Be A Great Apparel Partner: Healthcare Facilities Need Help Doing More with Less

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By Jamie Farrill, Director of Product Development
and Portfolio Management, Encompass Group, LLC

Healthcare facilities are facing unprecedented financial challenges, brought on by the pandemic and exacerbated by inflation, labor shortages, new regulations and restrictions, and the need for greater cybersecurity to thwart threats, to name a few of the many obstacles ahead.

But hospitals and long-term care (LTC) facilities still want high-quality, cost-effective apparel. The safety and comfort of their staff, patients, and residents are paramount. As we head to Nashville to share our latest apparel options at the Uniform Retailers Association (URA) Trade Show from October 23-26, let’s look at how both apparel retailers and manufacturers can help their healthcare partners meet the challenges ahead.

Still learning lessons from the pandemic

While the height of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be behind us, it is still affecting the healthcare industry in a significant way. In what Forbes calls “The Great Healthcare Resignation,” almost 1.7 million Americans have quit their healthcare jobs just in 2022.1

Besides trying to find ways to alleviate staff burnout, the pandemic has taught healthcare facilities which suppliers they could depend upon during uncertain times and whom they could trust to respond to their needs. When it comes to apparel, COVID-19 has also heightened the healthcare industry’s awareness of infection protection and control. From antimicrobial fabrics to the right mix of reusable and disposable apparel and linens, hospitals and LTC facilities are looking to prevent massive waves of severe illness and death - and seeking help from apparel retailers and manufacturers to achieve that goal.

What have healthcare apparel retailers and manufacturers learned? They discovered the importance of being able to pivot quickly due to market conditions relating to fluctuations in consumer demand. During the past few years, the needs of healthcare facilities changed drastically, with buying patterns altered or even halted because of uncertainty. Both retailers and manufacturers learned they must react quicker and meet customer needs by ramping up communication through volatile conditions.

Manufacturers, in particular, recognized that they must monitor the market continuously and rapidly respond to supply delays. They must also be more proactive in predicting and managing potential supply chain interruptions. Now they constantly check with their suppliers on manufacturing capacity, material availability, and shipment status. 

What apparel will healthcare facilities need?

Certainly, hospitals and LTC facilities will be looking more closely for apparel made of durable performance fabrics. If the uniform lasts longer and holds its color, they have a quality product they can depend on wash after wash.  They’ll also be looking for a wide variety of apparel options at multiple price points. With tighter budgets, healthcare facilities will be constantly weighing the value of each purchase or contract.

Healthcare facilities will want (and need!) to know that their retailers can deliver the right mix of in-stock quality apparel - even large orders - without delays. They’ll be more apt to work with retailers who came through for them during the height of COVID-19 as well as those who have applied lessons learned during uncertain times to become more proactive in planning and communicating.

Opportunity knocks for retailers

Because of inflation, budgets are tighter for retailers, too, affecting their open-to-buy dollars. Many have heavier inventory than in previous years, and forecasting remains difficult. Retailers are laser-focused on ensuring they have the right range of apparel to support their customers.

But here’s the good news: Fortune Business Insights projects that the global medical clothing market value will be more than $140 billion by 2028; the North American market alone was nearly $36 billion in 2020.2 For healthcare apparel retailers, the growth potential seems a given - but only if they’ve learned to plan using the mantra, “expect the unexpected.”

How can healthcare apparel retailers best accommodate their hospital and LTC facility partners? 

  • Provide a core product offering that caters to the various needs of the facility or system
  • Present a variety of prices, styles, and color choices
  • Maintain the right mix of inventory to support the different customer types and sizes
  • Share customer feedback with manufacturers to better align innovation with healthcare facility needs
  • Use technology to make it easier for hospitals and LTC facilities to manage their uniform programs

Manufacturers: keep communications flowing

Besides maintaining close tabs on their suppliers, healthcare apparel manufacturers must communicate regularly with their retailers. By sharing insights gleaned about trends in fabrics, styles, and colors (Black and New Navy are super hot), as well as intelligence about raw materials, transportation, and other related issues, they can reliably negotiate as necessary to mitigate price increases. Strong relationships and frequent communication - whether sharing good or bad news - will enable manufacturers to react more quickly to supply chain glitches or healthcare industry demands, so their retailers can as well.

Even as uniform apparel manufacturers develop innovative products for the healthcare industry, they must keep their eyes on the basics. For example, Encompass offers professional healthcare apparel with options for all, with an assortment of scrubs that meet various customer needs. 

Collaboratively, we’re meeting the challenges

As you’ll see at the URA show - both in our booth (# 504) and walking the fashion show runway - our three main scrub collections provide plenty of fabric and style choices and are known for quality, deep inventory, and dependable delivery. In the spotlight from White Swan® Brands, our META® Scrubs line uses a pro-blend fabric, providing a more durable product that can stand up to frequent washing. The fabric offers better color fastness, too, so the apparel looks new longer. The META Scrubs antimicrobial finish helps reduce unwanted bacteria on the fabric surface, an advantage for hospitals and LTC facilities battling everything from COVID-19 to influenza to hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). You’ll also see our “workhorse” product line, the Fundamentals® scrub offering, and Jockey™ Scrubs, known industry-wide for being the most comfortable.

Whether it’s quicker turnaround times, new contract structures, or better inventory balancing, retailers and manufacturers are poised to support their hospital and LTC facility partners as they navigate tighter budgets.

We’re all in this together!

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/debgordon/2022/05/17/amid-healthcares-great-resignation-burned-out-workers-are-pursuing-flexibility-and-passion/?sh=61f861b7fda4 
  2. https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/medical-clothing-market-102704



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