September 8, 2016

Dressed for business success

Listening to their customers’ needs and responding has helped husband and wife team Anoop and Fiona Anchal build a successful business specialising in custom-made corporate uniforms.

After identifying a gap in the business uniform market, Anoop and Fiona Anchal have carved out a successful business to business niche specialising in premium customised corporate clothing that can play a valuable role in creating a company’s brand presence.

Husband and wife team Anoop and Fiona Anchal run Shirt Studio Corporate, designing and producing corporate uniforms, which began as a single retail store selling business shirts.

Today, Shirt Studio Corporate produces high quality uniforms for companies across a wide range of industries including construction, mining, legal and financial, and car dealerships. But when they started the business, Fiona says the idea of uniforms “never crossed our mind.”

The Anchals opened their first retail store in Brisbane in March 2004, with the initial concept of building a shirt brand focused on the corporate market, providing off-the-rack and custom shirts for men and women.

“We saw that there was a gap in the market for good quality business shirts that standard off-the-rack garments just weren’t providing. I left my job [in the marketing department of a law firm] to start the business, then my husband joined two years later.”

They spent 10 years in retail, but the seeds for their eventual move to B2B were sown just four years into the business, when customers started coming into their stores wanting to know if they could make shirts for their companies.

Their first corporate client was a property group customer with an order for 150 shirts. Fiona admits that it was a steep learning curve. “We said ‘sure’ and then had to work out how to do it but we worked our way through it.”

More corporate uniform jobs came in, and soon they were doing hundreds of shirts at a time. It occurred to them that this was a real opportunity. Anoop began focusing on the corporate area, while Fiona maintained their presence in the retail space.

“Year on year, corporate seemed to grow and before we knew it we had two separate companies. They were very different — the marketing, the pricing, how we delivered, the factories,” Fiona says.

Making the move

At the 10-year mark, the leases on their three retail stores were up for renewal. That provided the impetus they needed to make a decision — they chose to focus on the corporate market and wind down their retail stores. Fiona has no doubt it was the right choice.

“The market was growing, it began to look like a really good option; both of us now have our energy in one space and it’s been a really good move for the business,” she says.

Fiona says she had qualms. When they closed their shops, they worried about how people would find them. They needn’t have. Their existing brand, plus word-of-mouth and an active digital presence – they immersed themselves in social media – have brought customers to them.

The culture of clothing

It’s not just high quality uniforms that Shirt Studio Corporate provides to its clients. The Anchals are passionate about the significance of clothing to a business’s brand and culture and as part of their service share their understanding and advice with customers to work out what they need for their particular business.

“We’ve really carved out a niche where what we do is customised, working with brand and marketing, to create a brand presence through clothing,” Fiona says.

“It’s become very hard for companies to standardise how their staff look. It’s very sensitive for HR to say, ‘What you’re wearing isn’t appropriate’. Companies want help. Their staff may not be aware what work attire is suitable for their industry and the brand even if strictly speaking they’re adhering to their dress code but addressing this with the staff member can be a challenge if there isn’t a standard or dress they can refer back to.”

Fiona advises — whether or not your business has a uniform — having a really clear dress code/policy. Detail is vital. And from an HR perspective, it also makes life easier: “If you take it back to a policy, it’s not personal when you tell someone what they’re wearing isn’t right.”

Is a uniform right for your business?

  • Is your business client-facing? If so, a uniform could work.
  • If you decide to go with a uniform, think about your industry and what you want your uniform to represent. “Big brands like Virgin do it really well, right down to the colour of the lipstick,” says Fiona.
  • Then think about the functionality – does it need to be comfortable and easy to move around in? Do you need a more formal version?
  • If you implement a uniform, you need a policy about how to wear it – does a shirt have to be tucked, when do you wear the jacket, do you wear tights under the dress/skirt?
  • If you introduce a uniform – make a big deal, have some pride associated with it.

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