Uniforms for Security Personnel: A Quiet Evolution in Progress

Over the past 10 years, security guarding services have evolved in reaction to the demands of a changing market, public perceptions and, indeed, Government legislation. In parallel, the image of security officer has also changed to reflect this development.

Developments in Security Personnel Uniforms

Where were we with security uniforms a decade ago? How does the status quo then contrast with the look espoused in today's corporate sector? Certainly, it's easy to witness clear trends emerging, but to fully understand today's market it helps to first look back at the origins of security uniform design.

The UK has a unique heritage when it comes to uniforms. The traditional security uniform has its roots in the military and was heavily influenced by returning soldiers: an influence that can be seen in the Royal British Legion uniform. This military influence still exists in small pockets, but it has been almost completely replaced in the last decade or so by a more corporate image.

From the perspective of the uniform worn there are now two distinct roles in security: the low profile, corporate uniformed officer wearing a formal suit and the less formal, but higher profile uniform worn by the mobile or patrol officer. The overall perception is towards one of customer support and safety, and away from overt crime prevention.

The projected image on the High Street has moved to a low-profile physical presence with the site officer supported by CCTV creating a relaxed retail experience for the shopper. As a result, we rarely see an officer wearing a traditional tunic and peaked cap except at Government sites or as part of ceremonial dress. The demand for these traditional garments is now virtually zero.

The look of the low profile officer contrasts sharply with the higher profile patrol or mobile officer. These officers are often required to have a distinct overt presence and be clearly identifiable to the public and their fellow officers and team leaders alike. Colours can be brighter and branding bolder. Coupled with the use of high-visibility clothing, this offers the maximum impact with the minimum of staff.

Such a uniform has three other roles: to promote the corporate image of the company, be designed to work in adverse conditions and be easy to service and clean. This uniform can be as simple as a branded polo shirt with a high-visibility vest right through to a full corporate image that makes the best possible use of unique fabrics and designs.

Reacting to change

What impact do these changes in style have on the supply of uniforms, then, and how has the uniform market reacted to the change?

We've already alluded to the reduction in the use of tunics, heavy fabrics, pilot shirts, NATO jumpers, fleeces and marks of rank and have seen the rise in the use of suits, classic shirts, cargo trousers, technical garments, polo shirts, softshell jackets and breathable outerwear. The uniform suppliers have re-positioned their supply chains to manufacture this new mix of corporate clothing and also adapted their selling systems to provide the new ranges.

What can uniform suppliers offer today's security companies and in-house teams as a solution to their uniform/workwear needs, and how do those companies know what solutions are available to them? The product supply breaks down into different types. Some suppliers only supply third party items from distributers while others — and especially so those operating in the corporate clothing sphere — manufacture their own goods.
As security companies will buy a wide range of products, suppliers often rely on third party solutions. This applies to specialist items such as footwear and PPE. For the end user, then, the best value can often be found in the supplier who offers both third party products and a range of stock-supported garments manufactured in-house.

The services available to security companies break down into two sectors: managed and unmanaged. Unmanaged services are usually provided through a web shop and supported by a traditional catalogue, although other methods like e-mail, fax and phone are still available. The buyer benefits from the large stocks held by the supplier and a next day service for stock items. This unmanaged service may be supported by a simple branding service such as embroidery and heat-sealing.

Greater benefits can be gained by using a managed uniform service. It's a common misconception in the marketplace that many security companies are too small to benefit from such a service. Given the advances in IT services, well-organised SMEs with as few as Zoo members of staff would be viewed as valued customers and are missing out on a range of no cost services that would really benefit them. Armed with the latest IT developments, security uniform providers are pressing home the message that the future is about managed service provision. They're waiting and willing to invest their time in assisting security companies.

Armed with the latest IT developments, security uniform providers are pressing home the message that the future is about managed service provision. They’re waiting and willing to invest their time in assisting security companies.

The managed service

Managed uniform services can be as simple as a dedicated web page with a secure login offering discounted prices through to a full wardrobe management service. The general market consensus is that security companies give their incumbent supplier eight out of ten for service, when in reality it's eight out of 20: they don't know about the extra ten services available from the top suppliers.

Some suppliers will offer a total uniform pack to include any item that the customer provides free, including items like company Human Resources literature, safety manuals, ISO 9001 policy information, notebooks and any specialist items such as torches, stab vests, First Aid packs, needle-proof gloves, radios, lone worker alarms and specialist fire protection clothing, in turn realising a truly controlled 'one stop' shopping experience.

There can be a next working day service, same day service, managed stock, branded stock, uniform packs, discounted fixed prices, outsize ranges, a dedicated web site, wardrobe management, free training, a dedicated account manager, on-site support, site roll-out management, free graphics, brochure design, garment design, garment testing, bid support, budget control, statistical analysis, monthly billing, consolidated invoices, parcel tracking, a made-to-measure service, a fitting service, a switching service and one-stop buying. In short, there are plenty of options available.

Case Studies show that companies who switch to a managed service provider benefit from an improved image, faster turnaround times, lower costs, reduced losses and a considerable reduction in overhead, subsequently being able to release internal staff to manage and grow their business.

What about the future?

What of the future for managed uniform services? This will continue to be a growth area as more and more companies look for support. Garments will further improve in quality and durability while the use of technical fabrics enhances the wearer's experience.

The biggest impact will almost certainly be created by improved web and IT services with the ongoing development of mobile wardrobe management and applications.

Security companies seeking a smoother business path should look into a long-term relationship with a good uniform partner. Hopefully, you will find yourself engaged and buying a hat for the wedding. Just make sure that hat isn't a military peaked cap, though. They are so last decade.

- Written by Tim Drew: Managing Director of Peter Drew Contracts