All In A Day's Work
During this period of economic and employment uncertainty, talk of American manufacturing (or lack thereof) has been at the forefront of many conversations. What has become clear in these discussions is that it's imperative for the U.S. to ramp up its skilled labor force for the success of manufacturing in this nation. As a testament to this, The Office of the Press Secretary reported, "The manufacturing sector currently employs over 11 million Americans, and by itself would be one of the 10th largest economies in the world."
In 2010 the current administration launched the organization Skills for America's Future. The mission of the organization is to bring together companies and community colleges to make it easier for workers to gain new skills, which will make America more competitive in the global economy.
You may be asking yourself, "What does all this government mumbo jumbo have to do with selling workwear?" Quite simply, the outlook for this niche is good. The more skilled labor jobs that are created, the more employees that need to be outfitted. This is where you, Mr. or Mrs. Distributor come in.
In this Q & A session Promo Marketing spoke with Margaret Crow, director of marketing for S&S Activewear, Boling Brook, Ill., and Barb Herman, national manager, Industrial Laundry Division for SanMar, Preston, Wash., regarding how you can outfit those 11 million current employees and build your book of business to sell workwear to a growing skilled labor workforce.
Promo Marketing: Is there any one segment in this niche that you are seeing an uptick in?
Margaret Crow: With stronger regulations that have arisen in the past few years, there has been an increase in the demand for safety apparel for road crews, construction teams and security crews for festivals, concerts or sporting events. Requirements for a certain percentage of reflective material on safety yellow or orange garments are being requested in T-shirts (both long and short sleeve), sweatshirts, windbreakers, coats, rain gear and pants.
Barb Herman: Safety apparel continues to be on an upward trend for all segments including road crews, construction, schools and more.
PM: Are there any safety requirements distributors should be aware of?
MC: Check the the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for exact requirements. Manufacturers such as M.L. Kishigo strictly adhere to regulations when constructing garments, so you don't have to be an expert on what's required.
BH: Absolutely. Checking ANSI requirements is a great place to start. ANSI II could [even] include television and sports reporters! [Distributors should] be sure to check and double check all requirements often. (An ANSI primer, provided by SanMar, can be found in the sidebar.)
PM: What are the most popular colors and fabrications in this niche?
MC: For safety apparel, bright neon yellow is the most popular, in breathable fabrications. For uniforms that don't require reflective characteristics, look for details in construction that add to durability such as elbow reinforcements, riveted seams and utility pockets. Colors for utility garments are in earth tones that don't show dirt or wear.
BH: Lime seems to be surpassing safety orange in the last six months. This is preference as well as changing colors for continued awareness. The general public gets too used to seeing one color too often in a specific geographic area and it loses its high visibility effect.
PM: Do you have any advice for distributors selling into this arena?
MC: Learn about what industries use workwear and what they're wearing. Pay attention to their apparel as you're driving through construction sites and in your daily errands. Read articles and websites devoted to workwear and workwear careers. The more you familiarize yourself with workwear applications, the more opportunities you will find. It's amazing how many workwear applications have moved into periphery sectors such as concert security, high school event workers, camp counselors and similar jobs.
BH: Bring the ideas to your customer and be informed on the "whys" (why they need safety apparel).
PM: With the housing and manufacturing industries still recovering is this market niche still being hit by an ongoing recession?
BH: Somewhat, however with the current government administration being myopically focused on employee safety, this segment is experiencing exponential growth.
PM: Why is this a great niche to serve?
MC: Once you get a customer in this niche, they are very loyal.
BH: Most of the time, with high visibility safety apparel, it is a third piece, worn over a shirt, [making it an] additional sale.
PM: What is the must-know information when selling to this industry?
MC: Quality, durability and performance are imperative. Remember, these clothes are for hard workers.