CHARLOTTE, NC—Required by company policy to wear a tie every day but Friday, JCPenney customer-service representative Terry Poniewicz has decided that his neckwear might as well be wacky.
"Personally, the whole mandatory-tie thing seems kind of silly, considering we're on the phones all day and the customers never see us," said the 32-year-old Poniewicz, who has worked at the retail giant's National Customer Service Center since 1989. "But as long as ties are going to be required, I figure, why not wear one that expresses my personality?"
"It can get pretty boring around this place, and everyone appreciates a good laugh," continued Poniewicz, sporting a tie featuring Baby Cha-Cha, the popular animated dancing cyber-baby. "The other reps are always asking me where I get my ties. They really seem to get a kick out of seeing what crazy tie I'm going to show up in next."
Poniewicz said he started his collection of iconoclastic neckwear shortly after completing the week-long JCPenney Employee Training and Orientation Program, at which he learned that ties are required at all times to create an atmosphere of professionalism, resulting in better service for the customer.
"The first one I bought was a Three Stooges tie, and it went over so big, I thought, 'Hey, I just might be on to something here,'" said Poniewicz, who estimates that his wacky-tie collection now numbers around 60. "I think the next one I bought after that was one of that Saturday Night Live guy who used to say, 'The Robmeister! Makin' copies!' After that, the collection just sort of snowballed. My wife says that at the rate I'm going, pretty soon, we're going to have to set aside a whole room just for them."
Poniewicz, who buys most of his ties at the Tie Hut in the local Crossgates Mall, said he is always on the lookout for new designs, particularly when on vacation.
"Last year, Joyce and I took a trip to Florida, and we found this great little novelty-tie shop by the beach called Krazy Kravats," Poniewicz said. "They had all these hilarious beach-themed ties, stuff like pictures of penguins wearing sunglasses and surfing. I swear, I must have spent at least $40 there."
According to co-workers, seeing what tie Poniewicz will wear is one of the highlights of each day.
"I love Terry's ties, especially the one with the Coca-Cola polar bears. It's so cute!" fellow customer-service rep Paula Oberman said. "Then there's the musical Christmas tie that plays 'Jingle Bells' and the Garfield one with the zig-zagging trail of pawprints that winds up in front of a food dish. When God made Terry, He broke the mold, that's for sure."
In addition to ties that express his slightly skewed sense of humor, Poniewicz owns several that convey his personal interests, which range from '57 Chevys to Star Trek: Voyager. He also uses neckwear as a way to show his support for his favorite football team, never failing to wear his special Tasmanian Devil-Carolina Panthers tie to work the morning after game days.
"The themes expressed in Terry's ties range from the celebration of the American automobile to a longing for tropical weather," said University of North Carolina sociology professor Dr. James A. Mauch. "The desire for food or relaxation is another major theme that frequently emerges in Terry's tie collection, most notably in the one that reads, 'Time For A Coffee Break,' and depicts several rows of tiny coffee mugs and donuts."
Poniewicz's supervisors at the JCPenney customer-service center are well aware of his taste for irreverent ties and, thus far, have not found any of them to be in clear violation of company code. Nevertheless, a notation has been made in his permanent file regarding his unconventional neckwear.
"To date, every tie Mr. Poniewicz has worn to work has met the letter, if not the spirit, of JCPenney employee-dress policy," supervisor Marvin Holm said. "But in the future, we will certainly be keeping an eye out for ties that are inappropriate for the workplace, such as ones featuring Budweiser-drinking reptiles or scantily clad women, as well as ties that would be detrimental to office productivity by bearing such anti-work slogans as 'I Don't Do Mondays' and 'Is It Friday Yet?'"
Poniewicz said he has no plans to change his wacky-tie-wearing ways any time soon.
"As long as JCPenney upper management continues to let me, I'm going to keep wearing them," Poniewicz said. "What can I say? I guess I'm just a born rebel."