Select Uniforms Ltd has been supplying workwear uniforms for over twenty years, but until recently has not been a major player in the removals business. Deputy Editor David Jordan took a trip to its factory in Leeds to see what it has to offer.
Heading towards Select Uniforms’ showroom on the outskirts of Leeds I passed the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey sitting majestically on the banks of the River Aire. The main road now passes to the north of the old building, but it wasn’t always so. In 1558, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, the King - for reasons best known to himself - ordered the road, then little more than a cart track, to be diverted through the nave of the Abbey’s church! It remained that way for the next 200 years - the scuff marks from passing wagons can still be seen on the massive stone pillars that once supported the roof. How extraordinary.
A few miles on I arrived at Select’s showroom, housed in a former co-op building at a busy crossroads in Rawdon. Director Chris Gaunt and Sales Manager David Baumont, who I’d first met at The Movers & Storers Show last November, were there to meet me
Select Uniforms was started by Chris’s father in 1997 and Chris took over the running of the business when his dad retired in 2005, David joined shortly afterwards. The company traditionally specialises in supplying uniforms to the bus and coach industry and that still accounts for around 70% of Select’s business.
“The Movers & Storers Show was our first foray into the removals business,” said Chris. “Just like the bus and coach operators, removal companies are well aware of the benefits of having uniformed staff and we know there is a lot of potential business for us. The reaction we had at the show was very encouraging and we’re already dealing with a number of companies as a result.”
Select’s showroom is packed with every type of work-related clothing, from out-door jackets and polo shirts to high-vis vests and work boots. “To be honest we don’t have a lot of passing trade, most of our business is with corporate customers or online, but being on one of the main routes into Leeds, it’s good advertising for us, a sort of working bill-board,” said Chris.
Almost all Select Uniforms’ stock is sourced in the Far East from factories in China and Bangladesh. “We still buy some stock from suppliers in the UK but because we buy fairly large quantities it makes sense to use overseas suppliers,” said Chris. “It takes about six months from placing an order on the factory to the goods arriving in the UK. We always make sure we have plenty of stock to meet the demand. You have to pay up-front and have the experience to know what is going to sell, but the quality is always excellent, and the prices mean we are very competitive.”
Making sure everyone’s uniform fits properly is very important, but measuring a large workforce is no easy task if you’re not an expert. David Baumont explained, “We have a male and female team who visit customers on site to take measurements and give the staff the opportunity to try on samples before an order is placed. They often measure between 80 and 100 people in a day. It’s important to make sure people feel comfortable in their uniforms, otherwise they won’t enjoy wearing them.”
Select Uniforms also provides a management service to help simplify the ordering process and reduce the workload of the manager. David explained, “We keep a record of the uniforms we supply to our customers and the details of every member of their staff. This means we can deliver each person’s uniform in a named box rather than in bulk, which the manager would then have to sort out. It saves a lot of time and unnecessary work when the uniforms are being issued. We can also include a maximum spend on each account so that the annual budget set by the customer is never exceeded.”
The printing and embroidery of uniforms is all carried out in-house at Select Uniforms’ factory in Stanningley, a short drive from the showroom. A loyal team of eight skilled operators using six-head embroidery machines produce around 500 pieces a day during two, eight-hour shifts. Other items, such as high-vis jackets, are printed using heat-transfer. Most orders are delivered in about a week.
Although most of Select’s orders are for relatively large quantities, some customers order weekly or monthly for new members of staff, there is no minimum order. “We occasionally get people who walk in the shop or go online and just order one or two items and we’re happy to supply them,” said Chris.
“Something people don’t usually realise is the need for caution when supplying certain types of uniform. For example, we once had a man come into the shop and ask for a security guard’s uniform, you just need to be careful and make sure they’re genuine!”
Photo: Top: Chris Gaunt (left) and David Baumont; top right: The showroom interior: Middle left: Machine operators from left: Jana, Maggie and Anna; middle right: Heat transfer printing; Bottom left: Machine operator Maggie.