Cataloger Spotlight: Professional Uniforms
Professional Uniforms was started in the early ’70s as a retail uniform shop that supplied scrubs and medical apparel to the local medical community. After changes in location and attempts to expand the number of stores, the company hit a wall in the local and regional markets.
As a result, the owners, the Fotis family, decided to reach out to large-scale markets through the use of limited mailings in the forms of flyers. Through trial and error, a catalog and brand were coaxed and forged into two successful catalog/Web businesses — Lydia’s Uniforms and MadAboutMouths — targeting the medical apparel market, and one book (Uniform Warehouse) that made excellent headway in the service industries market.
The growth can be attributed to excellent housefile-building techniques and close attention to operational details, which maximized productivity and fulfillment services.
But strong cultivation of the housefile using the appropriate mailing techniques, including recency and purchasing habits, all lend themselves to growing market share and bottom-line ROI.
There were plenty of pitfalls, too. A lot of the techniques were learned on the fly as the catalogs grew, and only worked as long as the target markets remained similar.
Professional Uniforms is an example of what can go right and wrong when a successful strategy abandons its bread-and-butter market, leaving its housefile behind.
Professional Uniforms found the right market and product mix with its Uniform Warehouse book. Prospecting was made easy via a strong co-op relationship and an offering of “sure things,” according to George Fotis, who manages and runs the book exclusively, separate from the Lydia’s Uniforms engine. This allowed the catalog to mimic other successful books and grow its housefile by following proven mailing techniques that guaranteed slow but steady growth at low target conversion rates.
This worked because of the amount of centralized control over product mix, list selection and fulfillment. But when Professional Uniforms tried another book (and Web site) that attempted to leave the housefile behind, it failed. Called Soleas, the business originally was launched as a Web site to capitalize on, and capture, more out-of-pocket dollars from the company’s existing housefile.