beach club on Lido Key.

Our first stop there was a poolside lunch. While we waited for our food and soaked up some sun, a friendly, bubbly young man in his mid-twenties with a great big smile greeted us. He was so happy to be of service that he was practically bouncing. He arranged our lawn chairs in a perfect location, covered them with towels in perfect unison, and created a therapeutic towel pillow unlike any I'd ever experienced. Everything he did was quick and efficient. He ran to get suntan lotion. He ran to get a newspaper. He ran to get our drinks.

As I watched him run from place to place, something caught my eye. I saw something I wouldn't have expected from someone buzzing around with his speed and agility. He had an Ace bandage wrapped around his entire right calf.

It was obvious from his agility that he didn't have a leg injury, so when my curiosity got the best of me, I finally asked, "Do you have a tattoo under there that the Ritz doesn't want guests to see?"

"What makes you think that sir?" he responded.

"Obviously, your leg's not hurt because you're running around here, and a man without a hurt leg, doesn't wear an Ace bandage. That is unless he's trying to cover something up."

He looked around and said, "Sir, you're absolutely right."

From his response, it was obvious that the Ritz maintained a policy of covering up tattoos.


If the Ritz Carlton, one of the premier service companies in the world, has a policy against displaying tattoos, shouldn't contractors have one too? If contractors want to accumulate a pile of money like the Ritz Carlton has, isn't it worth considering the image portrayed to clients. Maybe it's time to evaluate the perceptions and images customers form when they see HVAC employees with tattoos.

Now, I'm neither condoning nor condemning tattoos, but the next time you're sitting on a park bench, pay attention. See what images are formed in your mind. Are those the same perceptions you're creating in the minds of your clients? Ask if that's the type of perception you want formed by the customer you serve.

If it is, maybe you should take a page out of the Herb Kelleher book and get an "I heat ‘em up and cool ‘em down" tattoo. If that's not the mainstay of your customer base, however, you may want to invest in some Ace bandages of your own. Giving your clients the perception of the service they desire is the way you make money every day.

Terry Nicholson is president of AirTime 500. For more information on AirTime 500, call 800-505-8885. Nicholson can be reached by e-mail at tnicholson@venvestinc.com.

Publication date: 04/24/2006