The Florida Business Observer - Tailor Made
When Jason Marshall took over the ownership of a 30-year-old Naples company, he had to find a way to honor its past while moving it toward the future growth he saw was possible.
Figuring out how to do that has paid off. “We’ve kind of become this big fish,” he says.
Several years ago, Marshall entered into what he calls a “sweat equity buy-in” with Steve Sherman, the original owner of Naples embroidery and uniform company Sew Shore. With a retail and sales background, Marshall noticed markets the company wasn’t capitalizing on.
“I saw that our biggest opportunity was with medical scrubs,” he says. He pushed to expand the company’s main location to create a medical-scrubs showroom that proved successful.
He then turned to public-safety uniforms. The company was doing alterations and other work in that area but wasn’t supplying as many of the uniforms as Marshall thought it could. He persuaded a purchaser for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to give him a shot, and now the company also supplies uniforms for other area police and fire departments. “Everything kind of started to turn around then,” he says.
In spring 2016, Marshall officially bought the business in partnership with Albert Saliev, the owner of more than 100 uniform stores in Europe whom Marshall had met at an industry event. “Partnering with Albert accelerated my buyout and made things more affordable to me,” he says. “And why not have a partner with experience opening chains like I want to do?”
The company is now on strong footing, with gross sales of more than $1.5 million in 2016 — nearly triple the business the company did when Marshall first got involved. He hopes to expand the business at least 30% this year.
One way, Marshall hopes, is through a reinvestment in branding. He and Saliev formed a new parent company called United Uniforms USA, making Sew Shore a subset of that brand. That allows them to build off Sew Shore’s long history in the area but better reflects their growth plans.
“The name Sew Shore wasn’t synonymous with what we wanted to do,” says Marshall. “It doesn’t say ‘uniforms.’ The name Sew Shore is not going to have the same ring to it [somewhere else]. United Uniforms is universal.”
United Uniforms is the retail side of the business, selling not only medical scrubs and law-enforcement uniforms but also apparel for chefs and hospitality workers. Sew Shore is the service side of the business, handling things like embroidery and screen printing. New locations will have the United Uniforms name and a cutout on the door showing that service is provided by Sew Shore.
In April, United Uniforms opened its second store at a North Naples location. He says medical-scrubs sales there could be two to three times the original location. By the end of 2018, he expects the company to have one or two additional Florida stores. Stores outside of Florida are also a possibility.
All the embroidery work takes place at the original Sew Shore location. While the company’s 30-year-old machinery still runs perfectly, Marshall recently purchased two new state-of-the-art embroidery machines, costing about $100,000, which makes the entire process three times faster. Down the road, embroidery services could be offered at other sites, but that would require trained staff to run the machinery.
To further increase efficiency, Saliev is creating web portals so customers like NCH Healthcare System and North Collier Fire can place orders online. “Those have been huge in our success,” says Marshall. “The organization that these sites create really makes our numbers possible with our existing staff.”
When it comes to online sales, Marshall considers Amazon the company’s only true competition. But United Uniforms, he says, offers things like payroll deductions and on-site tailoring that Amazon can’t.
“It’s nothing we’re afraid of,” he says. “We’re ready for it. If anything we’ve been approached to be a supplier for Amazon. It’s something we’re currently not interested in, but we’re going to play ball.”