Corporate Apparel - Promoting Businesses and Building Images

The Company Store

Want to wake up in the morning to a virtual mailbox full of legitimate orders?

Pitching a company on the idea of providing custom uniforms to the employees is a great way to establish a relationship and start a store that can provide orders that come right into your email inbox.  

Any program should also include the folks in the boardroom. The market for embroidery in the corporate world has increased by leaps and bounds since the embroidered dress shirt was joined by the dress-down Friday clothes and an upswing in demands for corporate identity shirts.

Corporate dress codes are now more comfortable, and statistics show that the comfortable worker is happier and more productive whether he is stocking the shelves, selling the stock, or managing the stock market side of the corporation.

Corporate apparel improves morale, which is seen as a benefit to the company. It saves money on clothing, which can attract new employees. It has been shown to increase productivity. It got its start in the Silcone Valley where the younger set tended to come to work as they pleased. By providing company-approved apparel, the corporation is able to add what they “please” and exercise some control over the dress code.

 Ideas at Work

 I often stay at Westin hotels, and I remember my first encounter with this hotel chain. At first blush it appeared to be like many other hotels, but when I rounded the corner in my room, I saw two white fluffy “clouds” that turned out to be the beds. They were covered with soft down comforters encased in elegant duvet covers. The head of the bed was filled with pillows of several sizes and shapes and, when bedtime came, I discovered that the mattress was stacked with extra padding. The whole effect was like sleeping on air. There were soft plush bathrobes and oversized bath sheets….and all of it was advertised for sale – including the “Heavenly Beds” at a company store on the web.

Someone had to set that store up—why not someone who can offer embroidery as well?

 Getting Started

 Downsizing has increased interest in boosting employee moral and instilling a “team” attitude. Some companies have cut their budgets and have eliminated in-house advertising and marketing but they still need merchandise. As a result, they contract with outside companies for wearable items and gifts.

Why not you?

One of the advantages to working with corporations to build an actual or virtual store, is the embroiderer is able to promote shirts, caps and other goods that are embroidery friendly.

Many corporations welcome a corporate identity program sold though a company store, located inside the company facilities. If space is available, a “brick and mortar” location can allow for instant purchases as well as special orders.

Without a physical space, the store can exist in catalogue form. Send a catalogue with piece, case and dozen pricing to each employee and let them buy what they want.

In this “store”, employees can buy—for themselves and their friends and families—corporate ID apparel and gifts as well as uniforms or dress-down-Friday clothes. Anything that is found in the catalogue can be worn to work and the company has the benefit of promoting its image as well as making a profit on the sales of the goods.

Company store items can be offered as work wear, performance incentives, customer gifts, recognition items or prizes.

Space and manpower to maintain a store are costly investments, so the idea and profit was often limited to the larger companies. But the Internet is changing this concept and web-based stores are becoming the rage, taking up no space in the physical plant and require no one to mind the store. There are no printing costs as no catalogues are required and the store can be monitored and changed at the click of a button. No packing away the winter clothes when the weather warms…jackets and coats brought out of “storage” by a keystroke. If your talent runs to building websites as well as embroidery—or if you have a partner or employee that could take care of the web end of things for you, for a commission, a share or a salary, maybe the company store is your niche.

 Forging the Agreement

 It is said that successful salesmanship is 90% preparation and 10% presentation, so prepare well for your encounter with the appropriate corporation representatives.      

Approach the marketing department or the human resource group of the company that has caught your eye and negotiate an agreement with them. The agreement should cover all details including storage and payment details. Some agreements are structured so the company makes a down payment, which is used by the distributor (you) to pay the supplier for goods, which are then sold at a profit. Royalties are paid to the company by the distributor for the exclusive use of the corporate logo and the right to market to the employees.

Some companies want the distributor to handle the entire program. The distributor absorbs all the costs, including the warehousing of products until the store needs them and sells at a profit. This drives the cost up for the company, but they are risking absolutely nothing. Sometimes you have to offer this to get an account, but if the account is a strong one, it may be worth it. Negotiate hard for exclusivity when logo-licensing issues are addressed. Protect your interests, especially if you are supplying all and the company is risking nothing. The royalties you must pay are a small price to pay to keep the secretary’s brother who just started an embroidery business from cutting you out.

The wholehearted endorsement of the company and strong support are the key to a company store. The company must be involved and sanction the program to guarantee its success. Make sure the company invests in promotion of the effort so the employees know that management and corporate levels support the store.

Monitor sales closely and if an item doesn’t sell well, substitute something else. The best consultants in company store decisions are the employees. They are the ones who will be doing the buying.

Establish a good relationship with your suppliers when you are negotiating so you don’t “owe your soul to the company store.” Sometimes the supplier can provide the distributor with consulting help—and the potential of large orders will often shave the wholesale cost of the product handsomely and even save on freight.

 A Case in Point

 One of my Embroidery Line members (www.EmbroideryLine.net) is Marsha Nash of Itchin' to bee Stitchin', Inc. in Sarasota, Florida—who always had a real interest in corporate Internet stores.

Opportunity knocked when she was asked to compete for a government contract, supplying uniforms to 600 people—and one of the requirements was online ordering.

“I felt I was prepared to tackle the challenge,” Nash says.  She networked with others who were providing this service and brainstormed with the architect of her company’s website.

That brainstorming was effective, because she won the contract award, and the work began. “There is a great deal of detail and work required that you cannot see by looking at a web page!” Nash says.

It had to be accessible and easy to use, even by those who were not computer literate. 
The corporation that Nash services gives an annual allotment to employees for complete uniforms.  They have one year to use the funds which do not roll over to the next year—an important consideration that the website and program must handle properly.
The offered items are chosen by an administrative uniform committee.  The selections, available in men’s and women’s styles, include pants, shorts, skirts, short- and long-sleeved placket shirts, a windbreaker, a heavy jacket, non-slip shoes, socks, belts, caps, visors, and miscellaneous items such as gloves and flashlights. All embroidered items receive the same design.

When the employee logs on with a name and password to the website, the opening screen lists their name and the amount in their account.  Selected items are added to the shopping cart and the cost of the item is deducted from their account. If they wish to spend more than their allotment, the website allows them to continue shopping and pay for the excess personally.  Once all items are selected, they complete a form with their name and shipping information.  When this form is submitted, an email is sent to Nash’s inbox and a confirmation email is sent to the user.
All this information is stored in the administrative section of the website.  The corporate client has access to part of the administrative area as they are responsible for placing the funds in the online accounts.  Funds are distributed on the anniversary of the employee’s hiring, so ordering can be done on any day, all year long.
“I knew that we had to make it super-simple to use,” Nash says. “This client was accustomed to using a local vendor with a walk-in storefront.” Working with her web architect and knowing that it would be a difficult transition for some, especially those who are not computer-savvy, Nash had to make even the simplest processes straightforward and easy to understand. After much work and some modifications, she were ready to go. 
Nash is excited when she sees orders arrive in her email inbox. “This has been a very costly project, and this particular client has a lot of products from which to choose.  Now that the template is made, I am anxious to offer additional stores on a simpler scale.”

 Working Smarter, Not Harder

 There isn’t a competitor alive who can undersell a program that is built with both good will and good service. Working hard and smart to set up the virtual infrastructure to make corporate stores part of your offerings can result in consistent business—orders that, when added to the daily customers who walk into your brick and mortar store, can make a real difference in your bottom line.

The best advice my father ever gave me was to work diligently on a project that requires a real investment in sweat equity and time, but produces repeat sales for many a day. The result for me was my two Professional Embroidery books. It is plain to see that the establishment of a web presence and the tools that make it work would make corporate relationships and the catalogues that result just as fine an investment of your time.

Think about it. The Internet can be a gold mine if used and mined correctly. Sow some seeds with your corporate friends and you may soon be reaping the benefits by sewing repeat orders of shirts and so much more.