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Grand Plans for Galli Uniform Co.

JGalli Uniformohn Galli is a dynamic, energetic guy. That is apparent within the first ten seconds of talking to him. It’s not that he’s boastful of the successful business he has created in Galli Uniform, though he has reason to be proud. It’s not a fearlessness of what lies ahead for both himself and the company, though both have overcome some impressive obstacles. Instead, Galli’s energy seems to come from a passion for the industry he serves and a pride at the success he is enjoying.

Galli Uniform comes from the most humble beginnings. From a single hat sourced from Richardson Sporting Goods in Oregon state, Galli Uniform has grown to thousands of products, hundreds of clients and more than 3,000 square feet of constantly changing retail space. The Northern California company is celebrating a decade of storefront service to police, fire, public safety, medical and culinary customers, but the story of Galli Uniform itself stretches even further back.

Galli had been a police and public safety officer for a few years before joining the Sunnyvale, Calif., Department of Public Safety. The department encompassed police, fire and emergency medical services.

“Nobody seemed to have any quality embroidered goods at the firehouse. When I was going through the fire academy, we started making some hats,” Galli says. He sourced a hat and got them embroidered for the rest of the department. “That’s how the initial conceptual idea of the business got going. I was just making simple hats for the guys I worked with.”

Galli UniformLittle did Galli know at the time that this would be the start of an entire change in career. Word spread among departments, and Galli was soon asking a friend to use his idle embroidery machine to make more hats and fill more orders. He ran the “hobby,” as he calls it with a hearty laugh, out of the trunk of his car, selling three or four items mostly to fire departments. Galli Gear ran that way for a year or so before he got a call from the chief of the central fire department saying they weren’t going to do business with him anymore.

“I said, Why? Did I do something wrong?’ He said, No you give us great service. You treat my guys great. But if you want to do any more business with my department, I need you to buy Nomex shirts, Nomex pants, boots, belts and a station jacket. Until you can do that, don’t talk to me anymore.’ They forced me into running an actual business,” Galli says.

The only competition had been a chain of stores that had recently gone out of business, so Galli stepped up to fill the need for local, knowledgeable uniform apparel service. He had worn the uniform for years, and his mother’s family had been tailors in the San Francisco area. So he did some research using Made to Measure as a resource, typed up a price sheet, added the motto “Clothing America’s Heroes” that is still used today, and presented it to the chief. After a few moments of disbelief and Galli reassuring the chief that those were in fact the correct prices, Galli landed the order.

Galli UniformWhen the full order arrived, it took over Galli’s living room. He and his wife, Lisa, went shopping for a commercial serger, blind hemmer, free-arm machine and presser. The pair quickly set up shop and got the order out the door, creating a very happy customer. As more manufacturing salesmen and potential customers dropped by the house, Galli thought it best to move out to the detached two-car garage. He sold the cars he was housing there, finished off a showroom area and moved the machines outside. He would work a shift at the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and then return home to work a few hours in the garage filling orders.

Around 1996, a friend at the DPS asked Galli if he knew anything about the internet. “He said he had taken a one-day class and wanted to build me a website,” Galli says. Despite the lack of a credit card machine at that point, Galli gave the green light. His friend built the first site with just a few of the products for fire services: bags, boots, jackets. “I would come home at night and find a few fax orders and suddenly there was an internet order for a pair of boots from Tennessee. I remember that first order. He was a park ranger, and he liked using small businesses and liked our prices. Every day, I’d come home and there would be a few more orders and a few more. One thing led to another, and it just kept growing.”

The business proved to be the perfect fallback when Galli hurt his back on the job in 1998. Though Galli traded the beat job for an office position, the pain was “unrelenting,” he says, and he finally had to retire from the DPS in 2000. He and Lisa sold their house and moved to a smaller one to reduce bills. For a few months, the business was on hold because Galli’s pain was so severe. “We prayed about it because we’re a Christian family. There wasn’t room at the new, small house to do the business, so we just didn’t know what to do.”

Galli UniformWith no clear direction, the couple prayed for a sign from God and found it in the form of a small business card taped to a window of a vacant, run down house. They discovered it was a commercial lot with a Chinese restaurant that had closed due to lack of adequate parking. The property alone was worth more than the owners were asking, so the couple used what they had made from selling their larger house and bought it.

“My two sons, Chris and Mike, were 11 and 9 years old at the time, and they helped me gut the place, and I had a contractor for some of the work. We opened our first retail shop in April 2000. It was 1,150 square feet small!” Galli exclaims with a disbelieving laugh. “It was so small we kept the sewing machine in the garage in the back. We hired a tailor just a few days a week who would come in and work out there. I had a retired fire chief working for me, and some days we just didn’t sell anything.”

Five years of reinvesting constantly and skipping most paychecks helped build the business. In 2004, Galli Uniform outgrew its tight space once more and spurred a move to a 3,000-square-foot facility in the current Capitola, Calif., location. Galli touts the small-town feel of the area and the pro-business attitude that made it easy to get a business license in “about 24 hours,” according to Galli.

He led the renovation of the former dry cleaners, volunteering to do the cleanup of the former tenants in exchange for a month’s free rent. In August 2005, Galli Uniform opened with its energy-efficient, bright, wide open retail store. Blue goods come from manufacturers like Blauer, Perfection, Spiewak, United Uniform, Workrite, 5.11, Streamlight, Aker Leather and Boston Leather. The business added medical scrubs and culinary apparel to the standard blue goods they were already known for. Medical apparel comes from suppliers like Koi, Landau, Cherokee, Dickies, Dansko and Prestige Medical. Shoes are sourced from Danner Boots, Rocky, Southwest Boot, Chippewa Boot, Red Back Boots and others.

Galli UniformGalli says, “For our size of store, we are really efficient with low utilities. I’ve heard other stores our size paying thousands of dollars in lighting, heat, air conditioning, electricity and other bills. We designed our store really focused on reducing our utilities, so we pay about $350 in utility bills per month.”

Galli worked with a local college to garner design and marketing advice. Instead of carpet, the floor is a polished hard surface, and all the round racks are on wheels. This lets the staff rearrange the merchandise on a whim, giving the store a fresh look frequently. It also helps Galli, a self-described clean freak, keep an organized, neat, well-presented store. He stresses that it’s definitely not a warehouse-type store.”Our ability to change things around so easily means we feel fresh and upbeat, like a Gap. We like to get the young guys in here right out of the academy, and they really seem to like what they see,” Galli says.

That same attitude carries over to the website, which is getting a redesign and powerful new tools thanks to the UniformMarket Store System. Galli says the previous website was a drain on time and money.

“It took forever to get [the old website] updated. We would pay someone to fix things and make changes, but there was little value or income being generated. We got a lot of complaints,” Galli says.

Galli’s son, Chris, is heading up the website transition. At age 22, he is working for Galli Uniform until he attends the police academy in 2011. When his dad started exploring the UniformMarket Store System, Chris couldn’t help looking over his shoulder.

Galli Uniform“It was amazing! It included everything we would need to really get it going,” says Chris. “I saw how everything was already established. They had it all set up and ready for us to customize. We can control it all, but they still offer help anytime we need it.”

Chris is working on populating and organizing the products on the website. Both father and son enthusiastically compliment the tutorials. Chris admits there is still much work to be done; even after the site is established thoroughly, there is still promotion and advertising to ramp up. Most of the advertising for Galli Uniform currently is done through direct marketing. Yellow pages, newspaper and radio have all been tried and either failed or are outdated methods, Galli says. It’s the direct mailings to departments, flyers in officer mailboxes and word of mouth that is bringing new customers through the doors.

It can be a struggle to maintain a family-owned business in the California economy. With eight employees, Galli Uniform runs on a lean staff. Every employee is trained how to measure customers correctly, and Galli himself jumps in on any job that needs to be done. He says he isn’t afraid to push a dust mop or stock inventory. He hopes his example encourages his staff to take initiative too.

“You have to stop being narrow,” Galli advises other retailers. He speaks from experience because the medical and culinary products have helped balance the effects of reductions in police and fire departments. “That’s where a young company like us has a leg up; we’re not slow to change and we have the enthusiasm. We tend to work with smaller manufacturers to get custom products made, and we seek out U.S. manufacturing. If we want a quality product, we send them a sample of what we want made and how we want it made. They have to make it better and cheaper to get the order.”Galli works hard to negotiate low pricing from manufacturers, but he says he’s willing to pay more for quality, American-made products. The customers seem to really appreciate the work Galli and his staff put into each sale. They know they are buying from a fellow officer. Galli uses his public safety background and his Christian faith to provide an environment of care and support for officers too. It’s a business, he says, but it’s also an outreach.

“We’re here for more than to just make a buck,” Galli says. “We keep our prices low, our service high, and we treat everyone with honor and respect. I sleep well at night knowing I come in here and give it my all and my staff does the same.”

Galli Uniforms
4242 Capitola Rd.
Capitola, CA 95010
(831) 475-1911

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2011 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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