By Jackie Rosselli
It all started with a vision and a leap of faith. In this age of corporatization, it’s easy to forget that most businesses in this industry were born of humbler beginnings.
Such is the case of Perfect Fit Image Apparel, a Tennessee-based retailer that opened up shop in 1995. From the sale of a pair of boots that launched this family business over 20 years ago to its designation today as one of the top Carhartt distributors in the Southeast, the goal has always been the same: give customers a superior product and seamless experience. Perfect Fit wants its customers to concentrate on what matters most: running their own business.
The company was founded by Kenny Glover, who with the encouragement of his wife, Charlotte, left a secure position with the largest rental company at that time to take that leap of faith. Glover had worked his way up the proverbial corporate ladder, charged with specific routes before moving into sales and finally management. But he became disillusioned with the level of customer service found on the rental side, according to his youngest daughter, Jennifer Floyd. “He and my mom worked many late hours to get this business off the ground,” she recalls. “Those first pair of boots is still a source of pride.”
That sale quickly turned into a recurring local FR customer, and others soon followed. Glover focused on what he knew best: industrial uniforms with a specialization in flame resistant wear. “His background gave him a firm grasp of the regulations and requirements surrounding FR uniforms, so it was a natural fit,” comments his oldest daughter, Angie Coggins.
Building a Customer-Centric Business
Perfect Fit prides itself on being customer-centric, a trait that Glover found elusive during his years in the rental business. “We take customer out of the uniform business, freeing them up to do what they do best,” Coggins says.
How? By paying attention to details other eschew. For starters, Glover travels to customers and measures to ensure that each has that perfect fit. If alterations are needed, they’re done in house by his mother-in-law, the 81-year-old Nanny, who has been with the company for 16 years. Embroidery is done in house too, so thread color and placement is never an issue. Kendra Jackson, the middle daughter, sets up each order with custom logos and artwork, and if orders specifications call for the use of FR thread, Jackson sees that that is taken care of. Perfect Fit has a range of options on hand to accommodate such requests, something with which a third party may be unfamiliar or unable to do.
Once ready to ship, each order is bagged individually, so customers don’t have to waste time sorting on their end. Detailed washing instructions are also included. And in a business where relationships trump just about everything else, customers know that if there is an issue with their order, they’ll hear a familiar voice from the customer service department. “Our FR customers are used to talking with one person and that would be Jennifer,” Coggins says.
“They know her and have confidence in her troubleshooting abilities.”
Floyd echoes that statement, saying of her conversations with clients, “Our FR customers are like a family.”
Warehouse, Not a Showroom
Likening customers to family might seem odd at first, but then again Perfect Fit doesn’t operate as a traditional distributor. There aren’t display racks or bins of merchandise in the facility. In fact, there really isn’t a showroom to speak of; most of the customizing of uniforms and filling orders takes place in the warehouse. What they have instead is a warehouse staff who embroiders garments, trim logos and inspects orders before they are boxed and shipped to customers. Over the years the machinery has increased from one embroidery head machine to 32 embroidery heads at present.
Up front, if a customer comes in – and not many do, according to Coggins – they’ll be greeted by a receptionist, who also answers the phone. Two other staff members process and enter orders, as does Floyd, whose day is filled responding to emails, faxes (yes, a handful of orders still come in this way) and phone inquiries. The majority of orders are emailed, but there’s a growing trend toward ordering online. Perfect Fit uses the Uniform Market Store Systems platform, enabling them to better manage uniform programs through the use of personalized private stores.
Coggins’s days for the most part are spent as office manager, but she’s not limited to that role. She also helps in the warehouse process of order fulfillment in a timely manner. As would be expected, many Perfect Fit employees are cross trained at different tasks. “There have been times when someone is out for surgery, and I’ve run the embroidery machines.” Coggins says. “You do what has to be done.”
Something that they haven’t done much about is marketing through social media. Yes, they’re on Facebook and other platforms, but updates are sparse. “We just don’t have the time to maintain it,” Floyd notes.
In fact their marketing method of choice is decidedly old-school: word of mouth. Perfect Fit name recognition is high; customers know of their reputation even before a sales rep visits or calls. “So many out there are frustrated with the rental programs that they’re looking for a new option,” Coggins says. “We save them time. That’s a big plus.”
A Family Affair
Piquing interest in the next generation is often a struggle for family enterprises, but not for this one. Indeed, Perfect Fit Image Apparel is truly a family affair.
Four generations are currently involved with the business. The originators of the business, Kenny Glover and wife Charlotte are still active in the daily operation. The Glovers’ three daughters all came on board right after high school. Glover even enlisted the help of his mother-in-law, who for the past 16 years has done alterations and trim work back in the warehouse. The fourth generation is also active in the business. Oldest grandson, Cory, and one of the granddaughters, Kaitlyn, are the latest addition. All seven grandchildren have grown up in the business.
As the business prospered, Perfect Fit has been able to hire outside its family unit and today employs seven non-family members as well: two operate the machinery, two help with trimmings, and two are office support. And late last year, the company hired its first non-family sales rep to cover the eastern Tennessee region. “He and dad make the sale, we bring the product in, do the embroidery and ship it out,” Coggins added. They’re all an extended family of sorts, says Floyd and Coggins.
Local, Regional and Franchise Programs
No order is too small. Perfect Fit has customers in 49 states, with client sizes ranging from one or two employees to 1,600 employees. They dabbled in the fire and public safety markets for a time, but supplying flame-retardant garments for utilities became their specialty.
The product line is what is most expected from such a market concentration. They are, as previously noted, a top distributor of Carhartt products; other offerings include FR pants, shirts and jackets. In winter, demand is high for FR bibs and vests. Turnaround is between 10 and 12 business days for established customers; 15 days for new customers.
Primarily a regional outfit, one of Perfect Fit’s largest customers to date is a national account with over 1,000 franchises. The inventory stocked for this custom program includes shirts, jackets and caps, and orders are usually shipped the same day they are received.
Perfect Fit also supplies office and image apparel to several local businesses. They are a member of ASI, and though not a big part of the business, their promotional products offerings include pens, bags and coolers.
What’s next for Perfect Fit? Both Floyd and Coggins agree: growing the FR market base is a primary goal. “Our customers are great, and it’s a business for which we’re well-suited,” Coggins notes.
It seems the feeling is mutual. Floyd says, “One of our FR customers told us that he can tell that Perfect Fit is not trying to make a killing; it’s just trying to make a living.”
Make a living, not a killing. What else would be expected from a company that considers its customers family?
Perfect Fit Image Apparel
430 Airport Road, Suite A
Gallatin, TN 37066