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Want a Custom Look? Get a Perfect Fit or Design it Yourself

In the 1940s, then-industry giant Horace Small introduced the country’s first in-stock program, giving dealers the ability to readily and quickly meet the demands of a growing customer base. Yet while demand was increasing, uniforms remained the same: basic, prosaic and unquestionably uniform, reflecting the tastes of the era.

Times certainly have changed. While the stock program still thrives, it has over the years received a series of facelifts, and just as before, the driver of these changes has been the end user. Unlike its predecessor, however, today’s customer has been taught to demand more than ever from the retail environment, and a no-frills stock program simply doesn’t satisfy the need for differentiation.

Getting the look the customer has always wanted just became easier, thanks to Design it Yourself and Perfect Fit, two new services from Edwards Garment and Executive Apparel, respectively. Design It Yourself and Perfect Fit offer the end user a more personalized and custom approach to his apparel needs and, in so doing, level the playing field for dealers competing for larger and more lucrative regional and national accounts. Here’s how they work.

DIY Brings Custom Concepts to Life

Design It Yourself isn’t exactly a “new” service, Edwards Garment President and CEO Gary Schultz readily admits. “We’ve always made modifications to garments based on our customers’ needs,” he says. “The difference now is that we’re being more proactive about letting them know what we can do and how comprehensive the DIY service is.” The company also has invested its resources to assure the program’s success. “Operationally, we’ve made some changes,” Schultz continues. “We’ve reassigned staff according to expertise, and acquired and purchased equipment to enhance our capability, and we continue to do so.”

DIY services average a 10 to 15 percent higher price tag, and a price list of common procedures is provided to all who request it. To reduce costs, Edwards can drop ship items to the end user. “We’re finding the time and shipping cost savings to be one of the prime motivators for customers to use us rather than someone local or doing it themselves,” says Schultz. “By using us, they can merely process the paperwork and avoid the time and cost of handling and shipping.”

Historically, many dealers have adjusted to the constraints of a stock program by doing alterations like tailoring, embroidery and monogramming in house. But for many others, these personalized touches have proven out of reach. Schultz says, “We’ve found that our customers have a limited capability for the kinds of customization required by today’s end user. They may not be able to afford the equipment, may not have enough work to justify the hiring of a seamstress or may be unable to find qualified help.”

Design it Yourself takes the burden off the dealer and places the tasks of alteration and customization with the manufacturer. Fittingly described as a one-stop fulfillment center, DIY gives dealers the opportunity to modify a stock item, use an existing pattern with a different fabric or develop a completely new style using the Edwards design team. Modifications cover a broad spectrum and include simple tasks, like changing the buttons on a blazer or adding a stripe to a trouser, to more involved enhancements, such as re-coloring an existing fabric or private labeling. And as the manufacturing of product continues to move offshore, Edwards Garment can even assist with souring. “We have good relationships with mills worldwide, so if a customer wants a special fabric, we’re able to get it for him,” says Schultz.

This is important because the global marketplace is an increasingly complicated landscape. Schultz recounts the story of a customer who attempted to import some trousers on his own, only to discover that the fit wasn’t exactly what he’d expected. “Because of the costs involved and limited knowledge of the process, importing is not an option for many dealers today,” says Schultz. “Having us involved cuts the financial risk and allows the dealer to focus on other things.”

Such focus could center on the ever-discerning end user, who continues to be influenced by what he or she sees on TV, in magazines and at malls across the country. Services like DIY are becoming more common, says Schultz, as a result of a customer base that demands a fashion-forward solution to its uniform needs. He says, “Customers don’t want a program to look uniform. They want a look that sets them apart from the rest, and sometimes this can be achieved simply with the switch out of a button or the altering of a shirt sleeve; at others it can only be accomplished through a complete redesign.”

Besides the many changes that can be made to a stock item, Edwards Garment can also help the dealer establish brand identity. The manufacturer will work with the dealer’s own artwork to create a label that is sewn directly into a garment. “Many of our customers want to promote their name to the end user, and with this particular DIY feature that is now an option,” says Schultz. “Naturally, we prefer they promote the Edwards brand, but if it helps the dealer remain competitive, we’re happy to do it.”

In many ways, DIY benefits both dealer and manufacturer. The retailer benefits from the knowledge of a seasoned industry veteran while Edwards gains a window into the shifting tastes and trends of the marketplace. Schultz recalls a situation that illustrates perfectly the latter point: “We kept getting requests to cut our microfiber pants into shorts, and we of course complied. But as the requests became more frequent, we realized there was a need for such a product, and this information helped shape our line.”

DIY is not appropriate for small accounts or certain markets such as law enforcement. It is, in a nutshell, recommended for some variation of what Edwards already does. To learn more, call (800) 253-9885, or visit www.edwardsgarment.com.

Executive Apparel Takes Customization to the Next Level

The tagline for Executive Apparel’s new custom design service says it all. “Perfect Fit” is the next level of custom design now available from Executive Apparel, one of the nation’s leading suppliers of wholesale imprintable apparel.

The Perfect Fit program consists of custom-designed blazers, vests, pants, blouses, shirts and skirts designed and produced to meet the end customers’ unique needs. Perfect Fit provides the opportunity for modification of a stock item, from choice of special fabrics to complete custom style design.

“This type of program has normally been serviced by large, national laundry chains and other manufacturers who sometimes compete directly with the distributors they wholesale to,” says Executive Apparel’s President Donald Singer. “We feel the need to equip our select group of distributors and apparel professionals with the ability to go into any potential client and offer them a top-notch custom program that enables them to compete and win contracts.”

Unlike standard custom programs, Perfect Fit requires more intense planning, design, patterns and fabric sourcing along with many other components that ultimately result in a successful rollout and a coordinated fill-in program. “Essentially, it opens up the warehouse,” says Malik Boyd, director of marketing. “The customer is able to get exactly what he wants.”

And getting the look right is a pivotal ingredient in a company’s brand marketing initiatives, even at a time when many are looking to reduce costs. “Custom uniform programs are a necessary branding tool in today’s competitive marketplace, and our target end-user clients should utilize it if they are to maintain the high standards that their businesses represent,” notes Singer when questioned whether a sluggish economy might affect Perfect Fit. “The competition in today’s marketplace is huge, and these businesses must be able to differentiate themselves. A custom look for employees is an essential ingredient for positive workplace morale, the look and feel of your frontline staff, and overall customer service, not to mention image.”

Target industries include casinos, large hotel and restaurant chains, banks and large venues such as stadiums and sports arenas. “It’s a great opportunity for any businesses looking to separate themselves from stock uniform programs,” Singer adds.

It’s also given employees a chance to wear garments that are more retail inspired in design, a highly desirable criterion for today’s apparel programs. Indeed, in many of the markets listed above, the word “uniform” is generally eschewed. “The word is clearly being redefined in the workplace,” says Boyd. “It’s an outfit, not a uniform, according to the end user. I grew up under the old adage, If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you’ll do good.’ While this may not be law, I do believe that these principles are applicable to the non-uniformed and uniformed worker alike. Team morale isn’t just built from a company slogan. Image plays a major role.”

Perfect Fit seeks to foster the relationship between dealers and end users by giving them creative control over such areas as special patterns, colors, braids, linings, contrasting parts, emblems and embroidery. Executive Apparel also will offer training to dealers, teaching them design basics and strategies for the program’s utilization and implementation. “Essentially, with Perfect Fit the end user becomes chief designer, the dealer serves as agent, and we bring our 70 years of experience to the table to manufacture a quality uniform with a style all its own,” says Boyd.

Turnaround time for the program is expected to be about 12 weeks. Cost depends greatly on the volume and complexity of the program. “Perfect Fit is carefully customized down to the bottom line cost to ensure that the customer gets the best value and margin opportunity,” adds Singer.

Who shouldn’t use Perfect Fit? According to Singer, customers who are extremely budget conscious or those placing small reorders should look to Executive Apparel’s stock programs and utilize some standard customization options. “Our in-stock program comes complete with hundreds of colors and designs created for best fit and quick reorder quantities as low as one piece.”

Perfect Fit launched July 1, just one month before Executive Apparel moves to larger, state-of-the-art facilities designed to better administer this and other company initiatives. To learn more, visit www.executiveapparel.com.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2008 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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