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Lasting Legacy

By Kathy Halper

Janet Smith has uniforms in her blood. At the age of four, Janet helped her parents iron pants by standing on a step stool to reach the “big monster iron” her parents had installed in their home business. “Can you imagine this little four year old?” she asks incredulously.

Today Smith is the woman in charge of Landsman Uniforms. Located in Mays Landing, N.J., the store covers 6,000 square feet and carries over 600 suppliers. With impeccable service and an eye on today’s technology, Landsman Uniforms continues to grow and prosper, serving all of southern New Jersey and spreading into northern New Jersey as well.

In the beginning, William Landsman, Smith’s grandfather, opened a general department store in Atlantic City. It was 1932 and Landsman’s Department Store sold everything from clothing to household goods, sewing notions and bedding to men’s and women’s swimsuits. When large discount stores threatened the department store model of the ’50s, it was transformed into a menswear shop.

In 1962 Smith’s parents, Cissy and Max Landsman, ventured out on their own, starting a uniform business in their Ventnor, N.J., home. They continued to work at the department store and raise five children. But the uniform business did so well, thanks in no small part to little Janet’s ironing skills, that they soon moved into the back of Landsman’s Department Store. Soon after, it was clear that the uniform business had a bigger future than the struggling menswear industry. Landsman Uniforms took over the entire department store space where it remains a local retail landmark.

Smith went to work with her parents when she was 19. Her parents retired some 20 years ago. Since then, she has run the business with her husband, Dennis, though she remains the sole owner. At one time they expanded and opened another store in Bridgeton, N.J., that was run by Dennis’s mother. They then moved that store to a Vineland, N.J., location. Twelve years ago, the other stores were closed, and the business moved entirely to the Mays Landing store. She says, “It is a great location for us. We are in a shopping plaza that is centrally located in Atlanta County. There is great foot traffic, and we are near major highways.” Efforts to broaden the Landsman reach come through hospital shows and payroll deduction.

While proud of her family legacy, Smith is keenly in step with today’s market. The store’s showroom takes up about 4,000 square feet and carries a large selection of brands. Blauer, Blackhawk, Fobus, Elbeco, 5.11 Tactical, Under Armour and Streamlight are just some of the names found on the floor. Clients served include those in the police, fire, security, correctional, medical, restaurant and career apparel departments. Of course, the close proximity to Atlantic City provides an incredible sales opportunity in the casino industry. And for 14 years, Smith has cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship which has resulted in Landsman Uniforms supplying the diverse uniform and career apparel needs of the nearby casinos.

A large shoe and boot department covers a complete wall and carries Rocky, Bates, Reebok, Magnum Boots, 5.11, Under Armour and Timberland brands.

The first thing one notices upon entering Landsman Uniforms is the well-organized scrubs area. When asked about medical apparel, Smith notes that “the trend for many years was prints. We see a trend away from that now. Many of the hospitals are changing to solids.” Clients in the medical field include doctor’s offices, hospitals, individuals and nursing homes. Some of the name brands Landsman Uniforms carries are Landau, Dickies, Jockey, Koi, Grey’s Anatomy, Peaches, Wink and Med Couture.

Continuing beyond the scrubs, visitors to the store will see “massive amounts of equipment. We have a huge display for law enforcement – police and security accessories, leather and nylon.” As for trends in law enforcement, Smith sees “many departments going to a Class B look. This is not a new thing but we see it continuing. Class A is reserved for special events. But for comfort, they have been moving to Class B.” And Landsman is one the few businesses in the country to handle Federal Bureau of Prisons. “We handle county, state, and federal contracts which include many officers.”

When asked about the aforementioned casino industry, Smith foresees their security apparel trend going in the opposite direction. “They went from a formal look to casual and are now returning to a more formal look.”

Indeed, Smith seems to have a well-informed opinion on all of her department trends. “We’ve also done hotels, which tend to be more casual – polos, button downs and slacks. So, we certainly stock more casual items than blazers these days.”

In addition to her well-stocked storefront, Smith is very proud of her ability to offer exceptional service. Same-day alterations, on-premise monograming, screen printing, computerized engraving and heat sealing capabilities are all available to customers. “Nine out of ten garments we sell are customized in some way,” leading her to stress the importance of having imprintable technology on hand. In fact, most custom work is done on a while-you-wait basis. Two full-time alteration and embroidery employees handle everything from custom designed logos to large-volume orders.

In addition to bringing technology inside the store, Smith embraces the many ways it can advance her business outside its walls.
A national 1-800 number is available to facilitate service, especially for the casino and industrial uniform accounts. National sales are made through www.LandsmanUniforms.com. And marketing is best handled these days through email.

“The regular post office has become cost prohibitive. Between the website and Facebook and Google, we can really reach people.” Smith shows how technology is changing the way people shop. “They want to know what is special right now. Immediately. They come in and they stand next to an item and right on their smartphone they are comparison shopping.” But while they compare products elsewhere, Smith notes that 90 percent of purchases will get customized, and this is where a store like hers is irreplaceable. “The unique thing about our store is we handle all the alterations while they wait. That’s what makes the uniform store so valuable, that we can do all those things.”

Landsman Uniforms is also unusual because of Smith herself. While owning a uniform store may have seemed natural for her, those in the industry are often surprised to see a woman at the helm. But from Smith’s point of view, it’s a great thing. “Women are really able to focus on the customer service side of it. We have a different perspective and focus.” With more women in the workforce, Smith sees the benefit of having women wait on women. “We are very conscious of fit, for example. It sounds like a minor issue but when we are training people to do embroidery and they have to work on a female coat, I will ask them to come to me first because, as women, we are very conscious of where things are placed on the front of our bodies.”

As for any women out there considering opening up their own uniform store, Smith has some daunting but sage advice based on her many years in the industry. “Plan on having $250,000 to invest in inventory and plan on not taking a paycheck for three to five years. You must have a fully staffed store. We are open 50 to 60 hours per week. We only close on Sundays. You need a fully functioning website. We use UniformMarket because the products are updated on a regular basis.”

With such a strong family legacy, it is natural to wonder if there will be a fourth generation to come into Landsman Uniforms. Janet and Dennis have two sons who are currently in high school and college, and the younger one has expressed some interest in entering the family business. And while Janet has siblings, she was the only one to show any interest in joining the business years ago.

Happily, after all these years, Landsman Uniforms is still a source of pride and joy for Smith. “I love what I do. I truly care about how our customers look. I want them to feel good about their purchases. Yes, they have to buy them because it is a uniform, but we want to make it a pleasant shopping experience.”

While the Smiths continue to keep in step with the constant changes in the uniform industry, it is hard to not marvel at the Landsman legacy. William Landsman may have started a department store in Mays Landing 85 years ago, but in doing so, what he really built was a landmark in their community and a bright future for generations to come.

Landsman Uniforms

4450 Black Horse Pike, Suite 3958

Mays Landing, NJ 08330

(609) 909-1000

www.landsmanuniforms.com