By Deanna Leonard, M.B.A.
Vice President and General Manager – Professional Healthcare Apparel
Encompass Group, LLC
COVID-19 has disrupted the international supply chain for many critical healthcare products, including professional healthcare apparel (PHA). If you’ve chosen a supplier that’s been able to avoid or minimize supply problems, you may have had an uninterrupted supply of PHA. If not, you can take action now to make that aspect of your supply chain run more smoothly.
What Are Your PHA Goals?
Uniform apparel is predominantly about its functionality for employees of hospitals and long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) facilities. However, as you constantly seek to expand care and improve outcomes, uniforms reflect the professionalism and culture you convey to your current and prospective patients and employees.
When making a supplier decision, remember to include all parties with a vested interest in your PHA supplier: supply chain director, purchasing manager, chief nursing officer (CNO) or other nurse leaders and representatives from marketing and human resources (HR). This list varies by facility but should always be a representative team.
There are specific standards that a uniform apparel supplier should meet. We’ve repeatedly heard that healthcare facilities have two primary criteria:
- Easy employee purchase programs
Professionalism is a major determinant in choosing the best partner for your PHA program. Ask these questions when choosing a PHA program:
- Does the company have a long track record in providing healthcare apparel?
- Are its representatives accessible and responsive?
- Do its current customers offer positive references? Does the supplier have strong vendor partnerships?
You want to form a relationship with a PHA supplier whose professionalism will drive a successful uniform apparel program at your facility.
A uniform apparel program must be convenient for your caregivers. Your employees work long hours under challenging circumstances – even more so since the coronavirus pandemic began – so find ways to make their lives easier is essential. Your PHA supplier must have simple, straightforward employee purchase programs. A uniform apparel program should include:
- A catalog of comfortable, affordable, functional yet fashionable PHA in a multitude of sizes
- Fit-tested and well-made apparel
- Accessible and reliable size charts
- On-site opportunities for employees to try on PHA and evaluate new styles
Add Value to Your Business
Many healthcare facilities and systems have moved to a customized, color-coded staff uniform program to increase their competitive advantage. These programs can assist your business in a variety of ways:
- They reinforce your brand by creating and maintaining a professional image for your employees.
- They increase security by identifying care providers by role and assuring that they’re part of your team.
- They improve the patient experience, leading to greater satisfaction and better Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores.
- They boost employee satisfaction by offering high-quality, stylish and comfortable apparel to your workers.
- They make ordering easier for facilities and employees.
Our Group One® staff uniform apparel program, which leverages our supply chain of popular Jockey® Scrubs, Fundamentals® and Meta® Labwear, enables our customer partners to realize all these benefits and more. They receive personal attention from our project managers, planning and customer service teams. We offer fit sessions for employees to try on uniforms to generate overall enthusiasm for the program and interest when new styles become available. Some facilities have regularly scheduled orders in intervals ranging from daily to annual – and everywhere in between.
The Best Supplier Becomes a Partner
I’m proud to say Encompass Group has experienced no significant PHA supply chain delays during the pandemic. Why? We make our PHA products in the western hemisphere and nearshore, and we consistently carry a deep inventory. This business model increases our control and reduces our liabilities. In the past, it enabled us to be highly responsive to healthcare facilities seeking PHA and has made a huge difference in keeping them supplied since COVID-19 emerged.
As a long-time supplier of professional healthcare apparel, we also work with amazing vendors. We’ve cultivated relationships based on flexibility, contingency plans, transparency, integrity, and over-communication. Given supply chain volatility even before the pandemic hit, we decided that buying in bulk would benefit our ability to serve our customers on time and enable us to offer them advantageous pricing given our inflationary economy.
We were recently approached by a facility whose current apparel vendor never delivered on their promises and indicated no progression in their business relationship. We showed them that working with the right PHA supplier should eliminate problems, not add to them.
As you determine whether to engage a professional healthcare apparel supplier, try to think beyond a typical buyer-seller relationship. Does the supplier listen to your needs, plans and concerns? What is its culture and work ethic? Does it share its success with those in greatest need? Partnering with Jockey®, Encompass has already donated more than 20,000 scrubs to rural hospitals across the U.S. in gratitude to our healthcare heroes.
The best customer-supplier relationship is a partnership, where both parties work together to help you achieve your goals. There are many ways to enhance and communicate the unique nature of your hospital, health system or LTPAC facility. When you select the right PHA supplier, you take “dressing for success” to a whole new level!
Deanna Leonard is Vice President and General Manager - Retail Apparel for Encompass Group, LLC.