THE HOW-TO GUIDE SELECTING A SCHOOL UNIFORM PROVIDER 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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