Learn more about American Wear and how they focus on service and communication with this interview featuring John Auriemma Jr, Sales Manager at American Wear.
What is your position at American Wear and what inspired you to join the family business?
A: I’m technically the Sales Manager, so I work on most of the new business that comes in. If we have a customer that calls in and is looking for service – they’re not happy with their current provider who is usually one of the national, publicly-traded companies, they’re looking for service and a change – whether or not it be a service problem, a price problem, or a combination of both is usually what happens, I’ll go out and meet with them and see what their needs are as far as the service is concerned.
I’ll explain our company, how our program works, and how we can help them. We have other people who work on new business as well. My dad, who owns our company, is one. My uncle, who’s the vice president of our company, also deals with new customers that come in. But that’s kind of my primary focus as far as the day to day.
There are other hats to be worn as far as the day to day stuff too. So, general management team and growth team stuff is what we work on. As far as what we can improve on and that kind of stuff, I work on that as well.
As far as joining the company, my undergraduate degree was a Bachelor’s of Science in Finance. I have a Masters degree in Finance also. After graduate school, I worked in finance on Wall Street for about 5 years. It was something where I was doing well and I enjoyed it, but I looked around and was like, do I really want to do this until I’m x years old? It was the same kind of thing day to day.
My dad told me, do your own thing and figure out your own situation, but if ever want to join one day, come to me and we’ll talk about it. It was something that he never really pushed on me to do. But one day I was like, I think I’d be interested in it. I saw where the company was at the time, and talked to him a lot about business in general. I saw that we had an opportunity to do something more with it as far as growing it, what the company was doing and where it could go, and where the market was.
Finding out, hey they built our business on customer referrals, word of mouth, and that sort of thing. A lot of these customers that were calling in were having the same problems. So, I said, if people were reaching out to us with these problems, why don’t we start reaching out to them and being more active on that front because there’s probably a lot of people that are having the same problems, but they might not know that there are other alternatives. It was a situation where I’m working really hard at my current job, why don’t I work really hard on something that’s more personal to me. That’s really what made me make the switch.
It’s a cool job. My previous job was, you’re in the office all day, you’re behind a desk, you’re doing your work there. But this is a really cool industry because I get to meet so many different people on a day to day basis and every situation is completely different. Every customers’ needs are completely different. It’s cool because you get to see a lot of different industries and businesses. One day you might be in a car dealership. One day you might be in a manufacturing industry. One day you might be in a large-scale commercial food processing company. So you get to see a lot of types of businesses and help them identify what their needs are and help them.
What makes American Wear different from other linen and uniform companies?
I think the industry as a whole, and I think this goes for a lot of places and I can speak to our area in general, in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and even up to the early 2000s, my dad tells this story really well, there were a number on independent, family-owned companies in the area. You also had the national companies entering the marketplace too. When you went into a customer at that time, it wasn’t hard to get business, but it was more of a personal level where you have to like the person and kind of go in. My dad will tell the story because he went on the street, kind of like what I’m doing now, and visited potential new customers. It was harder because all of the independent companies were really good. It was hard to differentiate because service is the number one focus in our business.
Over time, whether or not those companies specifically in our area didn’t have somebody to take over the business, they’d been in the business for a while, they didn’t want to do it anymore, or they sold out to one of the national companies, we’re really the only family-owned company left in our service area. So, you’ve got 3 national, publicly-traded companies in the marketplace and then you have us.
With the national companies, from what we see on a day-to-day basis, you have the service aspect and the price aspect. A lot of people have a combination of problems on both ends of the spectrum or a problem on one or the other. We tend to come in and fix that. Going back to the biggest issue being the service piece, it’s a weekly service so it’s extremely important. A lot of the different service issues in our business, whether or not it be “I’m constantly missing uniforms on a weekly basis. I send in 5 shirts and I only get two back” or “Repairs don’t get done.” or “I have a new employee and we ordered uniforms and we haven’t seen them in 3 months.” The thing that stems back to all of those service issues, is with that hands-on approach and the number one thing that fixes service issues in our opinion is communication.
Being a little bit of a smaller company than most companies, we have Carol who’s worked with us for 25 years answers the phone. She’s going to get you to one of our two inside-service managers where their job all day is to field any customers that call in if they have any problems, if they need something additional, or if they have any questions. There’s always someone there to answer the phone and you’re going to talk to someone right away.
Myself, my dad, and my uncle are three family members who run the business. We’re always available on the phone, and we talk to customers all day. The communication piece is extremely important, and when we do have a problem because nobody’s perfect, the key is how you get to talk to somebody and they’re going to talk to you about what you need done. The key is how quickly you can react and get that done for them. So, being a little bit smaller, you can talk to someone directly and the efficiency with which you fix it is extremely important. Being a little bit smaller helps us greatly because on the service side, we get things done quickly, efficiently, and effectively. That’s really what customers want. The bigger companies are a little bit oversaturated in the fact that it’s a circle of people. You don’t know who to talk to, who to contact. You have a problem and you don’t get to talk to someone for two weeks. It creates a lot of resentment on the customer side because they need something done.
We pride ourselves on having the highest level of service in the industry, certainly in our area. That’s what we focus on because that’s what the customers need.
The difference is so huge with independent companies! I know that in these industries, where people are looking for uniforms, it’s urgent. It’s not something that can be done later in the week. They need it right away.
You have companies where you physically need a uniform to work. Think about an automotive technician. They get super dirty and greasy. They are going to be really upset if they have to wear their own clothes to work and have to wash them at home. Your wife is going to kick you out of the house! There’s that aspect where you need your uniforms to physically do your job. Or, someone who works in an oil refinery. You physically can’t get on the site, unless you have your specific FR uniform. So, if you don’t have your uniform because some company didn’t deliver it to you, you can’t work.
There’s a second part of it where, maybe you don’t need your uniform to work and you can get away with it. But, let’s say an electrical contractor or a plumbing company. You can probably get away with not having your uniform, but you want your employees identified because you’re going into a commercial space. Someone is walking around your home or property, and now you don’t know who that person is. While you don’t need a uniform to do your job, now you’re identified, you’re representing the company, and you’re a walking billboard for the company. All of these things are wrapped into, you’re paying for this. So you want to get what you’re paying for. So if you’re not getting your uniforms and you’re paying for it, that employee and that owner of the business, is especially not happy. Why am I paying for this if I’m not getting what I need?
Companies that have uniforms have them for a reason. I was just at a customer’s today where they had a national company and aren’t happy, but they work in a recycling facility and get pretty dirty. He hasn’t gotten any pants back in 3 weeks. He’s so upset because he doesn’t have his uniforms, he’s paying for them, he’s wearing his own clothes and ruining them. It’s a whole confluence of events that really makes customers upset and rightfully so. So, you have all of these things in place for a reason. You think of national companies who say they’ll get things to you as soon as they can and two weeks goes by, and people just get more upset as time goes on. The service piece is extremely important because even if you make a mistake, the key part is how quickly and efficiently you can fix that for the customer. That’s really where smaller companies tend to excel. They have real people answering the phone. You know you’re going to get referred to the right service manager to get that fixed. My cell phone is on my business card. My customers that I deal with directly have that and they call me. I say, call me for whatever you need. Do you have new employees that need to be measured? I’ll come myself or I’ll have one of my service managers come and take care of it. It’s really the communication and attention to detail that go a long way on the service side. From other companies that I know in our industry that are independent companies across the country, that’s where we excel. It’s not a factory line. You’re not customer number 1576. I know who you are. It’s a more personal level of service which customers really appreciate and it goes a long way.
What are some of the common challenges that your customers face with their needs, and how does American Wear address those problems?
The most common problem in our industry is missing uniforms. If that happens with us, we go back and you get that resolved as quickly as possible. With our new RFID system in place, that eliminates the missing garment issue all together. It’s a system that the national companies do not have. Independent companies like us can exploit that greater level of service where you know exactly how many garments you turned in, and that you’re going to get those back. That’s a huge thing.
Another big issue is having a different driver every week with the national companies. They have a high turnover. The average tenure of our route drivers is about 13 years which is huge on the service side. You know that you’re going to get the same person every week and they’re going to know what to do, where to go, and who to see which makes the experience more seamless for the customer. Again, you develop that personal relationship with your driver. They can handle any issue that comes up and you’re going to know that they’re going to take care of it because they’ve been servicing you for a long time. You know that they do the right thing. Those are two big things.
The other biggest thing is communication. I called [a national company], I can’t get anyone on the phone, and the person who called is at a call center in Ohio, and they referred me to my account manager back in New Jersey, I tried to reach that account manager, they’re no longer with the company, I don’t know who to talk to to get this fixed. So, dealing with a smaller company, you know you’re going to get someone on the phone, you know that they are going to know who you are and we’ll have someone there. Getting any issue resolved quickly is easier when you get someone on the phone and talk with somebody. It’s a huge advantage.
People will tell me that they are on the phone with a uniform company every week and it’s a weekly problem. We like to say, “let’s take you out of the uniform business.” You aren’t a uniform account manager and the uniform vendor that you’re using is not paying you. If you’re paying for a service, we want to take you out of the uniform business. That’s another reason why people get upset. They can’t keep doing this because they have other things to do. We’ll take care of it for you. You have to do your regular job, so let us take this off of your plate. It’s a big thing, especially for owners of smaller companies who deal with it directly themselves. Any person in a management role where they’re dealing with a million other things, the last thing they want to deal with is “Hey, Joe is coming to me every week and he’s missing uniforms.”
What do you want people to know about American Wear?
We like to do business with companies that are like us. If you’re [a big brand], we probably can’t help you. We know that our customers have customers themselves and their customers expect a level of service from them that is excellent. We like to service customers the way that they service their customers and what their customers expect from them.
When you work with us, it’s a personalized experience where you know that you have a direct line of communication that an independent company can provide over a national company where you’re just a number. I know it’s corny, but to us, you’re like family. We appreciate our customers so much and we want to do the best job we can possibly do for them. When there’s an issue, we take that very personally. Because we’re a family-owned business, this is what we do. We’re not an employee that just works for a national company where it’s if it gets done great, if not I’ll get to it eventually. This is what we do. We like to treat all of our customers like they’re family. No customer is too small; everyone is equally important to us.
I think we’ve been so successful in growing the company because service is the number one thing and we take it extremely personally. There’s no issue too small that we don’t put all hands on deck to fix. Going forward with our new RFID system, we’re only putting more resources and more attention to detail on the service side that proves that customer service experience is only going to be more improved and refined. We put all of our focuses into the customer that translates from the service side of the business.
I think the cornier the better!
It’s true! If a customer calls me with something like “John, I have to tell you, I have this going on…” I try not to get upset, but I’m like, if no one is available to go take care of it I’ll go myself. If someone is missing this, that, or the other thing, or this doesn’t fit right. If nobody is available to take care of it from the service team, I have no problems doing it myself. You don’t want that customer to be unhappy, and they do appreciate it. If they call you and you’re there the same day, that’s a huge thing. It’s corny, but we take it very personal and this is what we do. We take a lot of pride in it. We try to do the best that we can.
A lot of our customers have been with national companies and had a lot of issues, and we were there to fix them. We want to give them that experience. We’ve had customers who’ve come from national companies where I’ll get a random phone call a month, two months, 3 months after we’ve installed the account and they’ll say wow, this is exactly what you said, it’s amazing. Why can’t they figure this out? I don’t have the whole answer to that other than that it’s a different experience.
It sounds like a rewarding job to have. Your customers aren’t used to being cared for like that, and they are probably shocked that it’s possible.
You wouldn’t think your uniform vendor could be so stressful. It’s financially stressful too sometimes. Our philosophy with that is, if we do the right thing on the service side and we’re fair and consistent on the pricing side, we’ll keep customers for a long time. That’s how you do it. You do it the right way.
It’s not hard to make a customer happy if you do the right thing. Our customers appreciate it, so it’s always fun.