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Patience Rewarded: Superior Uniforms Toledo PD Grabs Top Award in Best Dressed Contest

Potential. Thats the word used by Bill Darah to describe the uniform program of the Toledo Police Department. I was always impressed by their staunch adherence to specifications and demand for quality, says Darah, CEO and co-owner of Superior Uniform Sales along with his cousin, Louis Darah, who serves as president. As the program evolved over time, becoming more comprehensive, we knew it had the potential needed to win the best dressed, so thats when we sent in our nomination.

Their patience apparently has paid off. Last August, the Toledo, Ohio, Police Department took top honors in the Best Dressed Law Enforcement Competition, a National Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Dealers (NAUMD) sponsored program recognizing the best-dressed departments in the country and the retailers and manufacturers who supply them. Toledo earned the title of best-dressed city with more than 200 officers, as did the Tulsa, Okla., PD, who tied for the coveted award. Ten other departments also were honored in separate categories.

The relationship between Superior and the Toledo PD dates to 1983, when the retailer, then in the rental laundry business, acquired Gihas, a uniform store. Weve had the account from the beginning, and Ive watched it change and grow over the years, says Bill.
Of the more striking changes is the departments headwear. Currently in navy Pershing hats, the department wore an all-white version as late as the 1990s. The complaint was that officers were moving targets, Bill says of the color selection.

There were other revisions to the basic uniform as well. Not surprisingly, beat officers switched to cargo pants two years ago. The Class-B look is unbelievably popular right now, notes Bill. What used to be reserved for swat units is now the norm for the everyday officer. In early 2006, cargo shorts and baseball caps with logo were approved for optional wear.

While the Darahs are pleased to offer customers a wide variety of contemporary apparel, the demand does come with challenges. Louis says, The styling options are constantly changing, particularly for pants and jackets. Additional pockets are added, driven by the increased number of gear and accessories an officer is expected to carry, thus new jackets are required each year.

And though this may sound like a boon for a store owner, Louis explains that it can be a double-edged sword. Many of the garments are imports, which means prices are lower, so naturally, your sales dollar volume is affected, notes Louis.

With the constant changing, what do you do with your older inventory? adds Bill. A good-stocking dealer will have merchandise that just isnt selling anymore, and that affects your bottom line.
There are other challenges as well. People are more cost-conscious, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001, he continues. In the 80s and 90s, if a customer liked something, they bought it. Now, only if they need it, they buy it.

In addition to the navy cargo trousers and hat, the everyday look of the Toledo Police Department includes a medium blue shirt, black tie and navy outerwear. Those at or above the rank of lieutenant are distinguished by a crisp, white shirt. The duty holster is a three-layer composite with a moisture-resistant outer shell lined with genuine suede. During inclement weather, officers wear a reversible raincoat colored in black, reversing to high-visibility orange. The garment must meet ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 Class II requirements. The department also bulk orders hi-vis vests, which they keep in the patrol car, says Bill.

Manufacturers who contributed to Toledo PDs everyday appearance include Fechheimer, Elbeco, Blauer, Hankin and Gould & Goodrich.
The department has over the years developed several specialized units. Officers assigned to the bike patrol wear polo shirts with pleated pockets and epaulets. This was the first unit to go to the polo shirt, and others quickly followed, notes Bill. Comfort is the main factor behind this decision. The shirt is worn with an Alitta bike pant or short and an Alitta jacket.

There is also specialized wear for the Training Academy. These training officers wear a 65/35 cotton/poly cargo pant, with either a short or long-sleeved knit shirt. Affixed with the TPD academy logo, the 100 percent preshrunk cotton shirt is colored in heather gray.
The honor guard is perhaps the unit of which the department is most proud. We have the best-looking honor guard in the country without a doubt, boasts Sgt. Richard Murphy of the TPD. It truly is a stand out, adds Bill.

Added to the department a decade ago, this Class A uniform consists of a 100 percent polyester, single-breasted blouse coat and a 100 percent polyester matching trouser. There is a one-inch black trouser braid on the pant, a three-quarter-inch black braid on each sleeve of the coat, and a one-quarter-inch royal striping on the top.

Theyre really wearing good stuff, says Bill of the entire program. The shirts use four different fabric blends; the manufacturers, like Fechheimer, are top notch; and no substitutions from the specs are allowed.

While quality clearly played a role in their selection as a best-dressed entrant, so did luck. The fact that the chief walked into the store one day really helped us move the nomination along, says Bill. I didnt have to go through proper channels. I got right to the top. The chief of the program told the [public information officer] to act on it, and he did.

If success can be measured in the amount of exposure both the department and Superior Uniform Sales received, then the results are an unqualified hit. The NAUMD staged an awards presentation at the store, inviting the chief, department representatives and members of the press. Superior Uniform handed out T-shirts to all, including customers, and created a congratulatory banner and served cake to everyone who walked in that day. We still have the banner hanging in the store, notes Bill.

Both the print and broadcast media, including three television stations, covered the event, with publicity reaching far beyond Toledo city limits. Using the results to enhance their marketing efforts, the Darahs have armed their sales reps with reprints from that publicity. Were taking the message out to the suburbs, letting those departments know that we can help them create a winning look too, says Louis.

And they are already busy planning for next years contest. Its not a question of if but who we will nominate next time around, Bill concludes.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2007 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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