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New Blood IN New Hampshire

A fresh approach has brought new life to Huntress Uniforms

Sometimes all that is needed is a fresh pair of eyes to turn things around. Tom Anderson bought Huntress Uniforms from Herb and Diann Steinberg, the parents of his stepfather, one year ago. Already, business is noticeably on an uptick this year over last.

It’s natural to wonder how Anderson at only 31 years old has achieved such great success in such a short time. For Anderson, making customer service his top priority is what it’s all about.

For example, not too long ago a lieutenant with the Bedford Fire Department passed away. The death occurred shortly after his shift when it would still be considered an on-duty death. The funeral was planned for a Monday with very little time for the department to prepare and get any Class A dress clothes they needed. So Anderson took all of the orders and drove two hours to the Anchor Uniform plant south of Boston during Friday rush hour traffic. He bought the uniform parts the department and surrounding departments would need for the funeral services including extra pants and coats and then drove back in what turned out to be a six-hour trip. But he was happy to do it, and the people involved were very appreciative.

On a day-to-day basis, Anderson is fully committed to keeping the store well stocked and getting the word out that Huntress Uniforms is under new ownership.

Anderson grew up in New Hampshire but moved to North Carolina about 10 years ago with his girlfriend, who soon after became his wife. He worked in the building supply trade at the time. Shortly after returning to New Hampshire four years later, his relatives needed help at their uniform store so Anderson went to work.

He became the general manager and managed the showroom floor. While his grandparents wanted to get out of the business and sell, it was hard for them to let go. So the sale took a while.

“They were getting up there in years,” says Anderson. “We watched some good customers go elsewhere due to a lack of proper customer service. Or, the stock was just not available. When I took over, the first thing I did was bring in about $10,000 worth of new stock in blue goods. People don’t want to wait two and half weeks to get stuff.”

In the past 15 months, Huntress has increased its inventory by more than $70,000 to $200,000. The firm boasts over 8,000 items in stock! That is where Anderson reports he puts all his profits, stating his goal is to grow to the point “we are busting at the seams.” As a young man with big visions, he sees Huntress eventually being the largest uniform dealer in New Hampshire, if it’s not true already.

Huntress moved to its current location about 10 years ago. It is located in a strip mall with restaurants and a salon. The shop itself is down the street from both a sports stadium and a cemetery. While perhaps not the most glamorous part of town, the business is located near numerous medical centers, hospitals, the police department, the turnpike and more. It’s clearly a good location for a uniform operation.

The physical space consists of about 2,000 square feet of retail floor. The showroom is composed of sections that match up to professional needs.

The view standing at the front door of the large rectangular-shaped store goes something like this: The center aisle is devoted to workwear and chef apparel. To the right is everything for the medical professional, such as scrubs and lab coats. Scan over to the left side of the showroom to find all the shirts, pants and jackets related to public safety.

In just the first half of this calendar year compared to the previous year, sales are up 55 percent. “Without the efforts we have been taking, we would most likely have continued to decline,” Anderson says.

Huntress stock and sales are split at about 50 percent blue goods, 30 percent healthcare and 20 percent other sectors. Anderson describes the economy in the area as rough for the past six years. He says that sales at the store certainly had decreased and there are many factors in that, of course. In just the first half of this calendar year compared to the previous year, sales are up 55 percent. “Without the efforts we have been taking, we would most likely have continued to decline.”

The space offers another 1,000 square feet in the backroom. This space is used for extra inventory and administrative offices. There are two seamstresses working for the company as well as one embroiderer. With a part-time showroom clerk in the mix, the total number of employees now stands at five.

Anderson points out that there is too much competition both locally and online not to treat customers with the respect they deserve. He believes customer service is a philosophy “going away in a lot of places, and we are trying to bring it back.”

Huntress Uniforms has been enjoying larger screen printing and embroidery orders than before as a result of being more aggressive with pricing. The company has three embroidery machines in house.

“I want get to the point that we have a warehouse running just for embroidery, with five- and 10-thousand piece orders,” says Anderson.

The community definitely has responded to being under new ownership. Keeping goods in stock and going the extra mile has clearly paid off.

Huntress advertises that it is the number one Horace Small dealer in New England. “We sell a lot of other VF products as well,” says Anderson. “Anchor Uniform has also been very successful for us as well as Barco Uniforms on the healthcare side. But we sell hundreds of brands and have great relationships with many suppliers.”

Anderson still sees trends moving towards a casual uniform look. He reports styles in his area of the country being less about buttondown shirts in favor of polo shirts. “You can debate the reasons for it, but all I know is people seem happier wearing it. Even if you think something is a fad, you can’t ignore what people are looking for at any time. We are changing with the times.”

The next action Anderson took after beefing up the inventory levels was contacting departments that had previously done business with the company but were no longer placing orders with them or shopping at the store. Anderson assured them there was new ownership and they would be making deliveries two or three times a week. The results show that Anderson is making good on his promises.

In its retail location in Manchester, the store serves a very diverse group of shoppers. The city itself is a former industry capital. There are a lot of mill buildings, many of which have become technology parks. There is still some manufacturing, but the growth in the area appears to be in technology. There are not many suburbs, unlike other metropolitan areas.

“We reach all of New Hampshire and some of Massachusetts and Vermont. But shoppers are mostly from New Hampshire,” he says.

According to Anderson, the surrounding area public safety departments are not usually handled by contract. Most of these professionals either receive an allowance or they have to pay for their own uniforms.

“Of the ones that do have contracts, we have a few,” says Anderson. “But this store is more for those that know we are here and come in on their own. We are going to be working on getting as many departments as possible to buy from us.”

Customer service is number one for Huntress. Anderson points out that there is too much competition both locally and online not to treat customers with the respect they deserve. Anderson believes customer service is a philosophy “going away in a lot of places, and we are trying to bring it back.”

As far as marketing efforts, Huntress moved its website to UniformMarket.

“Our website is working well. We should be doing more SEO work on it,” says Anderson. “We’ve been concentrating on inventory and filling the store. Once that is where it should be, we will work more on marketing budgets. A lot of people already know we are here on the blue goods side. On the scrubs side, we need to get the word out. Especially because that is where a lot of the money in inventory has gone.” Anderson has never attended any industry trade shows. As owner of a small company, he feels he is not at the point he can take off for three days and have someone else running the store who should be focusing on embroidery or alterations. Anderson would like to get out of store and see more customers, to be on the road more. Going the extra mile is getting noticed when Huntress makes in-person deliveries to local fire departments, for example.

“My favorite part of the business though is seeing customers walk out the door happy,” says Anderson. “It is amazing. In past years, we have really seen departments switch everything to us. They are telling us the pricing is good, service is good. And a happy customer makes a happy owner. We want to be first in mind for customer service. We are not just about making a buck. I’ve only been an owner for a year, but I saw what previous owners did right and also what they did wrong. Now I am taking the risks to change with the times.”

Huntress Uniforms
333 Valley St.
Manchester, NH 03103
(800) 446-8777
www.huntressuniforms.com