Introduction
More than 32 million U.S. workers go to work each day wearing uniforms. Uniforms can project a consistent and unified image for companies that regularly interact with the public.

Uniforms allow customers to quickly identify employees for assistance. Additionally, uniforms allow employers to control the appropriateness and condition of the clothes worn by the employees. For employees, uniform programs help them avoid having to buy, clean, and repair their work clothes.

This guide is designed to give you the facts you need to implement a uniform program for your business. The various sections are listed in the box above. You can choose to read this guide from beginning to end, or jump directly to a section of interest.

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Types of Uniforms
Most uniforms are made from a blend of polyester and cotton fabrics. While uniforms have traditionally been associated with plain, matching, single-color shirts and pants, you can generally get whatever you want. In recent years, more firms are opting for coordinating shirts and pants that match but are of different colors. "Executive wear," such as Oxford-type shirts and dress pants, are also gaining in popularity.

Uniforms can also be worn over regular street clothes. Garments such as lab coats, smocks, aprons or vests promote a more consistent image without requiring each person to be outfitted in the same clothes.

Most uniforms require regular washing and do not require ironing. The life expectancy of these garments is three to five years with regular wear.

Buying vs. Renting
Firms can choose either to buy or rent uniforms. Buying is generally the less expensive option. Not surprisingly, about 80% of uniforms are bought rather than rented.

However, buying uniforms means that you will need to manage cleaning and maintenance. You will either have to trust your workers to keep up their uniforms or hire an industrial launderer to deal with the garments.

A uniform rental firm supplies and cleans uniforms. Working with a service may be preferred in situations where employees may not wash their uniforms on a regular basis. In addition, renting can be a better option for companies that have a high turnover rate. That way, the firm will not have to pay for uniforms that are no longer needed.

About Uniform Vendors
Uniforms are sold through retail outlets, direct sales, and mail order catalogs. Generally, the offerings do not vary very much among vendors. However, some vendors specialize in a particular type of uniform, such as lab coats, which can mean better prices for the buyers.

Vendors can also differ in terms of their service levels. For example, firms can vary in terms of their turnaround time for delivery, availability of custom embroidering of logos and/or names, and handling of emergency requests for uniforms.

Choosing a Rental Firm
Each week, uniform rental companies provide employees with up to five changes of work clothes and pick up a set of uniforms from the previous week for cleaning.

These services generally require a minimum order of garments to be delivered each week. Services also typically require a minimum two-year commitment, with three- and four-year terms becoming quite common.

Generally, it will be cheaper for a uniform rental firm to handle your account if you are located nearby or along a route already being served. In addition, it can be more cost effective to work with a firm that already supplies the same garments to other firms. That way, the rental service can better manage their inventory and can obtain better pricing from uniform manufacturers.

Pricing
Purchasing five or six sets of uniforms, which should each last 3-5 years, will cost approximately $150-$250. Note, however, that this figure does not incorporate the cost of cleaning or repairs.

Most uniform rental services bill a flat rate based on a negotiated contract. Generally, rates are based on the number of garment changes provided for each worker; this usually ranges from $1 to $1.50 per day's worth of clothing. This rate remains the same regardless of whether garments are returned for cleaning, with an additional per-piece rate typically charged when uniform delivery goes above a contracted maximum. Altogether, uniform rental will cost between $200 to $300 per employee per year.

Special Tips
Avoiding uniqueness can save money
When choosing garments from a rental firm, it is more economical to choose those that can also be used by other businesses. That way, when you have turnover or need additional garments, replacement uniforms can come from the rental service's used garment inventory.

Good news for logos
A recent technology allows small patches to be heat-sealed onto clothing. Logos printed on these patches can be removed with little problem, so clothing can be easily reused.