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Omega Uniform Systems: Expanding what it Means to be a Full-Service Dealer

To simply describe Omega Uniform Systems (formerly Omega Frontline Apparel) as a full-service uniform dealer doesn’t seem quite right. Of course, you can expect the same attention to detail found at other distributors and a broad range of products, but the Vancouver business is not your typical brick-and-mortar store.

“We are not confined to managing only uniforms for employees,” says President and Owner Margaret Ramsdale. “If a particular product does not exist or a custom design is required, we have the capability of making it. As complete outfitters, we can handle any type of products needed to get a job done.”

Omega functions more like a total program management company, with the ability to service all of a customer’s uniform needs. It sources globally and can supply equipment and safety gear as readily as it does clothing. Product selections are drawn not from the pages of one catalog but from many. “We have no vested interest in any one vendor but we do have a vested interest in providing the best products for our customers,” says Ramsdale. “Basically, any company can outsource all aspects of the management of their uniform program to us. We focus on the details of our customer’s uniforms so that they can focus on the details that make their company great.”

Just how Omega Uniform Systems focuses on those details brings up another distinction: the company facilitates ordering through an online system it developed. The proprietary system, called The Uniform Xpress Manager, allows employees to order uniforms, manage spending, track purchases and view their balance, among other things. Mangers, too, can review orders and create reports of items bought based on price, style, SKU, location or uniform class.

“Our platform streamlines the entire uniform procurement process by helping improve employee satisfaction, manage budgets/employee entitlements and reduce costs,” notes Ramsdale. “Most importantly, it’s simple to use.”

Barely a decade old, Omega Uniform Systems initially focused on hotels and their restaurants as its primary customer base. It set the tone from the outset, distinguishing itself as creative designers providing fashionable, contemporary clothing, an “un-uniform” company defined by innovation in frontline apparel rather than traditional designs found in catalogs. “We created new looks or fashion stories’ for hotels, weaving one theme throughout all positions from the doorman to the housekeeper,” says Ramsdale.

As the business grew, the size of its customers did as well. “The real challenge for these companies was how to deploy uniforms to large numbers of employees in a cost-effective way,” Ramsdale says. Once the customer’s operational challenges were simplified through Omega’s online ordering system, they were in a better position to focus more on garment design.

Omega’s diverse customer base includes clients on both sides of the border, and as would be expected, there are definite cultural distinctions. For one, “American customers are more vocal in their feedback than Canadians,” notes Ramsdale. There are other variations as well, highlighted in the description of the Flight Centre program that appears below.

But first, we take a look at an American full-service transportation management company providing its services at this February’s 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver, Canada. Employees are outfitted in garments furnished by Omega Uniform Systems.

Outfitting employees in cold weather gear may seem like a no brainer, but the event transportation program presented a unique set of circumstances.

First there was the matter of logistics. Moving spectators to and from events is key to a successful Olympic experience, but the task proved challenging from the outset. “There just aren’t enough buses in Canada to handle that type of crowd,” explains Ramsdale.

Enter a global event transportation management group, provider of event transportation solutions for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, who resolved the shortage by importing the necessary motor coaches and drivers from one of its American partners.

That move led to another obstacle: the transportation company has operations in Orlando, Fla., and its employees obviously had no clothing appropriate for the harsh winter weather.

With the February Games quickly approaching, the large event transportation management group turned to its own uniform supplier, Omega Uniform Systems.

Canadian winters can be summed up in a word cold but in reality, there are a couple of different weather patterns late in the season, and this influenced the products selected for the program. One standard outfit simply wouldn’t do, as the motor coach drivers would be traveling from Vancouver, where it is cold but rainy in February, to events in Whistler, where it is colder with lots of snow. “Layering becomes important in these situations,” says Ramsdale.

The solution? A waterproof three-in-one jacket with special functionality that addresses climate changes. Omega Uniform Systems selected a custom-manufactured Viking Tri-Zone jacket that is 100 percent waterproof, perfect for those rainy Vancouver days, colored in bright royal blue, assuring drivers are highly visible as well. The jacket also includes charcoal accents, a color that is prominent in the Edison Transport logo.

The logo itself became the next obstacle. Because the jackets are totally seam sealed, the embroidery had to be done first and later backed with a seal so that the waterproof feature wouldn’t be compromised. “Embroidering after manufacturing would have punctured the skin and caused leaks” notes Ramsdale. “You can produce a very functional program once you’re aware of the conditions under which the uniform is worn.”

Besides keeping the wearer dry, the jacket also includes a toggled waist and hem and Velcro cuffs to keep out the cold. Other features, such as underarm and back yoke zipper vents and articulated elbows, were designed to provide breathability and ease of movement when driving. Perhaps the quality most likely to please, nine yes nine large zippered pockets are strategically placed across the jacket to stash a cell phone, iPod, keys, gloves and any gear needed.

Drivers are also given a fleece jacket for colder weather. Keeping with the layering concept, it can be worn on its own or zipped into the outer jacket. There is also a snap-off hood that can be stuffed into the outer jacket collar for different climate conditions.

Other items in the program underscore its functionality. Pants, colored in black, are water resistant, made from a polyester/PVC fabric. Adjustable Velcro tabs on the hem help to keep out the snow, and an elastic waistband is designed for comfort. The pants also have boot zippers for easier dressing and articulated knees for better ease of movement. Similar to the jacket, the pants can be worn alone or layered with long underwear or regular pants.

An anti-pill polyester black fleece vest can be worn under the jacket, again ensuring protection from the elements. The vest also boasts more zippered pockets to keep valuables and keys secure so they don’t get lost in the snow.

Of course, no winter outfit would be complete without gloves and a hat. The black ski gloves by Auclair are windproof and breathable and have a fleece storm cuff to keep out the cold. Made from a poly/cotton blend, the royal blue logoed baseball cap offers comfort, high visibility and strong brand identification.

All garments are packed into a duffel bag for quick and easy deployment. Bags are marked according to size, so when drivers arrive, they can pick up their gear packed and ready to go. Logoed backpacks are included as well so that the drivers can take their lunches or snacks with them each day.

Unlike other programs, this one has a short shelf life; it ends once the 2010 Winter Olympics is over. “We do hope that if and when the customer has uniform needs in the future, they will think of us and call,” Ramsdale adds.

A Tale of Two Countries:
Flight Centre Canada/Flight Centre USA

Providing winter wear for sun worshipers is one thing; orchestrating a program for employees in the U.S. and Canada is an entirely different matter. Add that the program originated on an entirely different continent and you have the unique story of Flight Centre Canada/Flight Centre USA.

Flight Centre is an Australian-based travel agency with offices around the world. The corporate vision is to have one single “look,” but certain cultural preferences demanded some adaptation. Ramsdale says, “The suiting fabric used in Australia is a wool/Lycra combination that requires dry cleaning. In North America, dry cleaning is prohibitively expensive, so we had to develop a similar fabric in a polyester/viscose blend that is machine wash and dry.”

The knit tops in the Australian program, a rayon/poly blend, also had to be changed. Their care instructions called for hand washing, anathema to U.S. and Canadian citizens who demand easy care fabrics that can be tossed in the washer and dryer.

There were differences within North America as well. In Canada, the sizing is skewed to smaller sizes; in the U.S., larger sizes are more popular. Comfort details like pleats and elastic in the waistband are in high demand in the American market, while Canadians generally shun these options. “The pleated pant was so unpopular in Canada that it has been discontinued,” notes Ramsdale.

For women, however, the pant debate rages on. Omega supplies a mid-rise pant with a contour waist to both Flight Centre Canada and its U.S. counterpart. But Canadian women wanted a low-rise pant, while in the U.S., high rise is in high demand.

Omega Uniform Systems maintains warehouses on each side of the border, enabling it to better track inventory. Still, there are instances which prove challenging. Take, for example, the Flight Centre logo. The company has numerous divisions, each with its own brand and logo. Some are used exclusively in the U.S., others in Canada, making inventory management a daunting experience.

What’s the result of all this? In order to replicate the program and to provide that one “look” across continents, each garment, including ties and belts, are custom manufactured for the 1,000 Flight Centre Canada employees and their 2,000 American counterparts.

A navy suit jacket is provided to both male and female employees. This classic piece features two-button styling and a European-influenced contoured fit for a look that is both professional and timeless. Tone on tone logo embroidery is subtle yet sophisticated, and extra touches, like a contrasting grey lining with burgundy piping, further enhance the look and receive high marks from wearers. A light blue or white shirt with a tone on tone satin stripe is worn underneath and is made of cotton/poly blend with a hint of Lycra for comfort and stretch. A navy poly/viscose pant completes the basic outfit. Reflecting cultural differences, pants are available in both flat and pleated styles.

Ties and sweaters accentuate the polished appearance. Men’s and women’s sweaters are custom designed by Omega and manufactured by Cobmex. The 100 percent Acrylic sweaters include DuraPil, a special treatment applied to high-quality Acrylic yarn for superior durability and pill control. Men’s ties are navy striped in burgundy or tan depending on the division in which the employee works. Made of 100 percent polyester and manufactured by Richard Ties of NYC, they are an exact copy of the Australian program.

Women have the option of wearing a short-sleeve navy dress, patterned after the one that is worn in Australia. It includes a button front with a hidden placket and a dropped waist with belt loops that accommodate a narrow navy leather belt.

Sorting through the program’s complexities is simplified by Omega’s online ordering system, The Xpress Uniform Manager. Obvious differences like size ranges are easily configured, as are those not readily apparent. For example, French is Canada’s other official language, but perhaps an American customer may wish to have Spanish as the language choice. That option is easily accommodated by the system. And because it is web based, it is accessible 24/7, oblivious to time zones.

“We use UPS for shipping within the USA and across the border in Canada, but the flexibility of the program allows integration with any carrier and so can provide global tracking information,” says Ramsdale. It even has multi-currency capabilities to better serve American customers.

Growth in America is a key element in Omega Uniform Systems’ strategy for the future, and it continues to invest heavily in the market and research vendors in the U.S. As for the economic downturn, Ramsdale, like most savvy business owners, sees it as a benefit. “One of my favorite quotes is dislocation drives opportunity.’ With the current economic situation, many corporations and government agencies are looking to depart from the status quo and anxious to embrace new business models that deliver greater value to the organization. We are finding that we’re well positioned to provide that value.”

Omega Uniform Systems is a Women’s Business Enterprise National Council certified business located in Ferndale, Wash., and Vancouver, British Columbia. To learn more, visit www.uniformsystems.com.


Margaret Ramsdale,
president and owner,
Omega Uniform Systems

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2010 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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