When looking for a uniform supplier, the most commonly asked questions tend to be: how quickly can you design and produce a new range? What will it cost and what do I have to do to make it happen quicker? While cost and speed are undeniably important considerations, digging a little deeper about your uniform supplier could lead to better results, a more satisfying experience and a good long-term partnership with your supplier going forward.
Here are 10 questions every buyer should be asking their uniform supplier.
1. What experience do you have in designing and producing the kind of uniform items I need?
One size does not always fit all. Service levels vary greatly from one uniform supplier to another. Will an off-the-shelf solution with your branding added suffice, even though the same items may be worn by your competitors? Do you require basic design services? Or are you looking for a bespoke corporate uniform design and supply service? Finding this out at the start of a project can avoid headaches and delays further down the line. Speak to the suppliers existing customers. Often what’s said and not said can tell you a lot about the quality, value and service a client has received from its supplier. So don’t be shy about asking for them. It’s important to know if they can do what they say they do. Finally, it’s always worth finding out whether the supplier has a design team in-house or whether they outsource.
2. How and where do you source your products? Can you show me what your supply chain looks like?
We often hear of broken promises made by suppliers who confidently claim they can deliver but then fail. The supplier may not have been lying to you but were themselves at the mercy of their own agents or 3rd parties who’ve misled them. To avoid this scenario, suppliers should demonstrate how products are sourced and supply chains managed. A partner who manages their entire supply chain in-house is more likely to ensure better control of the end-to-end processes, and fulfill supply promises. If a supplier is happy to share their manufacturing and supply chain credentials with you, there’s a greater chance that they are honest and reliable – and you are in good hands. Meanwhile, ethical manufacturing is no longer just a buzzword; with increasing pressure on companies to demonstrate that they behave ethically and sustainably, a transparent supply chain operation is vital. Companies like Sedex facilitate this openness and transparency.
3. What are the key considerations when designing and manufacturing a new range?
The size of your contract (number of staff, the number of items in your range); your budget; and your timescales are the three main considerations. It is also important to consider the size of your contract when seeking out suppliers – do you want off-the-shelf products or a something unique to your brand? Suppliers who are largely interested in shifting stock product will typically give you a price list with a tick list of options. While they may label it “custom design”, don’t expect a bespoke service. If your design requirements are fairly simple, this may be enough. A truly bespoke uniform supplier should guide you through the process, starting with a project briefing document to better understand your business. They should also provide you with a clear project plan from design to delivery.. As it can over a year to design and manufacture a new uniform range from scratch, make sure you have earmarked the time and budget for this…
4. What are the key steps and how long does each stage take?
This is another “obvious” question to ask but what answers should you be looking for from your uniform supplier? Supplier comparison is the key here. Clearly set out your project parameters and ask potential suppliers to identify the key stages, timings, and costs – i.e. a realistic project plan for your needs. If one supplier tells you they can do it in 6 weeks while another is saying 24 weeks, it’s probably worth asking a few more questions to ascertain why there’s such a discrepancy between the two. Is one supplier skipping some key steps or providing unrealistic lead times? Are there any buffers in their plan? Ask them to map a critical path with milestones and responsibilities on both sides for the entire project. That way you can limit any nasty surprises, delays and hidden costs.
5. What makes a good customer for you?
This is a question that really should be asked much more often of suppliers, as it’s quite telling. Firstly, it gives the supplier a chance to outline their key criteria in a working relationship and it’s an opportunity for the buyer to see if the supplier will make a good match for them. It’s procurement 101. Approaching your supplier-customer relationship from a starting point of openness builds trust and credibility, improves communications and can be vital in identifying problems early on or solving issues if things go off-track.
6. Who are your 5 largest clients and what do you do for them?
Funnily enough, this is a question that seems so obvious but is often overlooked by first-time customers. Knowing the size and scale of your supplier’s operations can make a world of difference in terms of expectations. Check that your supplier is a good fit for you. If you’re looking for a long-term supplier, then you’ll want to know they’re financially sound. What’s their turnover? Do they have an even spread of clients or are they reliant on a few? In terms of experience, do they have expertise in your sector? If so, what kind of scale are we talking about? Having this information should help you to select the right supplier and give you peace of mind.
7. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in a uniform project?
Like the classic job interview question, asking this of your supplier will reveal a good deal about what they put value on, their approach to a project, and how well they are likely to handle issues that arise. Their answer should provide you with a strong indication of what their primary focus is. Do they talk about product, price, lead times or customer satisfaction? Did they face their biggest challenges head on and what was the outcome? Check this with references, too. And most importantly, are you comfortable with their answer?
8. Is it important to engage my employees in the uniform project and how do I do this?
You’d be surprised how rarely the wearers themselves are consulted about their uniforms when a company embarks on a new uniform project. Really, they should be the first people you talk to. After all, if the person wearing the uniform is uncomfortable or unhappy, the uniform has effectively failed in its job. Aside from practical considerations, staff uniforms can provide employees with a sense of pride and even status in representing the brand or company. This can have a knock-on effect on customer service, employee effectiveness and job satisfaction. As such, engaging employees if you’re planning a new uniform range is one of the most important steps to success. How well a potential supplier answers this question and how much value they attribute to it will be key to finding the right long-term partner for you.
9. My company is about to rebrand – how can we use our uniforms to help build the brand at the customer interface?
A rebrand is a fantastic opportunity for a company to refresh their uniforms, and engage staff in the new brand. Sometimes the uniform as a branding building tool, can be overlooked or is addressed quite late in the rebranding process. Given the time taken to design and source a bespoke uniform range, it’s worth getting started as early as possible – and allocate budget for it. A bespoke uniform supplier with solid experience in branding should be working closely with you to research and understand your brief, the market sector you operate in, your competitors and the physical working environment to provide you with the best designs for your budget.
10. How do I manage the stock for launch and beyond?
Stock forecasting and effective stock management is the lifeblood of any uniform contract. An experienced uniform supplier used to larger scale projects will be able to demonstrate their forecasting tool, make recommendations for minimum order quantities, lead times, product lifespan and required stock levels. They should help forecast in consultation with you, both minimising cost and wastage. Ensuring that the uniform is in stock, and in the right sizes, when you need them is a key service level requirement.