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Not Just for Kids

ChildrensWorld

By Jackie Rosselli

Don’t let the name be misleading; Children’s World Uniform is much more than a school uniform store. Sure, customers can shop for school clothing, but they also can pick up wear for landscaping business or promotional products for a corporate event. Need a shirt monogrammed? Children’s World offers full embroidery services on its second floor. Maybe the kids would like an educational toy to go with that uniform; that’s also at Children’s World. And to top it all off, customers can even find postage stamps and package mailing services at the Contract Post Office in the back of the store.

Children’s World Uniforms operates as if it were five or six businesses rolled into one, and by doing so, it has taken the concept of one-stop shopping to new heights.

Children1This of course is by design, part of a master plan conceived by owners Tim and Cynthia Holliday, who took over the store in 2000. “It may not seem to make sense at first glance, but our strategy is to get people into the store, to do everything for a customer, from their uniforms to their promotions to providing other services,” Tim says. The Contract Post Office is a perfect example. “It’s not a big money maker for us, but it does drive traffic,” he notes. “I don’t have to advertise as much, customers just come in, and once they’re here, I can market my products to them.”

It wasn’t always this way. Children’s World was started in 1964, selling children’s clothes, cribs and toys. The business was successful for quite some time, but then in the 1980s the fashion world changed, and children’s dress apparel fell out of style. Other opportunities soon materialized that would change the business model: a local private school came and asked the store to take over its uniform program. In came Children’s World first uniform program; out went the cribs. Soon after that, the local Boy Scouts of America office was going to consolidate, so Children’s World started stocking their uniforms and badges too. Eventually, the dress wear part of the business faded away, replaced by a thriving school uniform business. Currently, the store provides uniforms for 30 area schools and functions as a mini-council for the scouts, one of only a handful of stores that can make that claim.

The store is located in Florida, land of the retiree, where centering a business around children may not seem to make sense. But Children’s World is in Sarasota, and the city’s age demographic has changed drastically over the past 30 years, trending downward. The sales staff fields inquiries from schools on a regular basis, and Holliday says there’s plenty of business yet to tap.

children5It was the Hollidays who first brought decoration in-house. Tim himself even learned how to embroider. “We noticed that people were getting their apparel from us but were having it decorated elsewhere, so we saw an opportunity,” Tim says. “We learned quickly that we were more detail- and quality-oriented than others, and that part of the business took off.”

In-house embroidery spawned a new market: private companies and not-for-profits. Children’s World provides shirts and embroidery for landscapers, retail outlets and even law offices. The lion’s share of the business in this space comes from non-profits, which call on the store for their apparel needs as well as promotional products.

Six years ago, Children’s World added promotional products to its ever-growing line. The store is an ASI distributor and “does everything from soup to nuts with a logo,” according to Tim.

Their approach to selling is simple: no order is too small, every customer counts. “If you just need a couple of shirts embroidered, we’ll do it,” says Holliday. “Others stores don’t want that business, but we do.”

It is a philosophy from another era, and in some respects, Children’s World is a throwback. In a digital age, the store is unabashedly old school. The majority of sales happen at the store, everything is stocked ahead of time. “This is customer service the old fashioned way; it’s all done in person,” says Tim. “We know what every school needs. We help with the fitting and take them through the whole process. We pride ourselves on that.” Tim and Cynthia have talked about expanding their customer base with a more aggressive online presence, but that approach has been tabled for now.

Holliday believes the business would change if it went beyond its local reach. “Sure, we could sell out of the area, but we’d lose that personalization,” he says. “We’d be like any other mail order company, and that just doesn’t fit out business model.”

It’s a model that doesn’t come cheap. The type and amount of school uniforms stocked requires “a huge capital investment,” Holliday admits. “But nine out of ten times nobody’s going to open up down the street from you because of the expense involved, so it’s a fairly secure business.”

children6Besides, the physical presence of Children’s World is unlike any other store that competition could imagine. Inside, the support beams are trees, the dressing rooms are individual cottages, the Boy Scouts hang out in a fishing camp, and the checkout is disguised as a lemonade stand. “Kids don’t always want to shop for uniforms, so we try to make it fun for them and an easy experience for parents,” notes Holliday.

Outside, Florida-friendly landscaping greets customers, and metal bicycle racks in the shape of children watch as pedestrians stroll by. In fact, the store recently won a Commercial Beautification award for its efforts.

children7Five years ago, Children’s World moved from a 2,400-square-foot rented space to its current location, a decision that has helped grow the business. The store now has 5,000 square feet of selling space, 1,000 square feet for embroidery and printing, and another 1,000 for offices, a backroom and storage for a total of 7,000 square feet split among two floors.

Year-round there are 10 staff members in the store – four fulltime (not including Tim or Cynthia) and the rest range from high school students who work a few hours after school to others who work 30 hours each week.

“We hire extra during back-to-school time and the holidays to help us through the busy seasons,” notes Holliday. Even college students who have previously worked at the store return during their breaks. “They know the business, and they get to earn some money, so it’s a win-win all around,” notes Holliday.

And then there are the toys. Children’s World has always sold toys, but in the nascent years, they were a small add-on sale, a reward given by parents to children who behaved while shopping for a uniform. Today, they are an experience in their own right, thanks to some clever merchandising by the Hollidays. Like the physical surrounding in which they dwell, these toys are unlike others: hard-to-find classics, educational games, crafts and one-of-a-kind items that are fun yet intellectually stimulating. All of the toys and games are open and ready to play with, so kids and parents can take them for a test run before they buy.

To find just the right toy mix, the Hollidays hit the trade show circuit, often accompanied by a secret weapon, their 10-year-old daughter. At a recent event, she asked her parents to reconsider a toy they had rejected; it wound up being their biggest seller of the holiday season.

Their daughter lists as her greatest accomplishment “making my first sale,” a reference to the time she convinced a parent to purchase a toy from the shop.

“She understands the concept of business better than most high school graduates,” beams Holliday. As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Children’s World and
Children’s World Uniform Supply, Inc.
4525 Bee Ridge Rd.
Sarasota, FL 34233
(941) 955-6999
www.childrensworlduniform.com