By Jackie Rosselli
The honeymoon ended quickly for Pat and Rick Grace. In fact, it never even started, not in the conventional sense at least. Most mark the beginning of a new marriage with a trip to some tropical destination. But the Graces had something more permanent in mind.
“We met in May, married in August and started the business in October,” says Patrick’s Uniforms co-owner Pat Grace.
That was 32 years ago. The business – and the marriage – is still thriving.
Patrick’s Uniforms, so-called because “Pat” plus “Rick” equals “Patrick,” opened shop in 1985, in Savannah, Ga., and has since expanded to two additional locations: Jacksonville and Tampa, Florida. After many years in Georgia, the couple recently put down roots in Tampa, and for the time being call the city home. “It’s a big market, and we are growing the business in the area,” explains Pat about the decision to move.
Why do two newlyweds decide to open a uniform store? Rick was a sales rep with what was then called Martin’s Uniforms, so the Southeast uniform market was familiar territory. Pat was a school teacher, curious by nature and a people person.
Doing things differently and breaking with the expected have been driving this business from the start. At first, Pat and Rick focused exclusively on law enforcement accounts but quickly realized there were other opportunities. Savannah is a popular tourist destination, so their reach expanded to area hotels, restaurants and, later, schools and medical uniforms.
Variety and a Gun Range
But the husband and wife team had grander plans. When they built their new store on the growing west side of Savannah, Rick, a former marine, turned a dream into reality.
“He always felt that a gun range would complement our police business,” Pat says. And so the Savannah site now includes a state-of-the-art, computerized gun range where members of law enforcement regularly mingle with tourists and the general public.
More than just a place to shoot, the gun range has become a place to strengthen the ties between community and law enforcement. “Normally, the only time the general public comes in contact with an officer is when they’re getting a ticket or they’re hurt,” Pat notes. “Here, the public gets to see officers as real people, and that helps foster relationships.”
In fact, labeling Patrick’s as just a uniform store is a misnomer of sorts because it is so much more. Patrons of the range might take a class on gun protection or purchase some pepper spray, then wander into the showroom to pick up customized t-shirts for a family reunion or snag a pair of trendy shoes from the medical department.
“Too many uniform businesses are one track and sell only one type of uniform. To me, it’s like eating meat and potatoes every night,” Pat says. “At Patrick’s, you get more variety; our customer base is diverse and so are the offerings, which is how we like it.”
Adding to this diversity is a thriving graphics and customizing department, which sells everything from plaques to engraved Yeti cups. The Savannah location has a full graphics division where customers benefit from the staff’s knowledge and creativity while using state-of-the-art equipment, automatic screen printing and the best embroidery in the Southeast. The store specializes in customized gifts for law enforcement and prides itself on producing items rarely found anywhere else. For example, they carry a line of specialty engraved keepsake wooden boxes in which an officer can put his badge or weapon upon retirement.
“There’s so much business out there, but people are very short sighted when it comes to capturing it,” Pat notes. “Even within your existing customer base, there’s always a way to upsell. Maybe a company bought golf shirts a while back. Perhaps it’s time to interest in them in a team building event at the gun range!”
A Shopper-Friendly Experience
Whether a customer walks into the Savannah, Jacksonville or the Tampa store, they get a similar experience. The Georgia location is the largest, coming in at about 30,000 square feet; the others are each 10,000 square feet. The look and feel is modern and high-tech: metal and industrial motifs abound, and specialty products take center stage and are encased in sleek glass displays.
Many distributions tend to house their products in the back, leaving the showroom small. Not at Patrick’s.
“We want customers to see what we do,” Pat says. “There’s always lots to look at, always something new. Our stores are inviting and shopper-friendly. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want, we’re here to help.” There is a distinct difference between walking into an average uniform store and walking into any of the three Patrick’s Uniforms locations. The excitement Rick and Pat have for their industry is apparent, both in look and in feel.
Embroidery, alterations, screen printing and engraving are all done in house, so turnaround time is quick and, in some cases, really quick. “If an officer comes in and needs chevrons, I’d rather do it right away than send him out the door,” Pat adds. Need those pants hemmed? No problem. Take a look around while Patrick’s does it on the spot. And if making it into the actual store is inconvenient, the store will go to the customer – Patrick’s is happy to deliver orders, adding that personal attention.
Some walk into Patrick’s without a clear vision of what exactly they need, as was the case of the restaurant owner who came in for new uniforms. Patrick’s staff suggested colors, fabrics and came up with a design concept that reinforced the brand. The customer didn’t know it when he walked in, but it turned out to be exactly what he was looking for.
“To me, that’s better than advertising. If a customer looks good, people will ask where they bought it,” Pat says.
Indeed, much of the new business comes from word of mouth. Besides referrals, Patrick’s is an active participant in community events and partners with others throughout the region to get the word out. Their customer base is primarily in the Southeast, with some business coming from overseas.
Embracing the Millennial Way
The business may generate buzz by traditional means, but don’t be fooled: Patrick’s has a viable online presence too. They’re active on several different social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. Though some still prefer to call or fax in orders, many more are ordering online. Patrick’s has even set up online private stores for its best customers so that they can order approved items with just a few clicks. “People still like to come in, see and touch things, but an online ordering system is a must these days,” Pat notes. “A younger generation will soon be making purchasing decisions, so you have to go where they are, communicate how they communicate.”
Millennials have forced other changes as well, particularly in the way today’s programs are planned and executed. Turnover is high at many of the restaurants and hotels that Patrick’s services; helping those clients keep that in mind when making decisions can mean the difference between a one-time sale and a repeat customer. Programs can’t be too trendy; consistency is key. The benefits of purchasing from a uniform shop over a department store sometimes needs to be stressed.
“We remind them that we’ve been in business a long time, and that when they need another item for a new employee, the products we use are for uniforms and are consistent in color and fabric.”
Both Pat and Rick are adamant about standing their ground in the current how-low-can-you-go environment. “We sell the best product at a fair price.
We believe in quality, strong vendor relationships and making a profit,” Pat summarizes. The same mindset extends to its inventory; there’s plenty on hand, but if it can’t be sold, it isn’t stocked. They pride themselves in stocking and selling the premier brands with innovative technology and something that’s going to make a difference in the lives of the people that wear it.
For Pat and Rick, they have passion for what they do – and it shows! Says Pat, “We love what we do, are passionate about our business, and still find it exciting after 32 years. We couldn’t do what we do without our great employees, some of which have been with us for 31 years. They have seen us mature and the business grow! There’s always more to be done, more variety to add and opportunities to innovate. It’s a great business and we’re proud to be a part of it!”
2307 Highway 80
Garden City, GA 31408