So how does Santa Rosa plant the seeds for success in such a bucolic setting? One answer is diversification. Not being in a highly populated area has forced Bruce Bagley to look beyond one uniform segment. “To be successful, in my opinion, you can’t be dependent on blue goods, white goods or hospitality independently. You need revenue from all three.”
To that end Bagley strategically harvests the potential in each market. “There is a reason you have two ears and one mouth as it is so important listen to your customers’ needs. Be empathetic to your customer and they are going to want to do business with you.”
Bagley purchased the business in 1992 after working in office products for 20 years. The business, originally called Gina’s Uniforms, had been started in 1959 by a California Highway Patrol Officer who sold uniforms out of the back of his truck.
Bagley changed the name to Santa Rosa Uniform when he bought the company. It is still located in the original shopping mall about an hour north of San Francisco in this predominantly tourist community. The original 800 square feet is now 5,000 square feet, with a 3,000-square-foot showroom and the remaining space reserved for receiving and alterations. The showroom is divided into thirds with blue goods, white goods and hospitality each having an independent section. Bagley and his wife comprise two of the five employees who keep the business humming.
The Santa Rosa walk-in customers are typically from within a 10-mile radius. Law enforcement and public safety agencies and volunteer fire departments number around 50 with medical groups closer to 200. Restaurants, hotels and motel markets are hard to even begin counting. “We work hard to keep our customers by out-servicing our competition. Our goal is to build repeat business as it is always easier to keep selling to an existing customer than a new one,” Bagley says. And he sees his competition as the giant national companies. He believes his local independent status allows him to offer better service, the ability to “go that extra mile, determine what your customer needs and then service that need.”
But Bagley also keeps an eye to the future, using the web as a tool for expanding the reach of this growing market where much of the apparel remains the same throughout the country. Law enforcement, on the other hand, tends to be specific to the geographic location. “Every state and county has to look different for proper identification, so it is more of a challenge to serve that market.”
Customers are grown with various strategies. For established hospitality areas such as cafeterias and schools, cold calling and flyers are employed. “Once you have experience in a market, people are more apt to talk to you than someone off the street,” says Bagley. White good markets such as medical offices and similar groups might be offered logos at no charge to establish a business relationship.
In the past, physical catalogs were mailed to prospects as part of a catalog group, and as that has gotten more expensive, Bagley switched to emailing digital catalogs to prospects.
Today Santa Rosa tends to its online presence through its website from UniformMarket. The store staff makes sure that everyone who walks in the door gets added to an email list for promotional flyers and reminders. The website is linked to Facebook and Twitter, and special attention is paid to raising their Google rank. The website features all three of the markets Santa Rosa serves, with custom web pages for each of these segments. The goal is to be a destination for repeated business rather than trying to be everything to everybody or a place for a one-time-only order.
To maintain a competitive edge, Santa Rosa Uniform often provides better options at better prices for customers than the big companies. Bagley cites an example of a customer with multiple locations ordering from a national provider. “We were able to provide them with the exact same product. And we make it easy for them to re-order when they hire a new employee. Many companies don’t realize that we can provide the same products, often at a better price.”
Another service is 24-hour capture and turnaround for customer logos. Having the customer’s logo on file creates a repetitive relationship for future orders.
When speaking of the business climate in his home state, Bagley sounds decidedly less enthused. “California is one of the most unfriendly business states there is,” he says. It’s part of why he is so committed to staying flexible, fleshing out the markets he does have and going after vertical markets. He sees people moving away from California to find more fertile economic land, which leads to his advice for anyone looking to plant roots in the uniform industry: “Location is going to determine your market. California is not the place right now. Everyone talks about Texas and Utah and Midwestern states as growth markets.”
But regardless of the dreary forecast for California business, Bagley and his wife are committed to staying in the area they have always called home. He acknowledges that it’s a beautiful spot in which to live. Together the couple enjoy traveling, often staying in the state. They built a cabin a year ago about four hours away in the Sierras where they can escape and still run the business.
Santa Rosa Uniform may be nestled in the good life, but Bagley and his team prove that it still takes hard work, ambition and creativity to keep a business strong and reap those seeds of success.
Santa Rosa Uniform
& Career Apparel, Inc.
1005 West College Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA 95401