A Uniform Approach to B-T-S Fashion

Discussion
Jul 30, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

There are a lot of reasons given for schools requiring students
to wear uniforms, but regardless of those reasons, it is clear that business
is on the upswing and retailers are looking to grab their share.

According to CNBC,
French Toast is looking to boost its school uniform sales by seven percent
this year. Michael Arking, president of French Toast.com, said sales for the
entire category should be up somewhere between three and five percent.

Back-to-school
season is critical for uniform companies as roughly 80 percent of the industry’s
$1 billion in annual sales comes in the months leading up to the first day
of school.

Studies showing that uniforms remove distractions and contribute
to fewer discipline issues in schools have led many districts to adopt the
educational fashions.

Adam Weil, the director of School Uniforms for Lands’
End, told CNBC, "They’d
rather have students concentrating on what they are learning rather than what
they are wearing."

Lands’ End is looking to attract a larger number of
consumers by offering schools cash back incentives for purchases made for their
students. The company has also added added uniform departments to 209 of its
Lands’ End Shops located inside Sears stores.

Discussion Questions: Is the greater adoption of school uniforms a positive
or negative trend for retailer apparel sales overall? What can retailers
do to grab a greater share of the uniform business?

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10 Comments on "A Uniform Approach to B-T-S Fashion"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I see this as a positive development for retailers, which is why you see so many traditional outlets for BTS apparel (JCPenney, Target and others) exploiting the opportunity. It represents an add-on purchase, since the rest of a kid’s wardrobe is usable at school only if there is no dress code. (And the rest of the wardrobe has to be replaced every time it gets outgrown.) It also provides a “need to buy” incentive during the back to school season, which otherwise lacks the same sort of urgency as holiday shopping. So a win all around, not to mention the demonstrated benefits inside the schools themselves.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
10 years 9 months ago

Overall I am not sure this is going to be a huge benefit or bane to the sales efforts of retailers. I suppose if you specialize in uniform sales, it could help you.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
10 years 9 months ago
It can be a positive, but it depends a lot on how the school actually adopts their policy. I’ve seen cases where schools specify the company you must purchase from, or specific brands. In those instances, there is only one winner, and every other retailer loses not only their chance for the school clothes business, but also for any incidental shopping that may happen along the way. It also depends on how the retailer merchandises it. If uniforms are online only, then that’s a challenge for parents trying to figure out fit. I also think there is an opportunity to be less piece-meal about it–if I could buy the right size with confidence, and you put together a boy’s pack of 7 pants, 7 shirts, a few odds and ends like sweaters, all for one price…that would make my shopping trip much easier. It’s not like there is a ton of variety to choose from–that’s half the point. If you position it right, there is a lot of opportunity. If you’re not paying close attention,… Read more »
Marge Laney
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I think the answer depends on who you are and who your customer is. Discounters who offer school uniforms will do well no matter what, and the specialty school uniform retailers will thrive on the higher end. It’s the teen and children’s retailers who have the most to lose if BTS is more about uniforms and less about fashion. It should be noted though, that the premium teen retailers may benefit. If mom and dad don’t have to worry so much about quantity when making non-uniform choices for their kid’s wardrobes, they can better afford the aspirational brands that their children crave.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

From my perspective this is all good. The comments above are all valid. Watching the new Old Navy TV spots shows how retailers can capture the uniform market, and at the same time leverage the added footsteps into additional sales.

While some ‘branded’ retailers may hurt a tiny bit in the short term I wouldn’t expect much damage at all; kids rip off their uniforms as soon as school ends and put on their preferred styles anyways.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 9 months ago
Depending on the venue (typically urban), the uniform business has positive and negative aspects. Positives include greater predictability for a significant portion of the assortment as styles and colors are prescribed in advance. Secondly, there is a solid re-order business throughout the school year as uniforms wear out and/or get damaged and must be replaced. In all, a nice simple business within an individual market. On the down side, uniforms can vary between schools, which introduces incremental complexity into the planning and allocation functions. Also, retailers can get stuck (voice of experience here) if the school board decides to change the uniform close to the beginning of the school year. Should this happen, the merchandise is worthless. The best way to capture the opportunity is to have the field organization develop a relationship with the individual school administrators and then provide that feedback to the central merchants. The example of offering some form of kickback to the school is a good one. Anything that endears the retailer to the local school is a big plus.… Read more »
Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
10 years 9 months ago

This should be a positive for retailers. It’s a sales opportunity that is predictable, giving them a chance to ramp up appropriately and effectively. For those who work a bit harder to engage and retain shopper parents and students, there are going to be return visits. Further, getting shoppers in the stores is a great time to showcase other styles that will appeal to this very specific demographic.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

To my knowledge and experience, school uniform providers are dominated by locally established and owned companies. Schools normally contract with these providers and do not accept clothing “resembling” uniforms purchased from other sources.

For certain retailers, opening up an online store or having seasonal kiosks in-store for uniform sales could be well justified. Young students become accustomed to uniform wearing but surely wouldn’t mind the “upgrade” to a Gap, Lands’ End, or other brand.

For larger retailers, this is an opportunity with potential and it should be studied. I have some reticence in making this statement as this could result in another case of category killing merchants negatively impacting local merchants.

Jeb Watts
Guest
Jeb Watts
10 years 9 months ago

I don’t see how this can be positive. The retailer goes from selling a $200 pair of popular jeans to a $25 pair of uniform pants. That can’t be good.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

This program will grow larger and become more sophisticated as more school districts require uniformity. Yes, dollar sales may decrease; but I see that as short lived. The children are still going to the malls. The parents are still concerned about their children’s appearance and will buy the higher priced items for after school and weekend wear.

Weren’t we discussing the absurd cost of children’s birthday parties earlier this week? Do we think the parents are sending their children to these parties wearing the school uniform? I don’t think so.

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