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A series of articles on increasing enterprise value
from the Insider Pro consultancy team.

Buying work uniforms - a 4 step disruptive procurement approach that works

Posted by Jeremy Bowley
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Work uniforms by their very nature are not redesigned very often. The upfront costs mean that uniform designs remain in place for considerable time, and whilst procurement teams can look at alternative sources, there is often little room for any creative adjustments.

Often, the only choice a buyer feels they have is to look for alternative sources of the same thing and manage to squeeze some cost reduction.  But there are better ways.....

Of course, uniforms vary in complexity. For some, a tee shirt and hat may suffice, but for others a uniform comprises complete set of clothing, equipment and accessories.

When asked to source a uniform comprising 12 pieces of clothing and equipment we adopted a completely different approach.

As with any large company, the demand for new uniforms is constant, with new employees joining the company every week.

There was a concern over the cost of uniforms so Insider Procurement consultancy were invited in to see if we could source those uniforms at a lower per person cost.

We did.

We saved over £1.2m per year.

And here are the four things we did to create that saving:

1 - Question ALL stakeholders about their perceptions of the uniform

We didn't simply ask for a specification.  We spent time talking to ALL the stakeholders to really understand all the variables at play.

Gathering views from employees can be seen as a time-consuming and tediuos task - listening to complaints and having the unenviable task of trying to please everyone. But there are very good business and financial reasons to ensure that employees generally are as happy as possible with their uniforms.

Bain, for example, have stated that "if satisfied employees are productive at an index level of 100, then engaged employees produce at 144....and ....inspired employees score 225.

We started with the business owners and their main concerns were:

  • Cost
  • Brand visibility
  • Safety, practicality and comfort for the operatives

For the wearers, the main concerns were:

  • Comfort and safety

For the suppliers, the main concerns were:

  • Predictable order volumes to facilitate short lead time delivery

Interestingly, we discovered that the business had never shared their growth plans in any detail with the suppliers, so instead of being prepared to supply at short notice, they really struggled with any kind of visibility.  Added to that the sizing of the uniform was quite precise. Adding adjustments to the uniform to accomodate more than one size of person would mean less sizes to be made / stocked and therefore make it easier for the supplier to offer a fast turnaround.

All of this information gave us a foundation for what happened next.  

2 - We reviewed EVERY detail of the uniform, based on stakeholder concerns

Every detail - the fabric, the cut, the sizing, the trims, the comfort..... every little detail was examined.

The employees told our procurement consultants that the tops could get uncomfortable in heat so we also asked for better, more breathable fabrics to be used.

So far, we were potentially ADDING cost to the uniform, but then we knew that some items were simply not required.  For example, the original trousers were not branded and most employees swapped them for their own personal preference.

Interestingly, because we had given employees a forum to comment about uniforms some of them chose to widen the brief and inform us about problems with other branded items - including the packaging used by the company.  After hearing a couple of adverse comments about the packaging we questioned the impact and employees reported that whilst there had been no formal complaints, customers appeared disappointed.  This turned out to be great inside knowledge and invaluable information for those concerned with customer satisfaction and ultimately business growth.

3 - Work with a clothing designer to redesign the entire uniform, using the following guidance:

We asked clothing designers to work with us to specify the requirements, rather than allowing the potential suppliers to suggest options.  

Again, this was adding cost to the project, but as a one-off cost that would result in a better, lower cost uniform we knew this would be a very worthwhile investment.

We gave them the following criteria to work with:

  • Completely remove items that the employees do not value and do not impact safety
  • Improve comfort levels in both the materials used and the styling

In short, we reduced the number of items and increased the quality and suitability of the remainder.

4 - We broke the uniform out into separate elements and reviewed potential suppliers for each item.

Finally, we got back to old fashioned procurement practices and reviewed suppliers for each element in order to drive down costs.

The result of this procurement consultancy exercise was an annual saving of over £1.2m on uniforms alone which was a huge impact to their profitability.

Added to that employee satisfaction was measurably increased.

And, having learned of the packaging problems, we solved that in order to increase customer satisfaction too.

The lesson learned here is to listen to employees when it comes to work uniforms. Whilst the employer felt they were providing a complete set of clothing and equipment to create brand awareness, and improve employee safety, we proved that we could:

  • retain branding
  • improve employee satisfaction
  • improve customer satisfaction AND
  • reduce costs

- all through some relatively simple design changes.

Procurement consultancy shoudn't be just about reducing costs, it's about challenging the norm and coming up with a solution that improves shareholder value.  That's why we call what we do "disruptive procurement".

To read more examples of our disruptive procurement techniques in action, download our eBook.

Disruptive Procurement eBook Cover


Topics: Disruptive Procurement