School Uniforms: What Your Customers Are Looking For and How Vendors Can Make the Grade
If schools are on your client list, now is the time start marketing for the 2023-24 school year. Do your homework, and you could have a lucrative year, as unforms are getting more and more popular for both public and private schools, especially in grades K-8.
Uniforms promote school pride, and research shows that students perform better on tests when wearing a quality uniform displaying the school’s name, colors or mascot. A private school’s branding will also receive a boost every time a student wears the uniform outside of school.
For schools, uniforms offer consistency and safety to the students, and they can also be a lucrative revenue source. Most schools earn revenue with their uniform program, either by asking the vendor to add a markup or by adding it themselves through a spirit store. They are also a way of calming the noise and disruption of fashion—kids like to stand out in the crowd, and a uniform takes away the distraction of who’s wearing what and how much it cost.
This practical approach is shared by many parents, who look at price and durability. They also want convenience in picking up the outfit—preferably within five miles of the school. Durability is a major decision factor. Parents appreciate having uniforms last the whole year, or even the semester. When they wear out after a month or two, it really adds to their cost and complaints will happen.
Students, of course, will always go for fashion. Schools never do, and neither should you. After all, “uni” means “one.” Uniforms are a way to have one look for everyone. Schools want to avoid students trying to make fashion statements. There is room for a little creativity with a limited choice of colors or slogans, but draw the line there and don’t let anyone add their own choices.
Top trends: Several developments in uniform style and fabrics have emerged recently, which seem to be here to stay, at least for a while. Here are the top three trends I’m seeing:
- Having more “casual days” that emphasize comfort with approved styles like T-shirts. Showcasing different school programs and school expressions can lead to more business.
- Performance-based fabrics are more popular in high school than in early education.
- Many private schools are still extremely conservative on style. Pique knit polos offer far better durability than jersey knit. Students prefer an interlock knit for comfort, but parents do not like the cost.
Typically, schools prepare girls and boys to have the same selection of pants/shorts and polos, particularly if a school wants more in stock options. However, sometimes girls have an option for ordering jumpers/skirts/skorts. Jumpers have been highly popular with younger students. With pants, reinforced knees are important, particularly with primary school kids who have recess during the school day.
Top features to look for: I find two factors coming into play again and again:
- Quality: The outfit should be durable, with limited shrinkage during laundry (particularly with pants, or it will increase your returns).
- Consistency: Ideally, go with one brand only. Mixing brands, styles and shades are not uniform. Use the same ink and thread across the line.
Tips for smart school uniform shopping
- Consider separating out a school uniform program into a separate business entity, as the B2C business retail model is completely different than the B2B decorated apparel/promo light manufacturing model.
- You must be prepared to keep a large amount of stock on the shelves in numerous styles, colors and sizes. Style and color vary from one school to the next.
- Have a contract with the school that everyone agrees to that covers inventory, design use and policies such as delivery and returns. It is partially your responsibility to ensure the consumer buys within the styles and colors allowed by their school’s policy.
- The order cadence is completely different than in the promo industry. You may have thousands of individual sales, including returns or exchanges, and this will change your average ticket sales. With this, you may need a different system to process the orders, as a system for your print shop may not be designed for this.
- If you are required to keep stock on hand, it is best to keep as many schools in the same style and colors as possible to avoid overextending investment in inventory.
- Plan ahead if you have custom prints, because plaid uniforms require three to five months of lead time to receive from the factory.
- Have a team meeting daily during peak ordering season and staff up so you can process the orders fast!
Extra credit: Here in Florida, my kids started school August 10. The start of the school year means one thing: It’s time start planning for winter and spring events and to lay the groundwork for the 2023-2024 school year.
Mike Brugger is president of Fully Promoted, a full-service branded products and marketing services business. With nearly three decades of experience in the promotional products industry, he was recognized in the Power 50 ranking of Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) for his expertise, foresight and compelling results during a time when the industry experienced some of its toughest challenges. Under his leadership, Fully Promoted has ranked among the industry’s largest companies. Fully Promoted is part of the family of brands affiliated with the United Franchise Group, the global leader for entrepreneurs.