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It’s 2016 – Who Needs Unifroms?

Imagine its 2016, the big first wave of those 74 million Baby Boomers are turning 70, and theres no denying the effects of time on the human body. Bypass surgeries, knee replacements, hearing aids, cataract surgery, physical therapy after a broken hip thats just the tip of the medical iceberg. The cost of a hospital stay has become even more prohibitive so the cadre of home healthcare workers is larger than ever. And dont forget those Boomer teeth; dentists and their assistants are working hard to help them keep whatevers left.

But hey, forget about all those worries and woes and head for the casino! There is nothing like a few laughs and a chance to win a couple of hundred bucks to take your mind off your aching knee. Maybe a nice dinner afterward at one of those spectacular restaurants with a celebrity chef, and if the one-armed bandit took every last cent, theres always Burger King. Not much choice in between these days.

And if it seems like security guards and police officers are everywhere these days, it makes sense. The world is a nervous place. Even if there havent been any more terrorist attacks on American soil, there are plenty in a lot of other countries, and its better to be safe than sorry.

If the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics is right, thats a glimpse of where America will be less than a decade from now. And for those who provide uniforms to medical, hospitality, security and law enforcement industries, its going to be a very good run because, from now through 2016, they will be among the fastest growing industries in America.

According to the bureaus newest data just released in November, the 30 occupations projected to have the largest job growth through 2016 account for 8.1 million new jobs about half of all total job growth in America. Almost half of those occupations are in service industries, including healthcare support, food preparation, food service and personal care.

The bureau is anticipating some very big increases in many of these occupations: Home health aides up 49 percent, medical assistants up 35 percent, janitors and cleaners up 14 percent, security guards up 17 percent, and food preparation workers, nursing assistants and landscapers up 18 percent each. Jobs on the rise in the homeland security category include everything from emergency medical technicians, paramedics and ambulance drivers to police officers, firefighters and immigration and customs officials. And theyll all need uniforms.

Security will grow quite a bit because the state of the world is becoming more important to us, and security is moving to the private sector from the public sector, says Steve Robinson, executive vice president of Liberty Uniforms. Career apparel in the hospitality industry is growing a lot, too. We all want to be entertained.

Projections are already reality for At Work Uniforms, an Alabama retailer that just signed a new contract to supply apparel to 4,000 Marriott, Hyatt and Holiday Inn hotel properties. The current number of our employees is going to have to be increased since our company is growing right along with the Sun Belts growth in this industry, says President and CEO Chuck Campbell, who is projecting a need for 15 to 20 percent more employees.

I agree with the projections; I see it here already, says Jeff Alpern, president of Ohio Uniforms. We mostly work with government providers people who provide medical assistance like home health aides to low-income areas. Theres definitely an increasing need for uniforms in the medical sector already. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic is now one of the largest employers in the state of Ohio.

The aging of the population is one obvious key driver, according to Alpern. Thats why theres a Walgreens on every corner now, he says. When we were growing up, there was a gas station on every corner to fuel up our hot rods. Now theres a drug store on every corner where those gas stations used to be, so we can get our meds.

Alpern expects a second job surge in the medical industry when the children of Baby Boomers start aging and need more medical attention. In 40 years well see the boomer echo generation, so growth in the medical industry is assured for the next century, he says.

The growth in the hospitality industry is on track with government projections, according to Gary Schultz, president and CEO of Edwards Garment, but hes not seeing an overall expansion. Certain pockets of the food and hotel side of the hospitality will increase that much, but weve noticed a slowdown in the mid-range segments. Restaurants like Applebees and TGIFridays are being affected by the reduction in discretionary income, he says. Theyre not being visited as frequently by patrons because of general economic conditions. In some cases, theyre thinking about closing outlets; in other cases, they already have closed some locations.

But while mid-range dining is being squeezed, the other two ends of the spectrum are expanding, according to Shultz. The pick-up in fast food is a trickle-down effect. People who used to go to Applebees are eating in fast food places now because its cheaper.

Theres a high-end boom too. The hotel/casino area is doing really well. Its an entertainment choice more people are making, says Shultz, who also sees growth in luxury dining. Some chefs are like major league sports figures, being seduced to one restaurant or another. These world-renowned chefs are mega-stars in their own right.

Gary Schultz of Edwards Garment says, In the higher-range restaurants and hotels, its all about look, and they want what they want. Hes getting increasing requests for uniform attire that reflects overall restaurant color and design themes, and he expects that trend to continue as well.

The chef is often the one making uniform apparel decisions now, rather than the manager of the restaurant or the owner, and theyve got their own thoughts about the colors, the fabrics, the cut. Were finding that we have to do modifications for these customers. We expect this part of the trend to continue and grow. Were gearing up a lot more for this kind of uniform demand, says Schultz.

One of the ways Schultz is gearing up is figuring out how to create specialty apparel in smaller quantities that are both affordable and timely. Were working with our suppliers so that we can produce many different colors and create custom designs but not have a long wait for smaller quantities. Before, wed ask clients to buy a thousand of something, now we can ask them to just buy a few hundred of a special color or fabric, says Schultz, who often manufactures in another location but makes final modifications in its own facility before shipping to the customer.

As for law enforcement projections coming into fruition, a contributing factor might be who ends up in the White House this year. If a democratic administration comes into power, they will probably loosen up budgets for states and local municipalities. Democratic governments tend to be more likely to fund urban area requests, says Steve Leventhal, vice president of Leventhal Ltd.

As the hospitality, healthcare and security sectors expand, uniform apparel providers are expecting not only larger orders but also requests for different kinds of apparel. For example, heightened awareness of terrorism and resulting fear has prompted a shift in the style of security apparel, according to Leventhal.
The security look used to be softer, a blazer and white shirt. But within the last decade, our customers are reverting back toward a military-type look. That gives the public a certain sense of comfort, a feeling of being protected by somebody who looks like theyre in uniform, says Leventhal, who expects the trend to continue.

Fred Heldman, senior vice president of Fechheimer Company, says, Law enforcement clients are looking for apparel that performs and an appearance that makes a good impression on the public. The job description of a law enforcement officer has changed over the years. Theyre required to be more active now, so uniform performance will become increasingly important.

Can the uniform industry handle increased levels of demand in serving their customers in all these fast-growth sectors? The answer is a resounding yes, at least in part because of new manufacturing practices not how, but where.

The industry as a whole is prepared for that level of growth, primarily because theres been a dramatic shift toward manufacturing offshore, Robinson says. Twenty years ago, everything was being produced domestically. High-growth demand might have been more challenging then in terms of having to retool, buy more machinery, get more production time.

Robinson continues, The rules have changed, and theres so much being done overseas, that the only thing you need to do now is increase the size of your purchase order offshore. Liberty Uniforms is a great example, both importing from overseas and also manufacturing in the United States and Mexico.

Occupations with the largest job growth, 2006-2016
Occupation Title Number Employment Change
2006 2016 Numeric Percent
Registered nurses 2,505 3,092 587 23.5
Retail salespersons 4,477 5,034 557 12.4
Customer service representative 2,202 2,747 545 24.8
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 2,503 2,955 452 18.1
Office clerks, general 3,200 3,604 404 12.6
Personal and home care aides 767 1,156 389 50.6
Home health aides 787 1,171 384 48.7
Postsecondary teachers 1,672 2,054 382 22.9
Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners 2,387 2,732 345 14.5
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants 1,447 1,711 264 18.2
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks 2,114 2,377 264 12.5
Waiters and waitresses 2,361 2,615 255 10.8
Child care workers 1,388 1,636 248 17.8
Executive secretaries and administrative assistants 1,618 1,857 239 14.8
Computer software engineers, applications 507 733 226 44.6
Accountants and auditors 1,274 1,500 226 17.7
Landscaping and groundskeeping workers 1,220 1,441 221 18.1
Elementary school teachers, except special education 1,540 1,749 209 13.6
Receptionists and information clerks 1,173 1,375 202 17.2
Truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer 1,860 2,053 193 10.4
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 1,470 1,656 186 12.7
Security guards 1,040 1,216 175 16.9
Carpenters 1,462 1,612 150 10.3
Management analysts 678 827 149 21.9
Medical assistants 417 565 148 35.4
Computer systems analysts 504 650 146 29.0
Maintenance and repair workers, general 1,391 1,531 140 10.1
Network systems and data communications analysts 262 402 140 53.4
Food preparation workers 902 1,040 138 15.3
Teacher assistants 1,312 1,449 137 10.4

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, published in the November 2007 Monthly Labor Review

So does that make offshore manufacturing a positive or a negative? I prefer to think of it as a transfer, says Robinson. The growth in our economy is partially due to the low-priced imports. If the door to production outside the United States closed tomorrow, inflation in this country would skyrocket because the cost of our labor and products. And that would lead to a slowdown in the economy. But its a global economy now, the world is getting smaller, and everyone is looking to save money. The only way to do that is to buy offshore. But I can see bigger and bigger problems resulting from a loss of supply here in the states.

The decision to manufacture at home or go offshore can depend on the product, according to Schultz. We manufacture offshore Mexico, Central America, some in China. But to meet client needs for a specialized, customized kind of garment, usually in smaller quantities, it requires working with people closer to home. You often just dont have the time or flexibility working with people offshore unless you want to air freight things in, which is an outrageous cost due to fuel prices now.

The reasons for avoiding imports are more personal for Ed Straight, president and CEO of Southeastern Shirt. I dont want to sound corny, he says, but my enjoyment is working with my people in my plant. Im a hands-on CEO. I enjoy working on the plant floor along with everybody else.

Straight says, I chose not to import until the last couple of years until everything that was petroleum-based started going up and the margins started decreasing. Then I decided it was time to jump in with everyone else, but I will keep all my domestic manufacturing. I enjoy it, and to me, as a private company, as long as I make a good living and enjoy what Im doing, thats all Im looking for. If I was a public company, it would be different.

Looking at the business potential of those 2016 projections, Straight echoes the sentiments of his colleagues when he says, We can handle 20 percent growth, and we would welcome it.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2008 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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