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The Ever Evolving United Uniform Co.

Some companies act as a gauge of the health of an industry. Investors watch GMs annual reports and major corporate changes for input on the American auto industry. And if youre looking for the newest diet fad, just check on the list of new products Kraft is releasing.

Made to Measure looks to United Uniform Co. Inc. as one gauge of the strength and progress of the uniform industry. United has been featured twice previously in its 57 years in existence. The first article was in the late 1960s and introduced readers to the progressive company in Buffalo, N.Y. The second was in 1987 and announced the relocation to an industrial park in Amherst, N.Y., on the outskirts of Buffalo.

So it reflects well on the status and strength of the industry that, since last report, United has opened two satellite locations and is now planning a major remodeling of its headquarters. For United Uniform, the old saying in the real estate business really holds true its all about location, location, location. Except in this instance, it refers to the three different locations.

Those three storefronts are spread evenly across New York State. The Buffalo location is still the flagship store and the headquarters for the entire company. In 1993, United opened a second location in Rochester, N.Y. That store moved to an even larger unit within the same plaza about a year ago. The third and newest location, in downtown Syracuse, N.Y., opened earlier this year. The two satellite stores are approximately 3,000 square feet each.

With the expected renovation, remodeling and structural improvements to the Buffalo store expected shortly, United Uniform will essentially celebrate three brand new retail fronts within two years time.

Our growth was a natural evolution that just made good business sense, says Barry Muskat, president of the company. If you look at a map of New York, our stores are spread pretty evenly along the New York Thruway from the western to the central part of the state. Our expansions were not only aimed to penetrate new markets, but also initiated with the specific goal of giving our customers the very best service possible.

The dealer/distributor was careful to separate the stores enough to serve different customer base, but each carries the same selection of police, fire, EMS, security and other uniform pieces and accessories. The decisions to open each subsequent location did not come easily.

Theres been a lot of tweaking and trial-and-error for us to learn how to operate a satellite location in another city, Muskat says. After a dozen years with the Rochester store, we were eager, ready and confident to open the third store. We came to Syracuse with a strong reputation and with a larger team of experienced personnel. We were also welcomed by the community, but even more fortunately, by customers who knew of our track record, quality and service consistency, but who wanted us to have a local presence.

Customers can walk in and browse the apparel, footwear, holsters and belt accessories, body armor, gear bags, vehicle equipment and much more. United Uniform has trained its staff well in measuring properly and marking apparel correctly for its tailors to fulfill. The extensive customizations, like striping or logos, are completed by the seven or eight employees in the tailoring and embroidery shop in Buffalo.

But customers can get on-the-spot hems or patches attached at the Syracuse and Rochester locations as well. Each of these stores has a blind-stitch machine and a conventional sewing machine, and there is an operator on site at all times. In the new Syracuse store, counters for this area were custom built and designed. They cleverly divide the alterations area from the sales floor and double as a sleek glass-front display for body armor.

The two newer locations share color schemes of grey, black and steel. Everything from the carpeting to the grid-work display works together to present a modern, fresh look. The industrial feel is well-suited for the products carried, as they are used strictly in workplace environments.

The Buffalo store will follow suit with the new color scheme and display selections. When it was opened almost 20 years ago, United Uniform used earth tones of browns and tans with burgundy accents. The upcoming renovation will bring all three store locations into the same unifying image United Uniform has adopted.

We experimented with a series of grays until we found the right colors, says Muskat. Were pleased with the finished result in the new stores and think they look crisp, clean and contemporary. The displays of uniform garments many of which tend to be in shades of navy, black, and more navy look better against these backdrops. The bright colors of the equipment packaging also seem to pop against the grays. Weve carried these colors through to our printed materials and business cards, trying to build a fresh and dynamic image.

That image is important when United attends the many tradeshows of both the uniform industry and the service sectors it outfits. United Uniform sponsors an annual police chief luncheon, supports community charitable events and contributed to the Law Enforcement Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. It also operates End-User Training Days, where customers can watch demonstrations, try actual equipment and talk with the manufacturers about some of the more technical product lines carried in the stores.

Muskat personally continues that social involvement as well. He has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors (NAUMD). He also has participated on various committees and was NAUMD Convention Chairman for a time.

In that aspect, Muskat followed in the footsteps of Michael Wolfe, founder of United Uniform. Wolfe opened the doors of United in 1949, and he served as president of the NAUMD from 1980 to 1984. The company remains active in NAUMD, the National Uniform Dealers Association and in the Uniform Suppliers Association.

United now is welcoming the third generation to the business. Josh Muskat joined the company in 1989, signifying a blending of the established traditions with new energy and ideas. He now serves as vice president. And the younger generation may be more in touch with what the customer of the Computer Age desire and expect.

Product knowledge and new product development are the keys to servicing todays customer, the younger Muskat says. Consumers today demand quality products and features. To that end, we constantly work with our sales staff to train them about existing and new products important features, fabrics, and innovations to keep them up on the industrys current trends.

Josh also mentions adding new product lines and products in the past several years as a way to satisfy the new breed of customer. The expansion means United Uniform carries almost everything needed to outfit a wider variety of service professional.

Also an important part of reaching todays customer is Uniteds extensive Internet presence. While the initial investment and cost of upkeep are important factors to consider, the payoff has been immense. United is seeing new accounts developing from a string of website sales. It has also become a new way to continue the brand identity of United Uniform to a fresh audience.

Gary Martin, who oversees the ecommerce site, says, The website is an alternative and enhancement to our brick-and-mortar locations. Its an effective sales tool which also strengthens our credibility as a leader in our industry. It allows us to create brand awareness and gives us prime visibility.
With the development of the website have come some increased demands on customer service. Most online shoppers expect quick order turnaround and fast delivery. It has changed some of the demands on the Buffalo headquarters for better order-fulfillment flow.

And United has dedicated itself to providing the same high level of customer support for online shoppers as for those who visit the stores in person. Thats where Jody Hannel, customer service manager, comes into the picture. She heads up the training, mentoring and monitoring programs that ensure customers are handled in a friendly manner at all times.

Hannel says, We try to make sure that quality service is our main focus. Our office staff is trained in phone-answering skills, checking on orders and resolving delivery issues, with an overall goal of exceptional customer care. We use customers names and make sure they know our individual names. We try to make sure they walk away or end a phone conversation happy.

Hannel has a consistent staff with which to work. Many of the employees have been working with United Uniform for 10 years or more. Barry Muskat attributes that in part to the robust benefits packages offered, including health care, 401(k) plans with company matching, and standard sick and vacation time. The logic is simple: Hire the right people, compensate them nicely, and they will be happy in their work. That translates to happier customers, more repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising.

United Uniform is proud of its position in the industry and marketplace as a top distributor in New York State. But it is because of careful planning and hard work, not luck and chance, that United has earned its reputation.

Sure, its marketing strategies and winning bids and carrying through on plans, but its also a tribute to the energies of loyal employees and a team of true professionals, says Josh Muskat. The truth of the matter is that it all comes to endless hours on the part of our management and, most importantly, good old-fashioned hard work and dedication from our entire staff.

United Uniform Co. Inc.
495 N. French Rd.
Buffalo, NY 14228
(716) 691-4400




Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2006 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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