School Uniform Management by sca98436


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									                                                      THE HOW-TO GUIDE

                                                        BY THOMAS SHIPLEY
For some school communities, uniforms are an important               success to fully committing to the program and his willing-
catalyst in alleviating the social and economic pressures put        ness to monitor the program as it was implemented. Once
on parents and students by fashion-driven dress. A compel-           you commit to uniforms, you need to dive into the program
ling case can be made that uniforms level the playing field,         completely. A partial uniform program (one that is neither
raise student self-esteem, contribute to school safety, and          mandatory nor with clear and definitive rules) sends a con-
make economic sense. Additionally, schools are just begin-           fusing message to families and opens the floodgates to a
ning to explore and capitalize on the marketing potential of         myriad of interpretations. Moreover, it makes it difficult to
uniform programs.                                                    achieve the benefits of a successful program.

For our company, DENNIS Uniform, the school uniform Look for longevity and check references. Don’t under-
business is defined by five attributes: quality, consistency, estimate longevity. If a school uniform company has been
continuity of product, great service and efficient delivery. around for many years and has an established client list,
A uniform program cannot get off the ground or be then they are probably doing something right. I have seen
sustained without all of these components. Without quality dozens of new companies try to gain entry into the industry
products, the program will look worn by the winter holi- with unrealistic sales strategies. They tend to over-promise
day and your families                                                                                      and under-deliver, which
will be disappointed that                                                                                  results in great frustration
the uniform did not last                                                                                   for school administrators.
through the entire school                                                                                  Always visit the store of
year. Without consis-                                                                                      a potential provider to
tency and continuity,                                                                                      evaluate its condition and
a uniform program                                                                                          convenience, and like a
looks — well, non-                                                                                         good employer, check
uniform. And without                                                                                       references and review
efficient service and de-                                                                                  track records. You would
livery, students might                                                                                     be surprised how many
outgrow their uniforms                                                                                     schools forego these very
before they even arrive.                                                                                   important steps.
   Once a school com-
munity has decided to                                                                                      Choose a manufacturer.
move into uniforms,                    Choose a manufacturer: Plaid fabric is cut by hand before it is      There are two categories
                                  laser-cut by machinery in the Portland, Oregon DENNIS Uniform factory.
they need a set of cri-                                                                                    of school uniform pro-
teria to help them select a uniform provider. Here are viders: those that manufacture (or private label) and those
some uniform basics schools should consider when that don’t. DENNIS Uniform takes great pride in the fact
making the decision to choose a provider and implement a that we still manufacture nearly 70% of our styles in our
successful program.                                                      Portland, Oregon factory. In our case, being a manufactur-
                                                                         er affords us the distinct advantage of being able to better
Once you make the decision, dive in completely. manage our inventory levels and guarantee quality control.
A superintendent of a group of Christian Schools told me This translates into a program that is in-stock, and year-
that the “best thing” he ever did was put his schools into round when families need it. In contrast, when a company
uniform. Initially, he faced great resistance from a vocal purchases product from a second or third-party manufac-
group of parents which as he put it, “tested my leadership turer, deliveries are dependent on that vendor. Avoid the
and patience”. Ultimately, the uniform program changed “middle-man” and you will have direct accountability from
the schools’ culture by raising the level of respect, pride your uniform provider.
and performance within the community. He attributes the                                                           continued on next page
Always ask for details of where and how          ranging from custom print Aloha shirts to         Make sure that you completely understand
a uniform company’s products are made.           hand-sewn poplin dresses. The challenge           the benefits offered. Is the rebate simply
If they cannot provide you with this in-         of school uniforms is delivering a consis-        tacked on to the price of the garment? Or
formation, pick another company. As a            tent product year after year. A school uni-       is the company providing lower quality
DENNIS policy, we personally visit over-         form company trying to be fashion-forward         service to compensate for the rebate?
seas factories where we contract any sig-        is like a dog chasing its tail. It will always    Always ask for a written description of
nificant manufacturing. We regularly in-         be behind.                                        your benefit program.
spect working conditions and verify fair
labor practice certifications. Beware of         Not all polo shirts are created equal.            Don’t be afraid to sign a contract.
uniform providers that have never been in        Take the time to really learn about the prod-     Sign a contract once you have selected a
the actual facilities where they purchase        ucts your students will be wearing and if         provider. Agreements are intended to protect
their merchandise.                               they are guaranteed. The old adage “you           both parties by outlining the expectations
                                                 get what you pay for” holds particularly          and limitations of the relationship. They also
Choose one provider and leave it to the          true in the school uniform industry. School       exist to provide a transparent view of how
professionals. Some schools ask about            uniforms need to last, withstand rigorous         a company conducts business and serves
shared vendor programs and handling              wear and washings, and hold their size            the customer. A good contract reflects the
their uniform program internally. I advise       and color. They also need to be designed          highest level of professionalism and a com-
against it. Ultimately, shared programs          for growth and to complement all shapes           mitment to providing you with the best
make it very difficult for a provider to pre-    of young people. Ask your vendor what             service possible.
pare on behalf of a school since they cannot     sets their products apart. If you get the line,
anticipate how the business will be divided.     “they are the same as everybody else’s, just      Choose a company you like, but also
Additionally, a shared program will always       less expensive”, find another provider. A         choose a representative who cares about
result in the mixing of brands. This means       great uniform company should be able to           what they are doing. Lastly, working with
that your program could have noticeable          clearly elaborate on the features of their        a school uniform company is a partnership.
differences in dye lots, quality, and sizing,    line. You will learn quickly that there are       Schools need to have confidence that the
thus undermining the integrity of the uni-       vast differences between a $10 polo shirt         person assisting them is offering sound,
form program. In the end, mixed programs         and one that is more expensive. Put simply,       knowledgeable and thoughtful advice and
create great confusion for families and          the quality is markedly better.                   will always be responsive and accessible. I
leave schools to sort out the problems.                                                            advise schools to choose a provider where
   Internal or self-administered programs        Logos make it yours. A fresh white polo           their local representative is the same per-
are capital intensive, take up valuable phys-    shirt and crisp pleated khaki pants are great     son that families will see in the store year
ical space on campus, and require diligent       building blocks for a uniform program.            after year. At DENNIS, we believe that our
bookkeeping and inventory management. It         Add your school’s colorful crest to the polo      products are helping to make schools bet-
would be fair to say that they are usually not   and there is no question that this student        ter places for young people to learn and
worth the effort. This year alone we have        belongs to your community.                        our representatives take this responsibility
provided relief for half a dozen schools that                                                      seriously. To this end, interview the person
were simply “tired of the hassles” of man-       Look for a forward thinking company.              that you will be working with, ask them if
aging their own uniform program.                 If a uniform provider does not offer a            their company has a philosophy, and test
                                                 customer service department, toll-free or-        their knowledge on the industry. Without
More is less. Putting together a uniform         dering, or secured online ordering where          question, a great representative who knows
program can be fun. One of the most enjoy-       customers can place “real time” orders 24         what they are doing can make all the differ-
able parts of my work has been sitting with      hours a day with confirmation and delivery        ence in the world.
schools and working with them to create          status information, then your school will be
a look that reflects their identity. Uniform     under served. Let’s face it, parents are busy
programs become diluted – less uniform –         and are not always able to shop during store
when they have too many options, colors,         hours. Eleven percent of DENNIS’ web or-
and styles. We advise schools to start mod-      ders come between the hours of 9:00PM
estly and add items gradually. Schools will      and 5:00AM, after kids have gone to bed. It       Thomas Shipley has spent most of his life
tell you that it is always easier to add items   is the uniform provider’s responsibility to       in schools: first, as a student, and then as a
than it is to try to eliminate them from a       cater to your families, and not vice versa.       teacher and school administrator. Now, he
program when families have already made             Beware of service programs that sound          advocates for schools by providing support
a substantial investment.                        too good to be true. Some school uniform          through his company, DENNIS Uniform
                                                 companies offer service programs or re-           based in Portland, Oregon. Thomas has
Avoid fashion trends. School uniforms            bates that can be helpful to schools. In          a Masters of Education from the Harvard
are not high fashion. They never have been       fact a great deal of cost goes into servic-       Graduate School of Education. He has lec-
nor should they be. That is not to say that      ing schools well and providing high quality       tured or given presentations to nearly 700
school uniforms have to be boring, they          garments. I know many school administra-          private, parochial, public and/or charter
don’t. At DENNIS, we have over 100 dif-          tors who chose a supplier based on large          schools interested in learning more about
ferent styles in all fabrics and colors, and     rebates and then were disappointed by the         school uniforms and how to implement a
patterns. We have schools with programs          company’s delivery, quality, and service.         successful uniform program.

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