How the Uniforms Market Is Changing (According to One Expert)
There's been no shortage of uniform news lately, from Delta's Zac Posen-designed threads to controversial marching band uniforms. With so much transformation and change hitting the uniforms market, it can be hard to see where the future is heading. Thankfully, Apparel Magazine interviewed Richard J. Lerman, the former president of the North American Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors (NAUMD), to hear his thoughts on the state of the industry.
Here are the main takeaways:
1. What's different now?
Lerman pointed out that there are fewer independent distributors in the public sector business segment, which is having an effect on the industry. With big-time distributors buying other distributors, the uniforms market continues to consolidate, and those working in the public sector have fewer bids to choose from. As a result, "manufacturers have fewer distributors to sell their products."
2. What factors will be significant moving forward?
Lerman said e-commerce will be the most influential issue within the uniforms market. Young public sector employees are looking for their uniform-buying experience to mimic their Amazon shopping. They do not enjoy going through fittings and waiting for their uniforms to be tailored. As a result, companies like First Tactical, the first online police uniform supplier, are succeeding.
Lerman also said that it is becoming tougher for smaller distributors to remain competitive, as they face rising costs as a result of e-commerce.
For fashion trends, Lerman noted a few things in the uniforms market.
"Finally, changes in style and formality in hospital, school, hotel and other private sector apparel will continue to keep the industry on its toes," he told Apparel Magazine. "Fashion will remain a key factor in the apparel worn by workers in all corporate-owned facilities. Less formal outfits, without ties for men, will likely continue.
"Fun and comfort will be the focus in hotel, restaurant and cruise line uniforms, moving away from the more military look of the past," he continued. "However, distribution will need to be improved so that employees can get their clothing directly at home rather than having to go to human resources or to in-company retail operations."
3. What will the future look like?
Lerman said the uniform industry in the future will continue to move operations online, focusing on e-commerce and delivery solutions. He also said even with the Trump administration incentives to manufacture in the U.S., manufacturing will continue on a contract basis outside of the U.S.
For the private sector apparel industry, Lerman shared some thoughts as well.
"With a draw down in foot traffic, there will be fewer stores," he said. "Hotels may well choose to go the route of less original design and move toward more brand name suits and sportswear, perhaps even toward business casual, which can be bought online from brands such as Lands' End. Hospitals are already allowing employees to buy scrubs from any online provider."
So, for suppliers and distributors in the uniform industry, it looks like the best thing you can do for your business right now is begin the transition to online. Giving clients the option of browsing uniform choices online and ordering directly from a website seems to be in demand. While we think there will always be a need for custom tailoring and more personalized options, it looks like that's not where the big business is right now.
What do you think of Lerman's points?