Suit Up: Tips for Selling Rugged and Safety Apparel
Just like you would never cut corners while building a skyscraper, digging a water line or fixing a subway car, labor workers don’t want the companies that make their apparel to cut corners, either. End-users want apparel and gear that works as hard as they do.
For distributors, that means providing products that have durable features and a name that they can trust. We spoke with Craig Smith, vice president of sales for Park Ridge, New Jersey-based Rugged Outfitters; and Robert Klein, CEO and owner of Pella, Iowa-based Pella Products Inc., about providing hardworking end-users with quality products. The name counts
Rugged Outfitters provides name-brand apparel and gear, like Carhartt, and Smith said that providing users with a well-known name that they associate with quality and safety is paramount.
“The reason customers specifically request Carhartt is because it’s a brand that’s been around for a long time,” Smith said. “It’s known for quality. It’s known to last. They never have quality issues.”
He added that most distributors will notice that many customers want recurring uniform programs. So, by using a popular brand, it’s easy for buyers to purchase the same products over time.
“You want to be able to go back and fill in, knowing that the fits are the same, the color is the same, [and] it usually has the same stock levels,” Smith added. “And the benefit of purchasing Carhartt, which is one of the leading workwear brands in the country right now, is that when you put a company’s logo on it, the guy who is wearing it tends to wear the garment, I would say, 10 times more than if it was a no-name sweatshirt or a no-name jacket, because he knows the company gave him the best branded garment they could find.”
Give Them the Best
Part of giving end-users the best garments available is providing them with products made in the U.S. with quality materials, Klein said. “We’re finding a great deal of continuing desire on the part of the marketplace for made-in-USA goods,” Klein said. “I think what has occurred is that people are finding that a lot of imported goods are not only cheap in price, but they are cheap in quality. We at Pella Products are still making products the same way, with the same stitch count and thread. We make them to last and last.”
Smith brought up a similar point. He said that, with workwear and safety wear, it’s especially important to provide a high-quality product.
“When you’re dealing with safety or heavy-duty rugged wear, usually you want to be in something that you know is going to last and stand up,” he said. “So you’re not going and buying the cheapest, no-name garment out there.”
Pay Attention to Variables
However, just because you are providing a company with uniform products, this does not mean you can take a one-product-fits-all-needs approach to your sale. There are plenty of things that distributors should take into account when selling safety products, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and the time of year. Klein emphasized one OSHA regulation that has changed over time.
“Certainly if there’s a legislative change in requirements, that would push people to require different products,” he said. “Safety striping on a garment was never really a requirement, if you go back far enough, and it has become a requirement. And, so, obviously, we see more demand [for it.]”
Smith said that the time of year dictates which products will be in higher demand—companies are creating products that make working in harsh conditions even more doable.
“We’re in the summertime right now,” he said. “We move a ton of T-shirts and work shorts. [August is] when fall [sales] really start kicking in for distributors, so we do a ton of business in sweatshirts.”
Consider Special Features
For fall sales, Smith recommended looking into apparel with extra features, like water-repellant finishes and durable construction, in addition to the usual warmth and comfort that workers want. He specifically mentioned Carhartt’s durable, water-resistant finish.
“[Workers] can stand outside and the rain just beads off, which is a great feature,” he said. “Rain Defender is on every single heavyweight Carhartt sweatshirt that they produce now. So not only are they warm and durable, they are now completely water-resistant.”
Carhartt also began adding features that were once only available on its wholesale site after receiving enough demand for them, Smith said.
“They came out with a line called Full Swing, which has gussets and flex elbows,” he said. “So it’s engineered so that the working guy has more range. And they started adding that to a lot of their outerwear—and even some of their pants [will have that] going forward. I would say that that’s the biggest area of something new that hasn’t been around in the past. Last year, it was in limited production, so it was only available on Carhartt’s main website, which was a retail-only website. Yet tons of our distributor accounts that buy from us all the time had customers requesting it. And demand was so great that Carhartt added it to the main line. So, this year, it’s available for distributors to purchase from suppliers at a wholesale level.”