How can garment decorators and independent schoolwear suppliers compete against Aldi and its £4 uniform offer? Nigel Plenderleith, of Blue Max Banner, sets out the compelling arguments for service and quality over rock-bottom prices…

Discount supermarket, Aldi redrew the battle lines in the war for school uniform sales this summer with its astonishing offer of a full uniform (comprising of a sweatshirt, two polo shirts and a pair of trousers or a skirt) for just £4! Such an aggressive price point has prompted many questions about the provenance of such products, and also the profitability of such an offer: is it just a loss leader to encourage shoppers to switch their weekly supermarket shop to Aldi?
Irrespective of the conjecture, the fact remains that parents were given the opportunity to purchase their children’s uniforms for less than the price of a week’s school lunches. The question for garment decorators and independent schoolwear retailers, then, is how do you compete whilst remaining profitable and viable?

We turned to Nigel Plenderleith, managing director of Blue Max Banner – specialists in brandable schoolwear manufacturing – to provide both answers and inspiration…

Service first

1. “We believe end users want durability from the product they are purchasing. Blue Max offers customers a uniform their child will grow out of before they wear it out. Supermarket adverts often promise a 100-day guarantee, which is equivalent to one term. So you could have to buy three uniforms a year.”

Takeaway point: Headline savings may be a false economy if you end up making repeat purchases because the garments fall short of the required quality standard. ‘Pence per wear’ is a more useful benchmark when assessing the ‘value’ of a school uniform. Paying less and replacing more often means your child is still wearing a cheap uniform all year: for the same money they could be wearing a quality item from September to July and beyond.

2. “Parents want schoolwear all the year, not just in the key selling period. If a blazer or trouser is ripped or lost in October, where do you go to replace that product? At the supermarket parents are likely to find Christmas trees occupying the selling space instead of schoolwear. That’s a big plus for our side of the market.

“While price is important, if a store doesn’t have its £1 blazer in stock and your child is going back to school the next week or day then the low price is irrelevant. You have to have the uniform to go to school – some schools will send a child home if they are not dressed correctly. Parents also appreciate the convenience of a one-stop-shop for their uniform – they don’t want to have to go to different places to get different parts of it.”

Takeaway point: Independents can be relied upon to supply uniform whenever it is needed, as they enjoy the support of suppliers such as Blue Max Banner and its commitment to holding sufficient stock, 52 weeks of the year.

3. “Often supermarkets’ low headline prices apply only to the smallest sizes, with larger sizes costing considerably more. (To be fair to Aldi, the store operates a progressive ‘All Sizes are One Price’ policy – ed.) Also, some supermarket uniform items are sold only in multi-packs, so while the advertised unit price is low, the customer ends up paying two or three times that price at the till.”

Takeaway point: Headline prices can be misleading. Customers should be encouraged to look at the overall offer. Independents provide transparent pricing and the option to buy only what is wanted or required.

4. “Sizing is an issue. We offer products from size 3-4 years up to blazers with a 52” chest, as stock supported items to cater for all pupils. On the blazers, we also offer inbetween sizes. Often, supermarkets will supply garments with chest measurements in 2” intervals. On a person with a 42” chest, 2” is still a big jump, but lower down the size scale, on a guy with a 24” chest, it’s huge.”

Takeaway point: Independents, through specialist suppliers such as Blue Max Banner, can supply well-fitting garments that will look smarter and be more comfortable for children to wear.

5. “It is perhaps a minor point, but Blue Max Banner also makes garments to meet the requirements of disadvantaged pupils. For example, if a child can’t wear man-made fabrics next to their skin, we’ll put a cotton lining in their blazer instead of a polyester lining, and we can also make garments to meet the particular needs of wheelchair users. It allows every child in a school to be dressed in the same uniform.”

Takeaway point: Independents have access to a wide range of garments, including specialist and bespoke items. This allows them to provide a high level of service, whatever a school or pupil’s requirements, and to foster inclusivity throughout a school.

For more information Blue Max Banner’s schoolwear offering, visit the brand’s website or contact the customer services team.

Are the supermarkets affecting your business? Are low cost uniforms changing the marketplace? What are your arguments and strategy to counter these cut-price uniform offers and promote your business to schoolwear consumers? If you have any success stories, tips or observations on the schoolwear market generally, please email your thoughts or call 01525 718890 for a chat.