Disrupt or be Disrupted: What the Latest Generation of Uniform Industry Members Has to Say
By Jackie Rosselli
Made to Measure Magazine
Spring 2018 Edition
Business disruption is the new normal. As you read this, your company is likely either disrupting other companies or being disrupted, all courtesy of technology and globalization.
One key to surviving in a world of disruption is to change the game, to seize new opportunities through speed of execution and out-of-the-box thinking.
That's just what the following uniform companies are doing. Established players, they are implementing new strategies to succeed in a 21st century marketplace. For these and many others, doing business as usual is akin to signing a death warrant. Disrupt or be disrupted.
No Cookie Cutters Allowed: City Apparel
Glance at the summary statement of Andrea Kramer's LinkedIn page and you'll glean clues into what it takes to thrive in an age of disruption: “Highly engaging executive demonstrating the spirit of winning through innovation, adaptation and lack of sleep.”
“We're not a cookie-cutter business,” Kramer said. “We build out programs that are convenient to customers, not the other way around.”
Kramer is the owner of City Apparel, a Findlay, Ohio distributor whose model just might be the future for uniform dealers.
First, the business is creative-driven, a fact quickly evidenced by a visit to the company's website. It doesn't have the look or feel of a traditional uniform vendor, and that is by design. Kramer has an industry background – her family owns a uniform rental business. But she's a marketer at heart, with a passion for problem solving. “We work to understand the brand, put on our marketing caps and build identity programs that transcend the organization whether through custom products or by plucking trending apparel, promotional products and packaging,” Kramer said. “Whether it’s a uniform or a giveaway, we want people to wear it beyond what it was intended for so they can leave work, go out to dinner and feel both fashionable and functional. City Apparel provides lifestyle branded apparel.”
Its creative proclivities may in part be attributed to its makeup. The company is designated as a Woman Owned Small Business, something that Kramer says has opened some doors but still requires effort like everything else. Many such businesses exist of course, but few – and probably none in the uniform industry - have an all-female staff. It's a young team too, often staffing 3-4 college interns each semester. This accidental composition isn't necessarily advertised when pitching new business, and Kramer doesn't believe that women are inherently more creative or better. But it is a formula that has worked. “Our staff is excited and engaged by our philosophy of thinking outside the box,” she observed. “I don't know if that's a male or female thing, it's just been my experience. Our underlying philosophy in business and in life is just “be better.”
Another distinction: they don't shy away from technology; they embrace it, believing the more tech driven you are, the better you can service the customer. Face-to-face interaction still trumps everything else, but once the deal is won, many accounts are serviced through online stores. There's a new ERP system in the works too that will be fully integrated with customer ecommerce sites. And when they want to reach out to customers, there's an app for that: it's conveniently located on employee cell phones.
“Everyone wants immediate gratification,” Kramer noted. “The more 24/7 access we give them, the better.”
This is especially true for large customers like the Ohio State University, a multi-propertied account whose employees work a variety of job functions. “We give OSU the ability to manage everything on demand and online, which is a big plus.”
City Apparel's sells everything from uniforms to logoed apparel and promotional products to a diverse portfolio of clients that includes P&G, the Cleveland Indians and Columbus Blue Jackets. Production is done onsite for program customers; whose products are both decorated on demand and pulled from inventory. For the rest, orders are placed on demand, and most don't require minimums, something that Kramer believes will benefit distributors with the ability to do so. “Receiving and shipping orders on demand is where the industry is going.” Kramer said.
It’s a model in tune with a new generation of wearers who also expect companies to be driven by socially responsible practices. Here again, advantage City Apparel. Employees are allotted 40 hours each year to volunteer at non-profits or public works programs within the community, time which is paid for by the company. “People know we're passionate about being socially responsible, that we are laser focused on the relationships we have, and this drives our business.”
The City Apparel team had the honor of attending in January the PPAI Pyramid Award Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada. Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) has recognized promotional products businesses and has helped distinguish business models unique to the industry itself over the past sixty years. The winners of each of these awards were selected by a panel of industry professionals and independent, outside marketing and advertising professionals. PPAI presented City Apparel with the 2018 Pyramid Award in Marketing and Branding.
About: City Apparel, a Woman Owned Small Business, was established in 2001 in Findlay, Ohio. City Apparel curates, designs and decorates corporate apparel, uniforms and logo’d merchandise. City Apparel manages Client spot purchases flawlessly while delivering solutions for total identity programs through eCommerce Company stores. City Apparel adds value to Clients by offering in-house design and decoration with nationwide fulfillment and distribution. City Apparel delivers SMART. CREATIVE. IDENTITY SOLUTIONS.