Direct Uniforms: dressing for success

Direct Uniforms is a supplier of fine quality uniforms for businesses, schools and sports clubs. The company is young and innovative, with a focus on excellence.

Its motto promises to provide customers with quality, service and price, a philosophy that guides the company in all it does. Direct Uniforms understands that every business is different, with its own unique needs, and prides itself on the ability to work with clients to find a solution that will complement and enhance their business image.

Direct Uniforms founder Peter Cipolla with wife Maria
Direct Uniforms founder Peter Cipolla with wife Maria

Peter Cipolla

After leaving school in 1989, Direct Uniforms founder and director Peter Cipolla started his professional career in the Real Estate industry. Uniform manufacturing was in the family however, as his parents owned a business that was beginning to see significant growth.

“The family business that my parents were running grew to a very big operation,” he explains. “We were manufacturing uniforms for King Gee and a few other large companies, doing all the specials for companies like StarTrack and Energy Australia.”

When the business grew too large for his parents to run on their own, Mr Cipolla stepped in to help out. The company cut, sewed and delivered uniforms all over Australia, employing around 50 people at the time.

“It was quite a large manufacturing company in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, in Botany,” Mr Cipolla explains. “We manufactured something like 1.7 million garments a year, so it was quite significant.”

It was at this time that Mr Cipolla decided to leave Real Estate and try his hand in a new industry. After a meeting with his parents, it seemed like a good opportunity to join the family business full-time as manager.

“I thought it was quite a good thing to get myself a bit of experience in managing a company, which I did with a lot of success for approximately 28 years. But unfortunately, later on in the gig the manufacturing started to dwindle a bit in this country.”

By 2008, many of the vendors the company had been dealing with were beginning to look at offshore options. Despite trying to organise offshore opportunities for clients, Mr Cipolla couldn’t persuade them not to do it directly themselves.

The company eventually had to shut down, and Mr Cipolla’s parents retired. At this point he decided to go in a slightly different direction, moving into the nationwide distribution of uniforms, selling product that is already made and ready to ship.

“I got in with a few conglomerates overseas, and brought in a few brands that were starting to form in Australia. We have warehouses in each state, we have an online presence, where companies and people place their orders online with us on our website.”

Direct Uniforms
Even as a Sydney based company, Direct Uniforms has distribution hubs across the country to service the whole country

Changing Focus

In 2009, Direct Uniforms was born. The company now boasts around 75,000 customers, having recently relaunched its website to ship product all over Australia, to companies ranging from smaller start-ups to larger blue chip clients.

“I still had an existing client base that can’t go offshore and buy their orders,” Mr Cipolla says. “So a lot of the suppliers now that came on-board with us have massive warehousing, and we’ve become a distributor of the brand names.”

Direct Uniforms is run to a model similar to that of retailer Harvey Norman, where branded product is distributed from Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. One of the major brands the company sells is JB Wear.

“We can also add the logos to requirements. We have all our catalogues on our website. We hold all those items in stock, and people choose their colour, or whatever product they want. We can deck out a brand new business with many employees within ten working days.”

JB's Wear banner

In comparison to the original manufacturing business, the speed and timing is now key factor in Direct Uniform’s business. The company can supply a plain garment within five working days, in any quantity, and add logos within 10-12 working days.

Like its predecessor, Direct Uniform is also a family-run business, with Mrs Cipolla looking after the accounts and handling ordering responsibilities. Since 2009 it has continued to grow, and Mr Cipolla is clear about the source of its success.

“The reason why my business has grown over the years is that I’m not attached to any one particular sector. I supply product to the education sector, I supply product to the industrial sector, I also supply product to the mining sector.”

Mr Cipallo admits that if the business was supplying to only one sector, such as mining, it would quickly find itself in a position of exposure. It is inevitable for certain sectors to go through peaks and troughs, directly impacting levels of purchase.

“I’ve got a massive spread in my business,” he says. “Not all industries go into a black hole at times, but if I were to say I’m going to specialise in mining uniforms, well I’d be closing myself to everything else.”

The Garment Industry

The importance of having a good grasp of advancements in the garment and uniform industry is essential in being able to give the customer what they need
The importance of having a good grasp of advancements in the garment and uniform industry is essential in being able to give the customer what they need

“We tend to always follow the US and Europe as far as styles are concerned, and we pretty much seem to get it down pat pretty well. The client is very lucky these days, because they have a major amount of choice. These choices weren’t available to them fifteen years ago.”

Despite such broadly spread business, taking in many different sectors and industries, the importance of having a good grasp of advancements in the garment and uniform industry is essential in being able to give the customer what they need.

“I have a lot of knowledge of clothing in the uniform industry,” Mr Cipolla explains, “and there’s a lot of stuff out there. What a lot of people perceive as a cheap-priced item doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an inexpensive-priced item.”

Many cheaper items can be bought for $10, but need replacing around twelve times a year. The more inexpensive option is to buy an item for $15 that will last six times as long. Mr Cipolla admits many clients need educating on this distinction.

“Dollar value is the not end-all on price cheapness. It’s the durability of something, and that’s what I pride myself on in our business. We tend to try and tell our clients to be very careful, especially when it comes to high-visibility products.”

In today’s litigious world, many people are choosing cheap high-visibility products that are not up to Australian and New Zealand safety standards. The consequences for firms making these decisions can be very severe.

“If anything was to happen, the onus is on the owner of the business that brought that product. If someone gets killed wearing a product that’s not approved or not compliant, there are dire consequences. You need people like us who know the background.”

In Australia, safety regulations are pushed to the highest limits, making it probably one of the safest working environments in the world. This is in contrast to countries like China or the Philippines where standards are particularly low.

“The innovation of high-visibility technology has over the years jumped leaps and bounds. The most important thing is that the luminousness has gotten so high in product it sometimes goes beyond the levels that the Australian and New Zealand compliances require.”

Mr Cipolla knows that safety regulations are put in place for a reason, and that it is the responsibility of business owners to adhere to them, creating a safe environment for both staff and customers.

“As a company director,” he says, “in my company I take safety as my number one priority. I have children at home, and my children expect me to turn up back from work in a safe way, and I think all employers should be the same.”

Although promotion is focused more on the Australian market than international markets, Mr Cipolla has begun to see small amounts of business starting to come in from overseas. The ubiquitous nature of an online presence helps drum up business in other countries.

“I’ve had people from the Philippines and the US come and make enquiries as well, so you always get remnants from our website. If I was to probably push it into the US and Europe, I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to get more business.”

Mr Cipolla has noted a recent trend of UK companies ordering from Direct Uniforms, mostly because the choice is more limited in Britain than in Australia. Australia boasts particularly good designers, producing plenty of different styles.

“A lot of companies these days are changing their view,” he says. “A company used to be a colour, where these days they don’t care anymore, they just want to be fashionable. They’re not running their business like a football team anymore.”

In doing this, companies understandably have a much larger scope in the kinds of uniform they can opt for. Specific colour schemes often cause significant supply issues, as things might not be so readily available.

“If a client said to me, we really need turquoise and red shirts, I’d tell them that we can do that, but we’d have to bring them for you from overseas, because there’s nothing in turquoise and red available. Our products try to appeal to mainstream business.”

The company’s speciality is in providing a wide option of colour schemes, all held in stock for the client to view and decide upon in a quick and easy way. There are some companies, however, that still insist on a particular colour scheme.

“You’ve got your McDonalds and your KFCs and stuff like that, and we can do that for the companies, but it becomes an indent situation, where they have to order a certain quantity and we supply them as a whole.”

In addition to supplying standard uniform options to a range of industries, Direct Uniform has an interest in making sure the products it stocks are both of the highest possible quality and of the highest standards of innovation.

“Our Biz Collection brand has developed a product that assists in preventing the spread of infection. It’s called Advatex. It’s been majorly used in the US and it’s starting to come into this country now. It’s something very important in the healthcare industry.”

Direct Uniforms is focused on pushing this important product into institutions such as nursing homes and hospitals across Australia. The fabric includes a silver compound treatment that uses body heat to kill off infections.

Keeping Everyone Happy

The secret to any successful business is getting the best out of employees as well as offering the very best possible professional service. Mr Cipolla is proud to make his employees a priority in terms of the day-to-day business.

“I find in my company I always want my staff to be a happy lot of people. It disappoints me a lot to see sometimes where you get managers running businesses and showing high authority on staff and in a lot of cases the morale in that business is quite low.”

Mr Cipolla believes that if you show employees respect, more often than not that respect is given back. In a lot of cases, it also equates directly to sales figures those employees are achieving for the company.

“I always find that if you keep the morale up, you’ve got to have a happy workforce,” he says. “You don’t want situations where your staff is going home in a depressed state and coming back not wanting to be there.”

This is why Mr Cipolla believes he has a successful leadership style, because he always sees smiles and happiness from his staff in the office. It can also be seen in the very low amount of absence from sickness in the company.

“Everyone is entitled to a sick day when they’re sick,” he explains, “but I find that my staff tend to be at work a lot more than others who run businesses where their staff treatment is not up to scratch.”

Mr Cipolla knows that a business thrives on the attitudes of employees and customers alike, and he is the first to admit that financial success is contingent on creating a great atmosphere in the workplace.

“I run a business that makes people feel good. The most important thing to me in a business is their first impression. A clean and well-maintained uniform can mean the difference between securing a major contract and struggling to find business.”

Most successful businesses in the mainstream marketplace have uniforms, and Mr Cipolla doesn’t regard this as coincidence. Having a uniform demonstrates discipline, consistency and professionalism, qualities that help a business grow.

“Our slogan reminds people that if you run a professional business, we can give you the professional look,” Mr Cipolla concludes, “and we think that people take pride in their business and they’ve got to take pride in the way they look.”

Written by Nicholas Paul Griffin.