The majority of the SA Security Association members who responded to the 2014 Sparks & Ellis Uniform Survey say that price is the all-important and determining factor when buying uniforms for their staff.
In contrast, however, many uniform wearers want many more features on their uniforms and the uniformed organisations want to make their security staff more visible as well as uniforms that are even more durable.
Sparks & Ellis, headquartered in Cape Town, conducted an online survey earlier this year to explore uniform attitudes and establish whether companies need more options. Sparks & Ellis Managing Director, Sue de Wet says that it is a challenge to meet the demands of the industry. “We always battle to contain costs particularly at a time when all our running costs are increasing. We have the technology but our clients’ budgets do not allow for the technology to be introduced.”
Most respondents to the survey say they think their services staff should be more visible (95%). Most uniformed organisations believe their staff feels more authoritative if they are wearing a uniform. Indeed, they agree that the uniform promotes pride in the wearer and, therefore, one could assume an element of pride in what they are doing, which in turn suggests that uniforms could be a contributory or even important job motivator. Most respondents believe that companies should have a standard uniform that represents the company’s corporate identity (94%) and nearly everyone (97%) said they believe that uniforms help to build brand equity. Not one respondent disagreed with the statement that staff should feel proud to wear their uniform.
Three-quarters of the sample say that uniforms should be replaced annually. Given that over 90% agree that more attention should be given to season changes in uniforms – i.e. to keep cool in summer or warm in winter, protect against sun damage, wind, rain and so on – Sparks & Ellis is proposing that companies could perhaps invest in seasonal uniforms and help extend the life of a uniform in this way.
However, as de Wet explains, “Our difficulty comes in matching the current budget levels because there is not usually provision for providing additional elements.
“We find that most of our customers want high quality uniforms without too many extras so that they can contain their costs. The challenge comes in providing added value which everyone wants because the cost is prohibitive.”
Sparks & Ellis has undertaken to conduct the Uniform Survey annually in future. “These insights are invaluable to us. While we are aware of the challenges, it’s good to confirm what the industry wants and I believe we can now take this information and help shift some perceptions about the practicalities by discussing these issues directly with our customers.”
Some of the survey respondents were concerned about the cleanliness and smell of uniforms – this is due to some staff not having easy access to a washing machine (57%) and perhaps this is why nearly 90% of the sample would like uniforms to include some kind of fabric treatment to deal with anti-bacterial and odour protection. While the technology is available – and at a price, of course – fewer respondents (69%) were bothered about adding insect repellent as a fabric treatment against mosquitoes, ticks and mites. Sparks & Ellis, which is keen to introduce new technology for such things as odour protection, insect repellent and stain repellent, is now also investigating the cost implication of adding these features.
With price being such a determinant, how can uniformed organisations ensure they provide even more motivation to their staff by creating more visible, more durable and feature-rich uniforms? Sparks & Ellis believes that education about these issues is going to be critical in the future. “It is almost essential to realise the motivational benefits a uniform can provide,” says de Wet. “It may be a little far-fetched but, as we are associates in the industry, I believe we need to work with our clients to help them so that there is mutual benefit.”
Another key issue that needs to be addressed is around branding. The survey confirms that 100% of respondents believe branding on uniforms is crucial. However, de Wet says the situation in the market does not actually reflect this attitude. “When we visit our clients around the country, we see alarming levels of inconsistency. Uniformed organisations should have uniformity in their uniforms ... or the uniform is failing in its task of uniting everyone under one brand. For example, some staff will wear black pants and some will wear blue.
“Not all staff are wearing the most recent or updated uniform so they look different to their colleagues. This does not give a good impression of the company and nor does it help with staff motivation levels. This issue needs to be corrected and it is possible, for a nominal fee, to create that essential uniformity and consistent branding.”