As with most things in life, first impressions count in business. When your crew shows up on a job site, you want customers to feel good about them. “Our experience is that customers like uniforms,” says Sarah Mendak, owner of Flower Pots in the Pittsburgh area. “It shows we’re part of a cohesive team and lends credence to what we do.”

When Mendak first started issuing tees and sweatshirts, it didn’t go smoothly. “I was constantly reordering or not getting the right sizes or the right number of shirts,” she says. “It was annoying.”

She noticed that one of her clients used a uniform service for their front desk staff, so she researched her options for her crew of approximately 15. The service turned out to be much more efficient for her company.

Since 2013, Mendak has provided uniforms at no cost to employees. They consist of khaki cargo pants with pockets, where gloves or bottled water can be stowed, and light blue short-sleeved button-down shirts with collars. The company logo and names are sewn on. “The crews love the look and convenience,” Mendak says. Hats are not required, but they are issued company logo ball caps if they wish to wear them.

Mendak set up a room in one area of the shop where crew members come in and change out of street clothes into uniforms each day. At the end of the day, employees change back into their own clothes, and the uniforms go in the laundry bin. The uniform company provides five sets of clothes per employee each week, then swaps out for clean sets on Friday. “Honestly, the cost is negligible,” Mendak says. “I used to spend thousands on tees and sweats, while the service runs about $100 per week.”

The field workers at Colonial Lawn & Garden are given five shirts per season, and they are responsible for providing their own work pants.
Photo courtesy of Colonial Lawn

The service launders uniforms and repairs or replaces them as they get damaged or worn. The only downside is that most uniform services require a contract, often for five years. One other consideration: If an employee quits and takes the uniform with him or her, you’ll pay out of-pocket to replace the items.

Still, Mendak recommends investigating your choices for uniform companies. “It is so much easier than what I used to do,” Mendak says. “Every day, crew members have a clean uniform. It alleviates stress for me, and I don’t have to be concerned because someone shows up in too-short shorts. Now I can focus other things that matter in my business.”

Lance Forsee, president of Colonial Lawn & Garden in Yakima, Washington, has been requiring uniforms for most of his company’s 35 years in business. “Our uniform look has evolved through the years,” he says. “But we started in the ‘80s, and that set us apart. As the industry matured, we wanted to stand out.”

His company tried a laundry service but ultimately chose not to continue it because he didn’t like being locked into a contract. He also tried purchasing clothing items and selling them at a discount. But that became too complicated with all the differences in pant sizes. “Now we issue five shirts to field staff per season, and they provide their own charcoal gray work pants,” Forsee says.

“It’s one of the better returns you’ll get on your money. It’s about branding and professionalism, and it gives our employees a sense of pride.” Lance Forsee, president, Colonial Lawn & Garden

The company’s current uniforms are a button-down short-sleeved blue shirt with a logo, and chemical application operators must wear long-sleeved shirts. Hats are not required, but if worn, must be either the company logo hat or a wide-brimmed hat for sun. Sales and management staff wear golf shirts with the logo. Heavy charcoal work jackets also are issued.

Forsee says the uniforms run about $200 per employee per year for each of his 30 to 40 crew members. “It’s one of the better returns you’ll get on your money,” he says. “It’s about branding and professionalism, and it gives our employees a sense of pride. We get compliments all the time from customers about how good our crews look.”

Dave Cutter, owner of Cutter Services in Rochester, New York, believes some sort of uniform is a necessity even for the smallest companies. “We didn’t have any uniforms when we started out 12 years ago,” Cutter says. “But I felt we needed to put forth a level of professionalism to reflect who we are. We’re small by design, but we pride ourselves on service and our neat appearance.”

For the last four or five years, crew members have been issued tees or sweatshirts for working in the field. Cutter wears a company logo golf shirt for sales calls and trade shows. “It’s not a lot of expense, maybe $12 apiece for these shirts,” he says. “But it’s well worth it because we get positive feedback from customers all the time. It sets us apart because we’re showing up and making a good impression immediately.”

All of the companies interviewed say compliance has never been an issue. On the few occasions that someone has arrived to work without a uniform, they’re issued a new one for the day. “I think our crew members feel good and proud to be part of a team when they wear our uniforms,” Forsee says.

The author is a freelance writer based in the Northeast.