As with every market, opporutunities and challeneges present themselves. Here Daniel Turner, managing director of William Turner & Son and Kathryn Shuttleworth, managing director of David Luke, outline how to tackle the ever-growing and evolving schoolwear market.
Q) What challenges currently face the schoolwear market and how can these be overcome?
DT: The start of every new year brings opportunities and challenges for the industry to face and embrace. In 2019 there are some positive trends, including rising school populations and increasing formality in uniform bringing new business opportunities and reasons to expand product ranges.
However, the struggles of the high street retailer are well documented – less footfall, business rate increase, the Amazon effect and minimum wage increases are causing those in the industry to be more reserved in their outlook. Plus, Brexit could affect prices if exchange rates are affected significantly. A positive post Brexit outcome could be if the government are able to remove VAT from school uniform. Here’s hoping.
There is great pressure on school budgets, and as parents are expected to pay more for school trips and extra-curricular activities, Heads are rightly conscious that uniform costs must be affordable for all, which can though lead to compromises on quality. There are also cases of unauthorised suppliers supplying schools without permission – this can strain relationships between schools and reputable suppliers, and lead to a non-uniform uniform as unauthorised suppliers often use inferior quality garments. There are political issues to navigate as well, for example the Welsh Government are consulting on restricting the use of logos in school uniform, which would have a huge impact.
KS: One of the main challenges facing the schoolwear market is consolidation and blurred lines between elements of the supply chain. While many markets go through this from time to time, it is unlikely to last in the schoolwear market since the very intense peak and the need for 100% availability means costs disproportionately increase the more of the chain or the more of the market a single company tries to control. So, overcoming this challenge will be all about coping with disruption by planning ahead for your own business and working with companies that respect the elements of the chain.
Q) Do you think wearing a school uniform helps to combat bullying?
DT: A smart school specific uniform can help to alleviate bullying, but it isn’t a panacea – kids will be kids. Uniform is a great leveller – all kids regardless of shape, size, colour, social class all wearing exactly the same. The alternative of no uniform would mean more brands in school and more cliques.
KS: Absolutely! The additional pressure that would be on young people without a uniform to level the social differences doesn’t bear thinking about.
Q) Do you have any hints or tips for those that are looking to target the schoolwear market?
DT: For businesses thinking of entering the schoolwear sector, I say, go for it! Do your research, it’s a competitive market. You must be multi-channel, have a strong social media and e-commerce operation, plus direct to parent deliveries.
Use reputable suppliers with ethical and environmentally friendly sources of supply. Support UK manufacture. Be mindful of your demographic and build relationships with schools. Keep it simple and keep it local. Join the Schoolwear Association. And above all put outstanding service at the heart of your offer.
KS: I have three top tips: 1) Be prepared to invest heavily in stock, 2) Manage strong relationships and contracts with schools, and 3) Work with suppliers who respect your relationship with your schools.