THERE ARE NO LIMITS: Uniforms Unlimited Begins Another Century of Growth



We are very bullish on the uniform industry, says Jon Radabaugh, owner of Uniforms Unlimited. The statement is not made with any hesitation in his expression. There does not follow some quick comment that certain economic indicators need to tick upward for business to improve.

Indeed, there is no sense of waiting for any obstacles to be overcome when Radabaugh talks about his uniform business.

Uniforms Unlimited, with two locations in Minnesota and just over 100 years of experience, is steaming toward the future with plenty of coal in the furnace and, from the engineer’s view, a shiny track stretching out as far as he can see.

We see growth in industrial. We see growth in restaurant sales, in casinos, rattles off Radabaugh as if describing a list of potential uniform accounts he plans to pick up while at the supermarket.

And security companies are absolutely booming right now. It is amazing. We are very optimistic about business and the uniform industry.

In fact, Radabaugh sees the nations recent drive for higher security as a very strong factor for American businesses to adopt a more recognizable uniform and career apparel corporate culture. Firms with public visibility, and even companys operating in the business to business environment, have renewed their efforts to make sure authorized workers are easily identified on the job. And this, of course, is good for career apparel sales.

Not surprisingly, Radabaugh is not alone in his assessment of the public safety business. Many members of the uniform industry acknowledge that while events of the past few years, and Sept. 11, 2001, in particular, have been devastating to the country, it has translated, in some cases, into greater sales for the uniform and career apparel industry.

But such overt optimism for Radabaugh does not solely result from the reactive influences of terrorism.

Seeing bankers dressed in business casual attire chimes the bell of opportunity for Radabaugh. We see the continued dress-down trend as wonderful for the uniform and ad specialty industry. It has been great for our embroidery business.


Radabaugh could certainly be accused of a youthful optimism (regardless of his age) when you consider he has only owned his own uniform business for a couple of years. But Uniforms Unlimited, the company he purchased from his father, is hardly the new kid on the block.

Back in 1899, the company was called Uniforms Unlimited by Weitzman and the firm has operated by variations of the same and other names over the years. Oscar Weitzman, the original owner, was succeeded by Bernie Weitzman, Oscars nephew. And Bernie took the uniform and retailing game very seriously. The store was so ingrained in the fabric of his life, he worked there for decades after selling the business to the first owner named Radabaugh, Jons father. Truth be told, Bernie officially retired only two years ago, well into his 80s. Rumor has it he still may be delivering his annual Christmas pies to every employee, a treasured practice he performed countless times.

The company was founded in St. Paul, Minn., and operated in the same retail area since at least 1952 (the furthest back anyone recalls).

Jon Radabaugh bought the company in 1999.

Before that, I worked for a little company called 3M, laughs Radabaugh. I was selling printing products (plates, film, etc.) in the New York City area to the advertising and printing markets.

But, Radabaughs roots were in Minnesota. He grew up there and remembers well his father operating the uniform business since 1974. But, unlike typical family businesses, Jon never worked an apprentice with Dad in business.

But I will say this. I have a new respect for my father for doing this for 35 years. He always warned me about the problems and challenges of running a small business. I had no idea of how much work there was or the problems that can arise when orders have to go through so many hands before they actually go out the door.

Of course, with new management comes new resources. And since his arrival, Jon Radabaugh has installed new systems.

Before, it was the old-fashioned system of counting. Inventory was handled by a purchasing agent who walked around counting merchandise. The customer service department needed to remind the ordering department to place orders. Vendors would help with inventory as well, watching order levels. We had an old computer system we knew was not Y2K compliant. That prompted us to upgrade, a plan that was started even before my arrival. We ran the new system parallel to old system, and then switched over.

Radabaugh proudly states that his father built a financially stable company. The secret, he confesses, was (and is) in finding great employees and keeping them. This talent must be hereditary, because Uniforms Unlimited, to this day, reports that more than 50% of its employees have been there 10 years or more.

Julie Deshler, for one, has been there for 20 years.

I grew up in Wisconsin. I went to school to become a police officer. When I finished, I wasnt completely sure that was what I was interested in, so I became a St. Paul police reserve, recalls Deshler.

Her transition to the rag business, selling uniforms and career apparel, was simply serendipity.

I went to Uniforms Unlimited in St. Paul for my uniform as a police reservist. As I remember it, the people at the store and I liked each other. They said if we ever have an opening, would I be interested in applying?

Deshler smiles, About six months later I got a phone call. The rest is history.

When she started at age 24, Deshler immediately learned the sales end of the business. And after selling uniforms through the 1980s and 1990s, she rose to the challenge, becoming the sales sanager for Uniforms Unlimited. In that position today, she agrees with Radabaugh in assessing the state of the uniform business. Her perspective is enhanced by the growth in the quality of products she sells.

Over the years, we have seen much better fashions for the police officers and more womens options in public safety apparel. Manufacturers are making better patterns for the female officers and, in general, for all women in the workforce. The bulletproof vests, for example, used to be like hard cardboard; now they are so pliable. Its just amazing.


Uniforms Unlimited employs 35 people. The firm operates two retail locations, one in St. Paul and the other in Minneapolis.

All the accounting and embroidery is handled in Minneapolis, where about 20 employees work. The actual retail portion of the store is about 2,000 square feet. The rest of the 11,000 square feet is mostly warehousing.

Apparel is neatly displayed on metal racks. There are clean, white slat-wall style display units along the walls as well as assembled as freestanding units.

Additional uniform and career apparel accessories pop out from the walls, around corners and in-between cases.

Our St. Paul store is mostly dedicated to public safety, says Deshler. In reality, 90 – 95% of our sales there are related to police and fire. At our Minneapolis store though, in addition to the tremendous public safety goods selection, we also handle the industrial sales, embroidery work, ad specialties and things like that.

Uniforms Unlimited was founded on law enforcement sales. The stores handle plenty of postal business. The company has made efforts and realized considerable success in branching out into other niches. The three full-time outside sales reps have opened accounts in the industrial, transportation and hospitality categories.

Radabaugh draws his sales lines clearly. We consider ourselves the largest distributor of public safety in the Midwest, not including Chicago. But between North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, we have a good presence.

The retail locations are only a portion of the game for Uniforms Unlimited.

We receive a lot of mail and Web-generated orders. About 8% of our business is coming through the Webwhich is great considering we only started selling on the Web in July, 2002.

Far from a consumer-based site, Uniforms Unlimited tailors its Web development for each customers uniform program. Customer service becomes Web-enabled for each uniform program with special purpose Web sites and customer focused tools.

We also still do some direct mail, Radabaugh remarks, wearing his marketing hat for the moment. The truth is, though, weve been around so long, word of mouth brings a lot of business.

Still, that being said, Radabaugh acknowledges the use of traditional promotional activities. We have a full-color catalog. We advertise in some trade journals. We are big on trade shows, making a good presence at law enforcement and public utility trade shows.

Uniforms Unlimited shows and markets to prospects in the Midwest. We dont want to be everything to everyone across the U.S.. This business is too hands-on for that. Were not like a Marshall Fields or Macys department store. Our customers typically dont walk in, take things off the rack and walk out with them. They need pants hemmed, patches added, etc.

Although having just two physical retail locations does not stop customers from receiving the individual attention Radabaugh describes. Sales reps will routinely perform measurements on site for uniform customers. We store all that info on our computers, so for future phone orders, we know what they are talking about.

Armed with a successful past and aggressively pursuing the future, the possibilities certainly appear unlimited for this uniform dealer.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2003 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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