Cut From the Same Cloth: Keys to Uniform Sales
Whether we need help finding our seats at a ballgame, a refill on our drinks in a restaurant, or immediate assistance in an emergency room, we always know whom to turn to. How? Uniforms. And they aren’t just helpful in identifying who works where—they’re also crucial in further establishing your clients’ brands. They reinforce a brand’s aesthetic and mission, and ensure repeated impressions among staffers and customers.
But there are plenty of nuances to determining the best uniform for a client, some that distributors may not expect.
“Being successful means taking the time to understand the needs of the customer and then finding the right solution for them,” Taraynn Lloyd, vice president of marketing for Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Edwards Garment, said. “This may mean developing storyboards, providing a garment fit line, taking body measurements, discussing how to handle decoration, and then fulfillment and follow-up. The rewards of selling a uniform program are tremendous, but there is a lot of coordination and communication to make sure it goes smoothly.”
We turned to Lloyd; Pam Pennington, national accounts manager for Greenville, South Carolina-based Aprons Etc.; and Eric Rubin, president of Long Island City, New York-based Blue Generation, for more insight. Here are five aspects the experts said distributors should keep in mind in order to provide their clients with the most appropriate uniforms for their needs.
For many companies, their color schemes become synonymous with their brands. Uniforms have the potential to strengthen that recognition.
“We find color is often the driving force in uniform choices,” Rubin said. “Most companies, teams and organizations have a particular color that they identify themselves with.”
As such, it’s important to offer a wide selection of color choices—and offer them in both top and bottom apparel pieces for color-coordinated looks, he explained.
Pennington added that creativity with color is expanding—for both the front and back of house uniforms in a company.
“Clients are selecting colors to enhance their logos or restaurant themes,” she said. “They are reaching beyond the standard black or white for added value.”
2. Performance Features
There’s enough to worry about at work without adding your outfit to the list. Knowing which performance features can help employees do their jobs more comfortably can be a key selling point. Some features are common across industries, and others play to the specific sector of the uniform.
Take the hospitality industry, for instance. Not only should the fabric be soft and easy to care for, but wrinkle-resistant and soil-release finishes are also critical, Lloyd noted. Or, as Lloyd and Pennington both specified, moisture-wicking and stain-release fabrics are essential in hot work environments, like restaurants or kitchens.
Similarly, stain-release or -repellant fabrics are necessities of any uniforms that need to remain clean and crisp throughout the day, Rubin added. That’s why Blue Generation offers Teflon-treated polos, woven shirts, pants, aprons and vests.
But certain features aren’t just nice to have, they’re mandated. Distributors need to make sure they’re aware of what regulations impact their clients’ industries.
“Depending on the area of use, there may be laws and regulations regarding how [uniforms] are constructed,” Pennington said. “For instance, [there may be] regulations regarding buttons, pockets or headwear when preparing food.”
3. Laundry Method
Sure, all clients want clean clothes, but understanding how those clothes will be cleaned is a must when choosing the proper uniform. As with other regulations, Lloyd said there also might be rules specific to the given industry on how the uniforms have to be cleaned. In other cases, it’s a matter of anticipating the clients’ needs.
Blue Generation has taken this concern and worked it into the company’s product line. As Rubin explained, laundering is of particular note with industrial laundries, which tend to be harsher on the garment.
“Last year, we introduced a collection of rental-friendly IL-50 polos, which are designed to perform exceedingly well up to 50 washings,” he said.
The way a uniform will be laundered also should impact the type of imprint used.
“The laundry method needs to be considered before selecting the method of imprint,” Pennington said. “If the garments are going to be industrially cleaned and pressed, for instance, check with your laundry provider and test samples, if possible.”
Many companies select embroidery in order to enhance personalization and quality of the overall uniform. In these cases, Pennington offered advice:
“Let your embroiderers know how your clients are going to launder the garments.”
4. Repeat Order Potential
Distributors always want to keep their customers. The key to doing that is developing relationships with them and providing quality customer service, which means predicting their needs. But as we’ve established, uniform customers’ needs are different than typical promotional clients.
“Understand your clients’ habits and anticipate their needs,” Pennington said. “Uniform repeat orders may follow different schedules than you are used to with your promotional customers.”
She cited employee turnover, new hires, replacement garments and brand changes all as potential—and unique—opportunities to create additional orders.
But there’s another way to add to orders and enhance the clients’ look and branding. As Rubin pointed out, uniforms tend to include an entire outfit—shirts, pants, potentially an apron or vest—so additional opportunities always are nearby.
Lloyd echoed the importance of customer service—and deep inventories.
“Employee turnover occurs, and how quickly you can get a new uniform to that client will determine your success for repeat orders,” Lloyd said. “This really is where a uniform supplier differs from retail because once you put a style and color in the line, it needs to have staying power. The [client] needs to know that for the duration of their program, the garments will be available.”
5. Employee Roles
A doctor, a waitress and a construction worker would never wear the same uniform to work. Different environments face different demands. The same is true of their uniforms, and sometimes, even different positions within those environments require different wardrobes. Knowing the roles of the employee who’ll be wearing the uniforms is important for a distributor, Lloyd said.
“They will want to know how many job functions will be included in the uniform program, meaning, is it just the front desk of the hotel property or will it include housekeeping, maintenance and the restaurant staff, too?” she explained.
“The key to any uniform sale is choosing the right garments for a particular use,” Rubin agreed, detailing potential differences across industries.
For example, at the corporate level, he recommended better quality fabrics, like cotton and cotton/poly blends, as they are practical and not subject to dirty environments and constant washing. Whereas, in environments that are subject to stains, like a restaurant, he suggested using 100 percent polyester or polyester blends as they afford greater color retention, less shrinkage and more durability.
It can be tricky to master the nuances of uniform programs across multiple industries and positions. As such, Lloyd suggested taking it one step at a time.
“I always recommend that a distributor new to selling uniform programs start small,” she explained. “What I mean by that is, take one department at a time. If you are working with a hotel, start with housekeeping or the restaurant. You’ll learn quickly how to handle situations that arise, but it will be on a scale that is controllable.”