Increase Your Sweat Equity
IT IS AUGUST and the East Coast has been sweating it out in a massive 90-degree-plus heat wave since June, so it's highly unlikely that the cruel, grueling sub-zero temperatures of winter are at the forefront of anyone's mind. However, allow the chill to enter your thoughts. Picture, if you will, Chicago in January, as a construction team prepares to journey out to a project site, or an electrical company crew braves blizzard conditions to restore power at 5 a.m. It may not be cold now, but winter, without a doubt, will come.
In these hard-core conditions, there are still people who have to leave the cozy warmth of their fleece blankies to battle mother nature. For these folks, there are two key priorities: stay warm and stay dry. The key for the serious work crew or extreme outdoor enthusiast to maintaining warmth and dryness is high-quality work gear. Your key as a distributor salesperson is to use this summer's sweat equity to start selling into the profitable work wear niche.
Seasonal color and fashion trends be damned, what counts in this sector is the caliber of the product. "Make sure you supply quality work wear," said Robert Klein, president, Pella Products, Pella, Iowa. "Nothing fails as fast or gives as bad of an impression as work wear that doesn't measure up." A truer statement has never been uttered. If the poor fellow on top of an electrical pole in the midst of a February ice storm develops a tear in his coveralls and freezing water starts to enter the "dry zone," it will be you, the distributor salesperson who sold him the attire, who will be etched in his frostbitten mind.
With that being said, the most important trend in this niche is better technology. Jessica Strain, sales and marketing administrator for Dri Duck Traders, Overland Park, Kan., noted, "The latest trends in rugged work wear are all focused around technology." Strain elaborated that the market is looking for, "Rugged work wear that is waterproof, windproof and breathable [and will] keep the wearer comfortable regardless of the outdoor elements."
When dealing with extreme climates, dirt and grease, this group of fashionistas have an entirely different color wheel and we are definitely not talking about the latest shades of mauve or turquoise. "Most garments are created in brown, black and green shades in order to camouflage dirt and stains," said Strain. Klein echoed these color options, stating, "I would say that navy and basic brown are the top colors, with black moving up. Hunter green used to be a top seller, but is now behind the others."
Fabric also plays a significant role for the serious workman. This gear is expected to last for years, therefore comfort and breathability are top priorities. "Cotton canvas is the most popular fabric in the work-wear market because it is durable, long-lasting and machine-washable," Strain said. On the same topic, Klein listed 100 percent cotton, plied yarn and a heavy fabric weight as important factors to consider when looking for good, durable clothing.
When it comes to styles and cuts, the best advice is to keep it simple. "Jackets are always the top-seller, which includes hooded jackets," explained Klein. "We are seeing a demand for insulated bib overalls as well. The great thing about bibs is that they can be embroidered on the chest, whereas pants, of course, are normally not embroidered."
While almost every industry has been hit by recessional woes, the rugged work wear segment continues to see a steady demand for products. "[It] is a great niche to serve because work wear is always in high demand," said Strain. "With classic silhouettes and interest in technical fabrics, the product base is expanding and also capturing a new market of outdoor enthusiasts."
The key to selling rugged work wear is to start selling now. Forget the 90-degree heat and start picking up the phone. "Target companies that have larger numbers of outside employees," suggested Klein. Although unlined products sell well throughout the year, sales for this segment gain momentum as the temperatures cool down. As Strain stated, "Sales for rugged work wear are usually greater in the colder months, which is why it is important for garments to be well-crafted in order to protect the wearer from the extreme outdoor elements."