THE VET GROUP
Vets4Pets and Companion Care provide management services to their networks of small animal vet practices across the UK. Established in 2001, they are now owned by the Pets at Home Veterinary Group and form what the company says is the largest small vet group in the UK. “Practices are located either within Pets At Home stores or as standalone units, both under the highly successful joint venture business model,” explains commercial manager Rowanne Dyson. “The total amount of surgeries in the UK is currently 359.”
“We have a standard uniform offering, which we worked closely with our partners and colleagues to develop,” says people manager Sarah Buckley. “Our partners have a choice from the range of uniform we offer which they can chose for their teams to wear. As a new surgery opens, the support office will work with a new partner to identify which uniform they wish their colleagues to wear and then we place the orders with the supplier. From then on partners have access to be able to order uniform directly from the supplier, with support from the support office if required.”
The uniforms at Vets4Pets were chosen for their comfort, durability and wearability as well as, of course, their ability to allow staff to carry out veterinary duties. “Our colleagues spend a lot of time on the ground handling pets so their uniforms really get put to the test,” explains Sarah. “We receive feedback regarding durability of kit including uniforms and, where we have received feedback, we have looked to work with our suppliers to improve the garments in the range.”
Also important to the company is being able to get brand logos and colours on the garments, explains Rowanne: “All uniforms are branded to help achieve a consistent and joined up look and feel of our professional and trusted organisation. The clients hold vets and nurses in high regard and research has proven a uniform helps lead an opinion of respect, similar to the respect of a GP, surgeon and nurse in the human healthcare profession.”
Alexandra provides the uniforms, and the brand’s flexible approach along with its bespoke workwear service is why it was chosen by the vet group, reports Rowanne, who adds: “We spent a long time trying to find the right supplier and feel that Alexandra can provide the service and quality that our surgeries need. Our vet nurse tunics are bespoke and have branded piping around the collar. Some practices use this to depict the level at which a nurse is at in their career.
“When looking at suppliers we like to focus on key areas, which are service, price and quality.
Uniform is quite an emotive subject with our surgeries so when making these decisions our commercial managers always consult with our Joint Venture Counsel to ensure that these decisions reflect opinions of those in practice.”
For those looking to supply a veterinary practice, Rowanne has these words of advice: “Understand what we do as a job and how important a clean, durable and recognisable uniform is to the veterinary profession.”
THE CARE HOME GROUP
Advinia Health Care has 16 care homes, ranging from residential to nursing, across the UK. The group employs 750 people and staff can receive two uniforms, each of which are purchased centrally from Advinia’s head office. However, the company’s CEO, Len Merton, has strong feelings about the current healthcare uniform offering for care homes and even tried to get rid of all the uniforms after he joined the company three years ago.
“I have a belief that we need to remove these institutionalised barriers and make our homes very homely, especially when we’re caring for people with dementia. Some homes have been quite successful with that and remain out of uniforms, but others have failed on it and so we’ve gone back to uniform in those homes,” he comments.
The evidence is split, reports Len, on whether staff caring for those with dementia should be in or out of uniform. What Len is emphatic about is that if uniforms are to be used, then they need to be far removed from the hospital style that many companies offer to care homes. “It’s about creating a homely environment. We’re not a hospital. Many of the tunics are blue and very much a nurse-style uniform.”
When the company chose a new uniform for its staff recently, a number of companies were selected and asked for their best price along with a sample and their catalogue. “These are companies that I’ve generally found through attending the various care fairs around the country,” says Len. “But they were very repetitive. There is very little choice in style and innovation – it’s a very institutionalised offer out there.”
Even many of those offering a bespoke option didn’t manage to impress, says Len: “I don’t think they had the right designers in place to be able to produce suitable samples. I need to see from them what they’re offering rather than me dictate.”
Len’s requirements were that the fabric had to be durable, hold its colour, retain its appearance and be non-iron, although it is possible to go too far. “Many of the uniforms that I see are so durable and starched that they’re too heavy,” comments Len. “Our care homes are very warm so I’ve gone for a uniform that retains its appearance, is polycotton and is a bit lighter weight because of the temperature under which staff have to work.”
The company that came up with a uniform that matched Len’s vision was Norwich-based Meltemi. “I’ve gone for a magenta pink with a nice navy trim to bring a bit of colour into the homes, and the males wear a navy coordinated top. They’re more stylish [than the previous tunics], they’ve got trims around the sleeve and going down the front, they’re a good weight and they’ve got pockets. It’s important that they have pockets because care staff like to carry a pen or a handwash around with them all the time.”
There are many opportunities for cross-selling in care homes. Meltemi is also providing traditional white tunics and check trousers for catering staff, polos and green workwear trousers for the handymen and uniforms for all the other ancillary staff such as domestic staff. “I prefer to go to a one-stop shop as it helps us in terms of price,” explains Len. And with the industry seeing a high turnover of staff thanks to low wages combined with the hard work of being carer – Advinia’s turnover is around 20%, a lower figure than the average, believes Len – regular repeat orders are likely.
Len’s advice to companies is to offer lightweight garments that meet all the requirements of a carer in a nursing home. “More than anything else though, they need to be different, innovative and stylish, and that’s just not out there at all.”