The death knell for profitable corporate wear suppliers is the desire to offer world class service but charge budget prices. As an industry it is time to sell the product not the price!
I am now in my 35th year in the clothing business. I have seen many changes.
The most significant impact on the industry is, arguably, constant movement of manufacturing to less expensive destinations. This has enabled consumers to buy what is in effect disposable clothing.
Consumers are now more comfortable spending a night at the Every man cinema with a couple of drinks and some small snack and parting with £65 than paying £15 for a shirt that will last a few years. The Every man cinema experience is wonderful but fleeting. The shirt could conceivably deliver many wonderful memories and instill confidence in the wearer? I sell trousers that will last three school terms for the same price as two bottles of Peroni in Soho.
How does this relate to corporate wear? Well in 1995, I sold a wonderful tailored jacket that would perform at work. It was dry clean only and made from a European wool based fabric. The cost of the jacket was approx £110, the matching trousers £50. Great value for a suit that you could wear to work everyday was delivered within 5 days and needed dry cleaning. During the 20 years since then the corporate wear industry has become fiercely competitive. I now sell a suit that is every bit as well made, it will perform even better at work, you can wash it and it will, nearly always, be delivered next day! The cost of this hugely improved offer? The jacket costs approx £59 and the trousers £25. That is the price to the www.director-e.com consumer! In my opinion this must represent the best value clothing in the world, yes the world!
When it comes to large projects nearly all suppliers of corporate clothing to major wearer groups have gone bust or had financial difficulties over the last 20 years. There are now a handful of suppliers who can offer a great service to a large corporate business looking for clothing. Those that are left are struggling to make a good return on their investment. They all offer a brilliant service and have experience gained over many years. So what do they do to win business? They largely compete on price. The result? The tailored clothing is of a lower standard and the companies scour the earth looking for cheaper manufacturing. Few suppliers really attempt to differentiate or offer a unique product. Rarely are corporations challenged on unrealistic lead times or price expectations. Prices are on a par with those paid by huge retailers but the product hugely superior.
I recount a story about a presentation at a large motorcar manufacturer. The car manufacturer wanted tailored suits for its workforce. After the pitch the car manufacturers representative complained about the price of the suit. Rather
than meekly accept the objection and offer to “sharpen her pencil” my colleague gave a detailed explanation about the manufacture of the fabric. She painted a picture of the wool processing and the spinning and weaving, dying and finishing process that takes 10-12 weeks. She then detailed the quality of the unseen components that make the “skeleton” of a great suit. The two-piece chest piece, washable canvas and stay tapes. The sprung sleeve head roll and two piece tailored shoulder pads. She explained the design and fitting process and extensive wearer trial that the suit had undergone. The factory tech’s who followed production to ensure consistency of finish. The compliance standards required for each manufacturer in the supply chain. The dyed through buttons and world leading zips and thread used. After 45 minutes she stopped.The representative of this high value car brand clapped; actually clapped the presentation.
She did sell the suiting. Sorry but she also gave a discount, not sure it was needed but given under pressure to “secure the business”.
I have no answer to the consolidation or price competition that has occurred in my industry.
I write this piece in support of all the hard working supplier of corporate wear in our industry. I hope that one person reading this has a similar reaction to the car manufacturer and respects the shear outstanding value of the corporate clothing they wear.
By Douglas Bailey, Managing Director at Stuncroft.
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