Company Uniforms Help Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning With More than Just Branding
Originally published: 07.01.13 by Ray Isaac
The benefits of establishing and maintaining a formal company uniform program
Uniforms impact many aspects of your business: branding, productivity, safety, employee moral and employee recruitment, not to mention customer relations and – the biggie – your bottom line. An efficient uniform program is an investment and requires careful negotiation, diligent management and close monitoring.
My grandfather and father were pioneers when it comes to employee uniforms. I remember them providing Isaac employees with gray company t-shirts sporting the Isaac name back in the 70s. As our company grew, our uniform program evolved. Today, our uniform program is a full-service system managed by our Human Resources Department.
We have a formal uniform policy in place that requires all field personnel to be in company uniform, regardless of where they work or what function they perform: service, installation, residential, commercial, shop, warehouse, driver. We have about 230 employees and 170 of them – nearly three out of four – are uniformed.
The uniform policy flows over to the office as well, so we have both an internal and an external uniform policy. When our uniformed field people come into the office, we want them to see it’s the uniform internally as well. We want them to know that everything we require of them in the field, we are doing. We want to lead by example.
Our uniform policy is based on a simple premise: project an image of professionalism. Isaac Heating has a consistent theme and identity and our uniforms have to maintain our company image. When you show up at a job in a nice, clean, pressed, tucked-in, professional uniform, it sets the stage for a positive experience. It tells the customer you’re a quality organization.
Another important premise of our uniform policy lies in our basic conviction in putting our employees first. My dad was always sensitive about taking care of our people in the field, because they’re the ones who are Isaac Heating to our customers and to the public. When we hire someone, we’re making an investment in them. Providing them with uniforms and embroidering their name on those uniforms tells that employee we are vested in them. It builds pride and unity: a sense of being part of the Isaac team.
I want Isaac employees to be proud of our company. I want them to feel good in what they’re wearing. You can’t put your employees in something that isn’t professional, that isn’t a nice uniform and is not comfortable. That can affect productivity. If they’re wearing something that doesn’t fit well, that isn’t comfortable, that they don’t think they look good in, then they’re not going to perform to the top of their ability. You look good, you feel good, and you’re going to perform well.
Our uniforms are very professional. One thing we do that other companies don’t do is embroider shirts and jackets with the Isaac name on one side and the employee’s name on the other. I don’t like stick-on patches, and my dad wasn’t fond of them, either. Having your name embroidered on a shirt and jacket says something about the stability of the company and indicates you’re a professional, not some part-timer or temporary worker. It’s subtle, but it’s important.
I don’t like to leave anything to chance, so we provide everything: the whole uniform. Shirts, pants, jackets, hats – even those stocking hats – have to be Isaac-issued with our logo. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to require something, you ought to provide it. The rule is: we’re providing it – wear it.
Items we provide are:
- Three types of shirts – short-sleeved golf shirts and both short- and long-sleeved button-downs
- Pants – black work pants, no jeans
- Three-season jackets
- Hats – both baseball caps and stocking hats
Over the years, we’ve tried a variety of uniform programs and explored every option. We’ve purchased uniforms. We’ve had employees buy their own uniforms. We’ve done a partial buy. We’ve done all those things. Right now, we lease our uniforms from UniFirst.
We offer a full-service uniform program with UniFirst handling the leasing, the embroidery, mending any uniforms that get cut or ripped, cleaning/laundry – including spot treating areas that get exceptionally dirty – and replacement according to a depreciation schedule.
Your uniform provider should be flexible enough to work with you to meet any unique needs.
Some factors to consider when selecting a good provider include:
- Delivery and pick up schedule
- Replacement schedule
- Rental price
- Mending policy
- Buy-back policy
- How they track inventory
- Willingness to provide extra services, such as embroidering and making patches
One of the biggest challenges we faced when selecting a provider was the delivery schedule. A lot of vendors still don’t understand field service and only come out once a week. But we can’t have our technicians sitting around waiting for the uniform guy to show up so they can give him their dirty ones and pick up their clean ones. We provide a 24/7 service and, when one of our technicians goes out on a call on Sunday, they have to be in uniform. The provider has to make two trips. UniFirst delivers clean uniforms on Friday and picks up the laundry every Monday.
We also faced a couple of unique challenges: one – our red uniforms; and two – our name embroidery requirement.
Our company color is red. Our vans are red. Our uniforms are red shirts with black pants. Isaac red is what we’re known for in the Rochester community. A lot of companies wouldn’t provide red because of problems associated with wear and tear and fading. It’s a hard color to work with. UniFirst uses a depreciation schedule to determine when they will replace a uniform once it reaches a certain amount of fading. We have to watch that closely, and we were very careful in the selection of who to use based on how they would manage that.
Secondly, many vendors wouldn’t do the one thing we want to do most: embroider all uniforms with the Isaac name and the employee’s name. We embroider shirts, jackets and hats and that’s something UniFirst was willing to work with us on. Most uniform providers only do the iron-on patches. Those are a benefit to everybody because you can pull the patch off and re-use the uniform if an employee leaves. When Isaac Heating loses an employee, or an employee no longer works for us, we have to buy those shirts and jackets because the uniform provider doesn’t have any use for those items.
Once you find a provider who’s willing to do everything you want, you still have to negotiate the terms and conditions of the contract. It’s important to manage and monitor that relationship. For example: when you are contractually bound to pay for lost and damaged items – even though the damage sometimes occurs in the maintenance process when they’re washing them – you want to make sure your provider has good inventory and reporting processes in place.
You usually have to sign up for a number of years because the uniform provider has to make provisions to service your account. They have to buy inventory, so they’re making an investment in you. Depreciation on uniforms is usually around three years, so most uniform providers are going to insist on a three-year commitment.
At Isaac, our Human Resources department oversees our uniform program, which is part of the orientation process for new employees and is also an on-going process.
Each Isaac employee has a unique ID number that matches an open-rack locker system and identifies their individual uniform sizes and item assortment. Uniformed employees are given six or seven complete uniforms each week: a full set plus one. Dirty uniforms are tossed into a hamper and picked up every Monday. Clean uniforms are delivered on Friday, so our employees always have clean uniforms in their lockers.
Beyond sizing employees and ordering uniforms for new employees, the HR department tracks the whole uniform distribution and collection process. Since they handle thousands of pieces of apparel, this is vitally important to the overall cost of our uniform program. For instance, we need to know that, when a shirt gets damaged, it gets mended and put back into service. We need to know that all employees turn in all of their uniforms each week. With 170 uniformed employees times 52 weeks over three years, missing items can add up quickly. Depending on your provider’s buy-back policy, you could suddenly be charged for hundreds of items you didn’t even know were missing.
Providing uniforms can be a valuable benefit that helps with employee recruitment. New employees at Isaac Heating are usually quite impressed that they’re getting a full set of uniforms. Many of them are coming from companies where they had to buy their own uniforms or wear whatever they had in the closet that morning. At Isaac, they don’t have to think about what they’re going to wear or whether or not it’s clean.
Another valuable employee benefit is not having to wash work wear. These uniforms are often exposed to oils, gases, insulation, cobwebs and construction-site substances the employee does not want to mix in with the rest of their laundry. We’ve gotten letters from wives of new employees thanking us for providing clean uniforms. They no longer have to worry about whether or not their husband has a clean uniform six days a week. They’re also saving on water, detergent, wear and tear on their washing machine, and time.
Isaac Heating spends about $70,000 a year on uniforms. The cost of our uniform program per uniformed employee is about $5 per week. It’s a lot of money, but it’s a worthwhile investment: one that maintains our company image, builds employee morale and complements our other marketing efforts.
Articles by Ray Isaac
Company Uniforms Help Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning With More than Just Branding
Uniforms impact many aspects of your business: branding, productivity, safety, employee moral and employee recruitment, not to mention customer relations and – the biggie – your bottom line.