To the casual observer, an employee uniform may not seem complicated, but it takes more than a defined color palette to outfit an organization. Since 1942, Lion Uniform Group, LLC has worked with transportation, retail petroleum, and private security customers large and small, from Fortune 500 companies with tens of thousands of employees to 25-employee corporations, to ensure the outfits they provide their employees appropriately represent the culture of their company.
But Lion’s offering goes beyond the apparel. The company provides a program that includes services to help companies streamline how they communicate their expectations to each employee, starting with how the uniforms are purchased.
Uniforms may be issued to employees, there may be an allowance program where employees can pick and choose which styles they want to wear, or there may be a payroll deduction option. Either way, Lion pulls the pieces together to service the full spectrum.
“We offer a multitude of tops and bottoms,” said Jeanna Peifer, vice president and general manager. “We handle whatever is required from a program perspective, and from a corporate perspective, we provide the reporting, usage, and compliance requirements for employees and outline the guidelines they must follow.”
Lion is the direct-purchase division of G&K Services, a rental and facility supply services company. The company’s product assortment is fairly simple and includes tailored, casual, military, and work wear uniforms, but product innovations and service evolutions better illustrate Lion’s understanding of the industry.
Employee expectations of uniform apparel have changed in the past decade. Rather than being satisfied with old-fashioned polyester pants and polo shirts, employees want to wear something to work that’s similar to what they wear at home. As a result, uniforms now use performance fabrics and innovative designs comparable to what employees in retail wear.
“Uniform trends don’t move as fast as retail trends because fabrics have to be sustainable and able to be worn over and over,” said Peifer. “On the other hand, uniforms tend to be more closely related to the retail environment than they were in the past.”
Lion’s inhouse design capabilities give it leeway to work with manufacturers and mills around the world to bring the latest innovations in fabric and style to its customers while working closely with customers to ensure their brand integrity is still in place. The company sources globally with key suppliers it uses on a regular basis, which means while Lion is looking to make improvements to uniforms, its suppliers are looking for new opportunities as well.
“We work with our factories and key suppliers to be strategic, to have what we need on a timely basis, and to provide the right price for the customer,” said Peifer.
Lion has also upgraded its marketing techniques by moving away from an entirely print-based catalog of products to an e-catalog that customers can view and order from online. Peifer said this move has opened up the lines of communication, not only between Lion and its customers but also with those wearing the uniform.
An upgraded ERP system enables Lion to process orders in a more timely fashion, with orders being placed and shipped on a same-day basis and instant shipment feedback going to the customer. “The ability to put an order in and for us to monitor and provide feedback guarantees those uniforms get out the door on time,” said Peifer.
“The system has given us more flexibility to work with our customers and meet their expectations while improving efficiency,” she continued.
For many companies, the way the uniform is worn is as important as the uniform itself. When a new employee is hired, Lion ensures there is no question as to whether or not employees’ shirts should be tucked in when they arrive for their first day of work. “We help corporations with the image they are trying to portray by communicating their expectations to employees,” said Peifer.
To do this, Lion offers two types of e-stores on its Web site. One is a traditional e-store where employees find the items they’re looking for and purchase what’s needed. The second e-store, which is how Lion partners with its corporate clients, is a portal designed specifically for the client and its employees.
“For our corporate clients, it’s important that only their employees can see the uniform,” said Peifer. “If you’re an airline, you don’t want someone off the street being able to purchase a uniform. When employees log in, we check their identification before letting them proceed.”
Another difference between the e-store services Lion provides versus those of a typical retailer comes from being a direct-purchase uniform company. From a safety and security standpoint, Lion must ensure employees only have access to uniforms that are appropriate for their specific jobs.
In addition, Lion streamlines the process behind introducing a new uniform product to its customers’ employees, even going so far as to visit a customer location and help employees with fit. “Just as if we were a retail store, customers come to us, and we help them determine which size fits for each employee and what products would work best for the company as a whole,” said Peifer.
Also similar to a retail store, Lion helps employees understand what they need to choose for their job and responsibilities. The company is then able to provide feedback to the corporate client on what to purchase and guide clients to the products that employees are happy to wear.
“In the retail environment, you would look to forecast and have the right plan for the right merchandise on the store floor,” said Peifer. “We work with corporate clients to make sure we have the right merchandise in the uniform program for their employees and the changes in their employee base.”