Recognition Up High
Every winter, ski instructors, lift attendants and snow patrol spend long hours out in the cold, all in the interest of promoting a safe and enjoyable experience for resort attendees. Unfortunately, many spend their days shivering in low-quality uniforms or struggling to command respect among customers who cannot distinguish employees from everyday skiers. Mountain Uniforms’ mission is to eliminate this problem by providing resorts and mountain operations with crisp, colorful and customized uniforms specifically designed to fit each agency’s unique brand.
A top supplier of high-quality uniforms for the ski industry, Mountain Uniforms is known for its customization options and fair prices. Over the years, the uniform supplier has cultivated an impressive client list, made up of top ski resorts and other facilities throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. Recognizable names on Mountain Uniforms’ extensive list of clients include Stowe, Mountain High and even the Canadian Ski Patrol.
More recently, the company has extended its reach to search and rescue, fire rescue and law enforcement. Regardless of industry, all customers receive the same attention to detail and prompt customer service. Mountain Uniforms may be known for its industry-specific quality uniforms, but it’s the superior customer service that really sets this supplier apart from the competition.
Mountain Uniforms’ Origins
Kim Stearns, the genius behind Mountain Uniforms, understood the importance of personal branding long before it was a hot topic in internet marketing. Interestingly, her work in the uniform industry arose out of a position in human resources for two different ski areas. As an HR employee, she was in charge of uniforms and was eager to find a look that would separate employees from customers. The goal was for any customer to be able to “look around in a stressful environment and spot the person they needed, not just another customer,” she says.
In addition to distinguishing employees from customers, Stearns has always felt that uniforms should give customers a feel for the resort’s image. When she first launched Mountain Uniforms, customized uniforms that accomplished this end were tough to come by. Resorts would simply purchase uniforms from big names such as The North Face, brands that were just as accessible to the average customer.
By providing a customized option, Stearns was able to assist hundreds of resorts, ski patrol teams and, later, law enforcement agencies and fire rescue teams with their branding efforts. She founded Mountain Uniforms in 1996, and since then, the company has experienced explosive growth. It is now the ski industry’s number one provider of uniforms.
Moving Into Law Enforcement
Mountain Uniforms’ original purpose was to provide high-quality customizable uniforms for mountain resorts and ski patrol, but more recently, the supplier’s reach has expanded to include fire rescue and law enforcement. Branding is every bit as essential in these sectors as in the resort industry, if not more so. The right uniform can help law enforcement officials and fire patrol workers send the appropriate message to the citizens they aim to protect. Exceptional quality is also important, as police officers and rescue workers spend far more time exposed to the elements than the average person suspects.
Customizing uniforms for police forces is, in many ways, much like customizing uniforms for resort employees. Agencies from both industries have the freedom to request the exact color, style and branding they desire. Stearns explains, “They specify where they want their badges and patches, and how much insulation, and that kind of thing.” This extensive customization has clearly caught the attention of major players in law enforcement, with the Indiana State Police Swat and the New York State Police seeking out Mountain Uniforms’ products and customization services.
Mountain Uniforms’ exclusivity to resort employees and law enforcement officials is made possible by its agency-based setup. Ski resort visitors cannot simply walk into a store and order the uniform jacket they saw their favorite resort employee wearing. Although the company and its five main employees are based in Lake Tahoe’s Incline Village, there is no main retail location. Rather, ordering largely takes place through a network of sales reps, who meet with various agencies to determine their vision and how it can be captured in a uniform. As Stearns explains, everything is “truly geared to the agency.”
Mountain Uniforms does have some warehousing space, which is used to stock extra supplies of popular items such as one-piece snowsuits. Those who require little customization can then order popular pieces online. The company is easy to reach by phone; it operates office hours in the summer and extended office hours during the busy winter season.
Many of Mountain Uniforms’ chief customers desire a simple system in which they can order the same uniform, year after year. This approach allows for greater savings and fewer headaches. With new clients, Mountain Uniforms takes the time to get to know exactly what they want in a uniform, rather than pigeonhole them into a preconceived design. As Stearns puts it, “We build their ideal uniform based on what they want, not what we have to sell them.”
After a preferred design and insulation level has been determined, agencies can further customize uniforms with badges and labels that clearly set employees and crew members apart from customers. Employee uniforms differ from customer outerwear not only in terms of badging but also in sheer quality. Employees experience far greater exposure to harsh weather conditions than the customers they serve, so they need to dress accordingly.
Payment is simple; Mountain Uniforms takes a 50 percent deposit and receives the other 50 percent upon delivery. Custom group orders typically require at least two months for turnaround time. If they like the products they receive, they have the option to continue ordering new uniforms as needed, year after year. This ultimately leads to significant savings, as it eliminates the need for purchasing an entire new set of uniforms just because the supplier stopped carrying the original design.
According to Stearns, “Other companies will carry a style for maybe one year or three years and then they move into different colors or they don’t carry it anymore because it’s not as in fashion as it used to be.” This is certainly not the case with Mountain Uniforms; agencies can rest assured knowing that they can continue to order the exact same uniform for years, even decades. The goal is not only long-term customer satisfaction but also complete continuity across a resort or rescue team. With Mountain Uniforms’ help, employees who have worked at a given resort for several years can look exactly the same as new hires. This gives resort visitors an extra element of confidence, as they know exactly who to seek for assistance.
A Reliance on Word of Mouth
Because Mountain Uniforms’ employees develop such a close and trusting relationship with agencies – and because those agencies are then eager to spread the word – Mountain Uniforms largely relies on word of mouth for new business. Many new agencies have been brought into the fold simply because they saw uniforms at other resorts and were impressed. In other cases, agencies have actually “borrowed jackets from the agency next door.” This is essentially how the company got into the business of supplying law enforcement agencies with uniforms; police officers were impressed by the uniforms worn by ski patrol and decided they could benefit from a similar level of quality and customization.
While word of mouth is Mountain Uniforms’ chief form of promotion, the company uses a few other methods to get the word out about their superior products and customization services. The uniform supplier sends mailers directly to agencies and sends representatives to key industry shows, including those hosted by SnowSports Industries America and the National Ski Areas Association.
Mountain Uniforms also has a social media presence. The company’s Facebook page is largely used to keep customers updated on upcoming trade show appearances. Regular photo updates show how and where the company’s customized uniforms are used. For example, a recent post featured the New York State Forest Rangers on duty in the Adirondacks, while another highlighted Mountain Uniforms products in an Aflac commercial.
Customer Service First
Although Mountain Uniforms is largely regarded as a uniform supplier, the company is just as much about providing a service as peddling a product. Customers can turn to a variety of suppliers for waterproof jackets and one-piece snowsuits, but what they can’t find anywhere else is a fully-customizable industry-quality uniform that sets them apart not only from their customers but also from other organizations. Agencies may also struggle to find a responsive supplier that works patiently with them to deliver the exact product they desire. Stearns puts it best: “We’re providing a product, but inside of that product, we provide a service.”
Over the course of the past two decades, Mountain Uniforms has distinguished itself from other uniform suppliers by providing superior agency-centered service, with the needs and wishes of the customer always coming first. This approach has garnered Mountain Uniforms an exceptional reputation, leading to growth beyond its original purpose of ski resort and ski patrol uniforms. Stearns, her employees and her sales reps love what they do, and it shows in the remarkable relationships they’ve built with agencies all around the world.