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Clever as a Fox: The wonderful personality of Lone Star Uniforms

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but I would rather be sad in a Mercedes-Benz than on the back of a bicycle.”That’s just one of many pearls of wisdom from Vernon Fox of Houston’s Lone Star Uniforms. In a state known for doing everything big, Fox is the larger-than-life personality that defines Lone Star Uniforms.That is not to say that his lovely wife, Corine, is not an equal partner in every way, including playing the straight man to her husband’s entertaining ways. Vernon on women: “There are two excellent theories for arguing with women. Neither one works.”

But while the Foxes love to laugh, they take the business of Lone Star Uniforms very seriously.

Lone Star Uniforms began in 1997 when the Foxes applied for the legal name. They had $200 in cash, eight maxed-out credit cards and a prayer.

Today, they boast a 19,000-square-foot main location on the outskirts of Houston. They opened 5,000 square feet in a secondary store located in the heart of downtown Houston in 2008. With 38 employees, they have certainly come a long way from their humble beginnings.

Vernon was a cop for just over 18 years; Corine had been a banker. As a detective with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Vernon became disillusioned, making a comment to the effect that he needed to get a “real job” one day. He was overheard by an elderly uniform company owner who had known him since his days as a teenager. The man offered Fox a new opportunity; Vernon gave notice that day and began being mentored in a new career.

Fox did end up spending 12 years in the uniform industry before that business closed, leaving the Foxes without an income because Corine had left her ten-year banking career to start their family. After working odd jobs and at their wit’s end, Vernon and Corine resolved to start Lone Star Uniforms.

Vernon on children: “Not until all your kids become teenagers at the same time do you understand why reptiles eat their young.”

The business began in the Foxes’ house, moving to their first location only three months later. They shared this second location with another company, which helped keep down costs and allowed them to grow. Vernon laughs when remembering how small their first store was. The one seamstress was located right next to his desk and he couldn’t talk on the phone without first asking her to stop sewing.

But doors began to open for them.

The big departments and companies ignored them, preferring to stay with their larger counterparts and assuming Lone Star would be gone in six months. But a lot of little departments gave them a chance, and when these department heads moved from three-man departments to five-man departments all the way to 30-man departments, they took Lone Star Uniform with them.

But being big doesn’t mean big box. Vernon is quick to point out that they don’t want their customers to feel like they’re taking a trip to Wal-Mart. To that end, they prioritize service and customer satisfaction.

They carry everything except school and athletic wear, though they can supply them when needed. Their largest customer base is public safety. The actual uniforms are not on the floor; this allows for a personalized full-service experience.

“We cater to so many agencies, and every agency has a distinct look. We might have ten navy pants but they need different striping. What we put on the floor is a sample of a shirt with colors. We keep the inventory in the back,” says Vernon.

This allows the sales floor to be a wonderland of accessories as well as leather goods, body armor, ammunition, shoes, boots and belts.

Sometimes, a customer may have to wait 20 to 30 minutes while his or her clothing is in the sew room being altered, so plenty of visual and tactile entertainment is provided. One will find hands-on items that are not normally supplied by a serviceman’s contract. Perhaps an officer will notice that it’s time to replace a damaged cuff case while wandering the store and notice the attractive selection of cases available.

TV screens run videos of vendors talking about their products, providing information that may not normally be discussed. It may be the story of how much work goes into making a badge and why that quality doesn’t come quickly, or a video may show an officer the latest Safariland holster and how to use it, or the history of 5.11 Tactical and the different bags it offers. The videos are changed frequently so returning customers continue to get new information.

In fact, the Foxes are committed to embracing the future of the industry, as well as knowing the history. Vernon boasts about carrying Fechheimer products, a company that has been around so long that it actually made the uniforms for both General Lee and General Grant during the Civil War.

But then the conversation flows to today’s innovations. Vernon and Corine make sure their staff stays well informed. Weekly meetings are held where the whole store discusses policy, procedures and news. Vendors frequently come by and introduce new or updated products. They make sure the staff stays knowledgeable on new fabrics that are more comfortable or repellant as well as choices such as poly/wool or poly/cotton that are tailored to a customer’s specific needs. They stay aware of new trends, such as wearing cargo pants or boots. They want their employees to be able to answer the questions correctly and be able to suggest the right solutions, including tailoring those solutions to every customer’s needs.

Vernon refers to a loyal customer that likes a red shirt. “Well, nobody really makes a red shirt with scalloped pockets and military creases, so we do that for them.” It requires a large enough department and a lot of skill and management to be able to offer such services, but the Foxes are determined to keep every customer happy.

And they’ve grown beyond clothing. Lone Star Uniforms now offers services ranging from imprinted dog tags to vehicle graphics. It will create banners, signs, dog tags, pet tags and even the decals applied to back windows in cars. “We’re always looking for something new and innovative and for ways to improve on what’s out there,” Vernon says.

Vernon on friendship: “If you loan a person $20 and you never see them again, most likely it was money well spent.”

Lone Star Uniforms brings its trademark service and warmth to departments throughout Texas. Five outside salesmen travel to farther regions, with one going as far as Brownsville, Texas, the bottom tip of the state, while others travel past Dallas and Fort Worth. Some of the accounts are large enough to demand a weekly visit; others every one or two months. A lot of competitors won’t send sales people to such remote parts because they don’t feel there’s enough business to warrant the trip. But Corine believes that “every customer is important, whether they’re in a large fire department like the city of Houston or a five-man department in a small town. And when you treat everyone like they’re important, they will continue to do business with you.” This philosophy is just one of the assets that sets Lone Star Uniforms apart. Moreover, Vernon frequently cites his knowledge in public safety or Corine’s experience in banking. Vernon credits Corine with their smart financial strategies. She does not allow him to touch the cash register.

But Vernon brings a vast wealth of education and experience to his area of specialization. He has a Bachelor’s degree in criminology and corrections, holds a PhD in psychological counseling, is a drug and alcohol counselor and is a certified anger management therapist. And of course, he is Vernon.

“It’s true that alcohol will not solve the world’s problems, but then again, neither does milk,” he quips.

While Vernon’s charm comes naturally, it is also part of his strategy to keep his customers close and coming back. “I always try to make people laugh so that they feel good about themselves and good about coming here. They can go anywhere and spend their money. I’d rather they spend their money with me and enjoy it.” He compares the atmosphere at the store to the old television series “Cheers.” “We want everybody to come here and be our friends.”

All of that personality can come in handy in the most unlikely places. For instance, at the Houston airport desperately running to catch a plane and being stopped by a security person who recognized the Foxes’ son from the store. As the security officer tried to make small talk, Vernon excused themselves and explained their predicament. The airport official got on his phone, called the flight’s desk and kept the plane waiting for them.

But it’s just as nice to have customers stop in just to say “hi.” That’s Corine’s favorite part of the business.

The Foxes’ son and daughter work at the store, but they don’t count business hours as family time. Corine would love to travel but has a hard time pulling her workaholic husband away from the store. The Foxes also bring their dogs to the store every day. Daisy Mae, a golden retriever, is listed as “Vernon’s Assistant,” while Lil’ Bit, a black chow-lab, is referred to simply as the “Credit Department.” On occasion, some customers come by just to see the dogs.

You’ll most likely find Vernon and Corine hard at work at Lone Star Uniforms: Vernon dispensing his wry observations on life, and Corine making sure he doesn’t go too far, and the whole staff working to keep everyone who walks through the doors smiling.

Lone Star Uniforms

8430 N Sam Houston Parkway W Houston, TX 77064

1314 Houston Ave. Houston TX, 77007

(832) 237-8000 www.lonestaruniforms.comMade to Measure logo

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