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Coffee, Community and Clothing: Security Uniforms offers customers more than just regulation apparel

In towns across the country, the strongest sense of community is usually at the local coffee shop. In New Britain, Conn., it’s at Security Uniforms.

To hear owner Ross Gottlieb speak about his clientele is to hear a man who is both devoted to serving and passionately respectful of the public service employees he comes in contact with every day.

To that end, cups of coffee are offered freely and there are places to sit and chat. It’s not at all uncommon for customers to see friends and acquaintances at the store and end up sitting and visiting for an hour.

And that’s just the way Gottlieb likes it. He never forgets the courage and sacrifices his local police and fire department officials and volunteers exhibit on a daily basis, and his pride in serving their needs is clear.

Security Uniforms began in a very different form in New Britain in 1918 when Gottlieb’s grandfather and grandmother opened Goldberg’s, a fully accessorized men’s and women’s clothing store.

In 1943, Gottlieb’s father, Seymour, and his uncle entered the business after the war. Goldberg’s continued to grow and flourish through the years, becoming a retailing staple in town.

With the advent of shopping malls in the early ’70s, Goldberg’s was challenged to succeed. A large mega-mall had opened a mere five miles from the department store, and sales suffered. Fortunately, over the years, Seymour had carved out a small corner of the store as a dedicated space to serve the local officials who frequented Goldberg’s. With their encouragement, the department store became a specialty shop serving the public safety community of New Britain.

In 1988, Ross came aboard with his wife, Ilyse. Together they bought the business and began to build the future, broadening the focus to serve everyone from police, fire and EMS to clubs, organizations, bail bondsmen, state prosecutors, religious organizations, unions and more. Part of the future is maintaining the past. The business is located in the same original site of the 1918 store. Of course, many changes and updates have been made to the physical space over the years.

Gottlieb’s grandparents ran their store by offering a high level of customer service, and when Ross and Ilyse took over, they committed themselves to doing the same. “We try to solve needs. We’re good listeners,” Gottlieb says. He takes that one step farther by explaining that they try to solve needs as “unbiasedly as possible… whatever is best for the customer.”

And what’s best for the customer is a different kind of store than the usual public safety store. Gottlieb has great pride in the presentation of his 5,000-square-foot retail floor, which is far more organized than typical. There are no boxes to be found. Everything is thoughtfully arranged and displayed. And there is an additional 3,500 square feet of tailoring and storage to further meet the customer’s needs.

While Ross and Ilyse are the only blood relations to the original Goldberg’s owners, everyone at Security Uniforms feels like family. Nine employees share responsibility for keeping things running. And one need look no further than employee longevity to know this is more than a place to merely clock eight hours a day. The average employee stays 10 years, and the typical reason for leaving is retirement. The current purchasing agent began working in 1986, two years before Gottlieb himself came on board.

That dedication to treating people well continues to every customer who walks through the door. Gottlieb provides a recent letter from a local detective as proof of Security Uniforms’ outstanding service. The letter describes this particular customer’s experience at the store as “one of the most pleasant visits I’ve had to a business in a very long time.” He goes on to describe the experience in more detail. “From the second I walked in the store, I was greeted by the ladies at the front desk… I must congratulate you on the way I was treated… She not only made me feel welcome by offering me a cup of coffee and greeting me with a smile, but I was impressed by how attentive she was to detail and knowledge of the equipment.” The detective writes how rarely he finds employees who provide customers with this level of attention and warmth. Gottlieb says they receive letters of gratitude once or twice a year.

When asked about his biggest customer base, Gottlieb’s passion comes through loud and clear. Security Uniforms serves a large number of volunteer fire departments. Gottlieb expresses his respect for the dedication and volunteerism of these individuals. “We try to think about ourselves in the same way,” he says, referring to the commitment he and his employees make in serving these men and women. He proudly describes customers who work a third shift, go home, and come in with their kids. “We get to know them. It’s a community. We have coffee. Often people come in, see other people they know and end up staying for hours catching up. We think in terms of helping and serving, so we work after hours and volunteer as well. We’ll go after hours and outfit and service a department.”

And Gottlieb enjoys getting to know the future generation of public servants, as well. Explorer Scouts, kids as young as 16 and 17 years old, come into the store. They have expressed interest in pursuing careers in fire and police departments, so they become sponsored by these local departments. They end up coming into Security Uniforms to be fitted.

“We see these kids go on to top positions. And we retain relationships with them throughout their careers. We see them grow up,” Gottlieb says. He talks about one officer in particular who was a New Britain police officer for 25 years and has been a Marshal for the state of Connecticut for the past five years. They’ve known him for 35 years. He has been working long enough to be served by two generations at Security Uniforms.

Of course volunteer fire departments aren’t the only place the Gottliebs devote their attention. “Badge Central” is a separate company within Security Uniforms’ walls. This dedicated store-within-a-store features Smith & Warren Badges out of White Plains, N.Y., a company Gottlieb speaks of with high praise. “A family business. Down to earth. Operating with the highest level of customer service and honesty.” He is committed to growing Badge Central even bigger with plans to serve an ever-expanding base including electric inspectors and chaplains besides security employees.

But, in keeping with Gottlieb’s strong ethics, he is very discerning as to whom he will sell badges. He becomes impassioned speaking of people who still try to obtain badges for reasons outside of legitimate need. At Security Uniforms, a photo ID and current ID verifying employment relating to the badge are required. No exceptions.

Another favorite project of Gottlieb’s is the body armor department. He really enjoys the process of these sales because this armor helps to save lives. He says because it is such an important tool for security and public safety officers, he finds it extremely interesting. Security Uniforms’ manufacturer of choice for body armor is Protective Products Enterprises in Florida. One of the leading designers and manufacturers of state-of-the-art concealable and tactical body armor, “they have the best ballistics in the country,” he says. Again, Gottlieb speaks of the important relationships developed through the lengthy one-on-one time he spends fitting these customers. He gets very connected to them and truly comes to respect what they do.

And, as before, discretion is high. Gottlieb will only sell body armor face to face; never over the internet. One reason Gottlieb mentions is the importance of proper fit. This year the National Institute of Justice has mandated that “due to the increase in the number of law enforcement officer deaths, coupled with our renewed efforts to improve officer safety, in order to receive BVP (Bulletproof Vest Partnership) funds, jurisdictions must certify, during the application process, that all law enforcement agencies benefitting from the BVP Program have a written ‘mandatory wear’ policy in effect.” With this new safety initiative in effect, proper fit is even more imperative. In addition, Gottlieb doesn’t want the wrong people to have these products. So once again, Gottlieb has decided he will not sell body armor via the web.

But looking to the future, Gottlieb does see more emphasis on the use of the internet for the industry as a whole, while maintaining that there will always be a need for a brick-and-mortar store. For one thing, he says, “People need to get fitted properly.” Security Uniforms does have a web presence that reaches all over the country, not strictly Connecticut, where it serves as many as 1,600 customers or departments.

So how do the Gottliebs spend their time when they aren’t serving the in-store community? Well, Ross is likely to be found in the kitchen and Ilyse planning their next trip. After developing good friends in Northern Italy, Ross became a big fan of the region’s cooking. And Ilyse’s multi-lingual skills come in handy with her passion for travel. A son in the area rounds out their personal interests.

But the store remains the heart of their lives, and that includes the street they have called home for close to 100 years. Broad Street continues to be a vibrant retail district despite economic ups and downs and changing demographics, and the Gottliebs have enjoyed watching four generations of people walk by their store windows. At one time, New Britain was the “hardware capitol of the world,” home to Stanley Hardware and Fafnir Bearings, a manufacturer of bearings. After the World War II, when bearings were no longer needed and Stanley moved out of town, New Britain changed directions but the mostly Polish workforce remained. Now there are third- and fourth-generation Polish immigrants invigorating the community. “Our street is really great and vibrant.” It is considered the “other main street” but has more business and Gottlieb says it is often impossible to find a parking space on a Saturday afternoon. He points out a recent addition of a wonderful Dominican market and great new Puerto Rican restaurant as examples of the varied and lively community right outside their door.

But when it comes to a great community, as Gottlieb has discovered over the years, the best community is the one you build yourself.

Security Uniforms Inc.

48 Broad Street New Britain, CT 06053 Phone: (860) 224-1773 (877) 277-7846 www.securityuniforms.com info@securityuniforms.comMade to Measure logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We get to know them. It’s a community. We have coffee. Often people come in, see other people they know and end up staying for hours catching up. We think in terms of helping and serving, so we work after hours and volunteer as well. We’ll go after hours and outfit and service a department.
Ross Gottlieb Security Uniforms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ross Gottlieb speaks of the important relationships developed through the lengthy one-on-one time he spends fitting the customers with body armor. He gets very connected to them and truly comes to respect what they do.