HOW TO CHANGE UNIFORM SUPPLIER, WITHOUT GETTING A HEADACHE
There can be many reasons for changing your school uniform or sportswear supplier. You may want improved service; to offer parents a greater choice of ways to buy; be seeking better product quality, or a supplier to carry your stock year-round.
Whatever your reason for change, with a little forethought, changing your uniform or sportswear supplier need not be painful.
"Firstly, having made the decision to change supplier for whatever reason, good planning is essential to ensure a smooth transition. Secondly, schools should aim to give their existing supplier as much notice as possible to minimise any stock write-offs."
- Howard Wilder, Ex-chair of the Schoolwear Association
Notice periods will depend on your contract, but October or November of the preceding year is a fair amount of time.
As for the changeover process itself, we recommend agreeing a switchover date – the start of a new academic year – and building in a changeover period, commonly 24 months. This enables existing suppliers to run off their stock and also gives parents value for money from their children’s existing uniform or sports kit.
In our experience it is important to work to a deadline of 1 March for any changes to be signed off. This allows the new supplier to have garments manufactured for June, when parents will traditionally start shopping ready for the autumn term.
Given that the consultation and sampling process typically takes two to four months, it is advisable to start consultations at the beginning of the autumn term. Choose a helpful, capable supplier who provides a sampling service as standard and has strong relationships with their factories to turn samples around quickly. Our recommendation is to always sign-off on an actual garment rather than a piece of paper.
Take advantage of your supplier’s knowledge of fabrics, manufacturing processes and the supply chain to guide you and let them take away the headaches.
One sometimes overlooked factor is ensuring your prospective supplier is financially sound.
"If a supplier goes out of business all the schools it serves will experience significant disruption and the rest of the market may not be able to make up the shortfall,” explains Howard. “But also check potential suppliers are already serving schools of your calibre so they understand the product quality, range of items and service levels you expect."
- Howard Wilder, past chair of the Schoolwear Association
Outstanding service is key to successful school/supplier partnerships, so ask prospective suppliers to demonstrate their performance in meeting Service Level Agreements.
Other advice is to make sure you compare ‘like with like’ when evaluating prices – consider the whole package – fabric, country of manufacture and quality, all of which affect cost – rather than simply the garment price in isolation.
A good tip is to set up a small focus group consisting of parents and staff to steer the changeover but be careful not to let this become large and unwieldy, or it will hinder decision-making.
Flexibility and responsiveness were key factors behind Nottingham Girls’ High School’s decision to appoint Stevensons as its uniform and sportswear provider following a competitive tender when it wanted to update both uniform and kit design.
Close supplier relationships enabled us to produce a full range of samples in the latest technical fabrics for NGHS to trial and test, which passed with flying colours. We now sell the uniform and sportswear on the school’s behalf, freeing them from buying in bulk to sell themselves.
"We are delighted with our new sportswear designs and our girls look very professional in their new kit."
- Jeremy Dunn, Director of Finance and Operations, Nottingham Girls’ High School
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