Uniform Rental Programs vs. Direct Uniform Purchase

Uniform Retntal ContractMany years ago at a trade show, one business owner approached me for advice on transitioning from a uniform rental program for his employees to a direct purchase program. I helped recommend styles, discussed the transition and gave him my insight on how to gracefully leave his rental service. The next year he sought me out at the show. He had purchased uniforms for every employee. He started an employee retirement plan with left over funds, and still paid out less money that he was spending on the rental program. He was extremely happy and so were his employees.  

Whether you buy from Image Connection or a competitor, make sure you gather all of the facts.  Yes I am biased but I am also experienced.  You can get a better uniform program for less money with direct purchase than you can with a uniform rental program. Let’s look at some of the specifics.

Cost.  Renting uniforms is akin to leasing a car. Cheaper up front but more expensive in the long run. There may be no upfront cash required, but read the contract carefully for all of the ancillary costs you can expect. Sure the rental company will sew on a button, but if they have to replace the shirt you’ll pay full retail, plus customization fees for names and logos. If you have a high turnover rate it can be especially costly. Look for the environmental charges they pass along, allegedly to make sure they don’t pollute the local water and of course fuel surcharges as the price of gas fluctuates. You may even find local business taxes itemized on the bill…the same taxes you pay as part of the cost of doing business but don’t explicitly pass on to a customer. Most of thes extra charges are pure profit to the rental company.

Quality. Rental companies count on the economy of scale. They want you in the same uniform as all of their other accounts. If you tour the facility you will see that they have an entire stockroom full of the same uniforms they are trying to rent to you. Why? Because they use these to replace lost or damaged uniforms from a program. You pay full price for a replacement and they give you a used garment turned in by someone else.  Granted it has to be customized for you, but it’s usually not new.  If you want a uniform of a higher quality or different from what they stock…be prepared to pay more than the original quote.  Almost always your shirts will have a patch instead of direct embroidery. That is so they can remove the patch and put the shirt back in the stockroom.  If you want direct embroidery you will have to commit to buying the shirts anyway, so why are you renting them?

Service.  Yes, there are some jobs where having your uniforms cleaned by an outside service is beneficial.  If your employees get extremely dirty or come in contact with hazardous materials you may not want that residue in their home laundry. In today’s work environment that is the exception to the rule. In fact most workers prefer to do their own laundry. The idea of someone else doing the laundry sounds good at first, but remember this is an industrial laundry. After a few weeks they begin to miss that spring fresh softness and smell, and if you pay attention you’ll find that many of your employees (often more than half of them) go back to doing their own laundry instead of turning them in to the rental service. They call this “underwash” in the industry, and most uniform rental companies count on this as a means of increasing profits.  You don't get a discount for underwash.

There are almost always issues of lost and damaged garments, who lost them where they got damaged, and so forth.  If you think “the customer is always right” check the fine print on your bill.  

Image.  Image is everything.  Companies often change or upgrade their image, and uniforms and re-branding are almost always part of that effort. With direct purchase you can easily migrate to a new program by simply changing what you buy. We offer hundreds of products to pick from. With a rental program you may be able the change the patch on your shirt, but changing or upgrading your program will not be so easy.  You may have to wait until the end of a 3 or 5 year contract

Still want a uniform rental program? Ask for copies of actual bills from real customers whose business is similar to yours.  With or without the names blacked out you can get an idea of types of charges to expect. Press hard for details about extra charges and get all of it in writing so there are no surprises. Read the contract before you sign it. If it sounds fishy ask for an explanation or an exemption.

 The national uniform rental companies have the best dressed reps, the coolest brochures, the largest entertainment budgets, and the highest overhead. My advice: if you decide to pursue a uniform rental program talk with a locally owned company as well. These are the guys who sponsor the local little league teams and have a vested interest in your community. They usually have lower overhead and are more accommodating.  The “big boys” will tell you they have the resources to make things happen…but they seldom have the flexibility to make it happen the way you want it to.

If you find yourself trying to exit a uniform rental program my first word of advice is always the same: Read your contract. Most contracts are written for a 3 to 5 year period and are pretty ironclad. If you are nearing the end of the program you can easily notify your rental supplier that you want to terminate the agreement. If you are not near the end, termination is like firing a government employee. Not impossible, but requires lots of documentation. It seems that the companies with the worst service hire the best lawyers.  Many of these contracts self-renew so you need to address termination as soon as you stop “feeling the love”.

Image Connection offers full uniform program management services. When you are ready to explore the options for direct purchase, of you just want our advice on leaving your rental program, give us a call today. 866.250.3676