At Your Service: The Evolving World of Uniforms and Aprons
The significance of uniforms tends to be underestimated in the apparel world, but they are one of the most vital steps a company can take to promote its brand. Just think about some of the famous uniforms that have left a lasting impression on us: Rachel’s Central Perk waitressing apron, Lucy and Ethel’s chocolate factory uniforms, and of course, the often-
imitated Ghostbusters uniform. Not only are they memorable, but the right uniforms can increase brand awareness, improve team unity and boost employee performance.
With more and more industries looking to take their uniform game to the next level, it’s the perfect time to get in on the action. Here, we spoke to two experts—Taraynn Lloyd, vice president of marketing for Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Edwards Garment; and Lisa Denham, marketing director for Philadelphia-based Executive Apparel—about what’s trending now and how to break into the market.
Uniforms and aprons are no different than any other type of apparel—there are always new colorways, fabrications and styles developing, and it’s up to distributors to stay on trend. Thankfully, our experts know what’s in demand.
“Trends for 2018 in uniform and apron promotions include new ways to showcase your brand’s color,” said Lloyd. “This includes multicolor tattersall shirts combined with color-block aprons. The dynamic color combination conveys the brand as a trendsetter, and is a relatively economical way to freshen your existing uniform program.”
While Lloyd admits it can be hard to balance uniformity and creativity when it comes to a winning promotion, it’s becoming more imperative to ensure your clients’ uniform promotions stand out. She suggested a pop of color can go a long way in an apron and uniform promotion, and Denham provided a few more tips.
“We do a lot of custom vest programs for restaurants and casinos that start with a basic style,” she said. “A stock vest can be specialized with creative embellishments, like colorful trims and unique buttons, while remaining economical. For a larger program that hits minimums, custom fabrics and styles can be used to create a truly unique look.”
In terms of functionality, Lloyd said clients want their uniforms to be comfortable and easy to launder at home, but clients are also looking to add performance features to their uniforms and aprons.
“Performance features in garments include fabrics that breathe, wick moisture, release stains and hold their color with home laundry,” she explained. “The one new performance feature that is requested often is wrinkle-free or non-iron garments. Our lives are so busy today that easy-care garments that don’t require ironing are a must in a uniform program.”
Denham also provided some new fabrication suggestions she has seen success with.
“We strive to develop strong garments that are soil-resistant and wrinkle-resistant, and we recently developed our Eco-Tex Collection—a recycled polyester group of sustainable suiting. Our customers also like microfibers and cool wool blends for comfort.”
Practically every industry has a need for a uniform promotion, which is great news for your business. To provide a few specific starting points, Lloyd gave some ideas that have always proved successful. “Cafes, restaurants, food carts and hotels with a restaurant service are the most popular for uniforms and apron promotions,” she said. “Restaurants employ over 14.7 million people in the U.S., and there are 1 million locations—that’s a significant market for any uniform distributor.”
For additional prospective clients, Denham provided some more examples.
“Our wheelhouse is suiting separates, and you will find them in so many industries—hospitality, corporate, public and private business, government, transportation, banking, etc.,” she said. “I am always interested in what hotel chains and airlines are doing with their branding and uniforms. There is much opportunity in those two industries for creative custom design.”
For those who have already had success in the uniform arena, Lloyd recommended new business opportunities in several growing industries.
“You need to think beyond traditional markets for uniforms and apron promotions,” she said. “For example, today, you see the health care providers utilizing uniforms and aprons for on-site wellness programs. They are also popular in assisted living centers, home health care and day spas.”
The Selling Tips
Now that you know what’s trending and which markets to tap into, Lloyd provided three tips to help you make the sale.
“[First], understand and know the role of the employees who will wear these uniforms,” she said. “[Second], learn and understand how easy it is to work in the uniforms you suggest to your client, and [third], make sure that your client’s fashion, color and performance features are addressed in the garments you recommend. The key is to listen and understand the voice of the customer to know what kind of work they do, and to ensure that the garment selected will be fashionable and comfortable while promoting the brand.”
It’s also important for distributors to work with their clients to determine what legal regulations need to be followed.
“Distributors should ask their client if there are any regulatory requirements prior to developing and merchandising products,” she said. “Some regulations may require that the polo they wear has a snap-front placket closure for safety reasons. Or, perhaps the food service plant requires that different colors are worn by each department within the plant. Knowing and understanding what the client requires is critical to developing the right uniform program.”
And, once you’ve worked with your new client to develop their uniform promotion, make sure you don’t sleep on the repeat order potential.
“The opportunity for repeat business is excellent, especially in the hospitality industries,” said Denham. “The employee turnover in hospitality is high, so buyers must reorder often. A few great hospitality customers can build a great foundation for your business.”