Rentwear: A Northeast Ohio Underdog Story

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LeBron James once wrote, "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.” These words most accurately depict life in our part of the country. We’re underdogs. No one expects us to succeed. Many of us fail, but many of us rise above the challenges and earn our success the hard way. The Northeast Ohio way.

In many ways, Rentwear’s story is the story of all of us. We were founded by a man with a dream of doing things better — a man who overcame countless obstacles to get his business off the ground. Our founder Roger Clay instilled a sense of unflappable determination in all of us because he believes in doing what's right for our customers and our community.

It wasn’t easy then, and it’s not easy now. Candidly, it’s tough to survive in our industry being a small, family-owned business. We’re not supposed to be here. We face competition from a few of the largest and most monetarily valuable corporations in the world. Heck, there’s even rumors of Amazon jumping into the uniform, floor mat and linen service industry.

Still, we persist.

Because it’s Roger’s way. Because it’s Northeast Ohio’s way. Because we want to give you the peace of mind knowing your business is safe, clean and professional-looking.

We're an underdog. There's no way around it. Take a look at some of the things that stand in our way every day and how we overcome them to better serve you.

Before we get started, this isn't meant to make you feel sorry for us. This blog is us being real with you about the things we struggle with and how we try to make the most of our situation.

Our Industry

the uniform rental industry is a tough one to be in

The majority of Americans have no idea our industry exists. And if you do know our industry exists, there’s a good chance you have some negative feelings about it.

So, we have a two-tiered problem.

Let's start with general awareness. It's not that everyone in the world needs to know about our industry. We sell to other businesses, not consumers. But more awareness would still be helpful. The more informed people are when they open a new restaurant or get promoted to purchasing manager, the better relationship we can have with them.

What about the people who know our industry exists? Well, they probably have/had a job where they wore a uniform, used rented towels or linens or made the decision to partner with a company like ours. The problem is our industry is dominated by massive corporations (more on them later) who sometimes take advantage of their market share and position. Not to mention the all-too-common long-term service agreements that often trap customers with their current supplier.

Many of our customers previously partnered with our corporate competitors. They ran into problems like price increases, poor service and shady agreement renewal tactics.

Every time we meet with a customer who wants to switch from their previous supplier, we have to convince them that we're not like everyone else. That we stand by our promises, and we genuinely care about their business. Which, of course, we do. But sometimes customers have a lot of head trash that we have to overcome (understandably so).

How Do We Overcome Our Industry Limitations?

As much as we'd love to run a Super Bowl ad highlighting all of the great things about our industry, that's not in the budget. But we do run Facebook and Google ads to try to increase brand awareness and sales.

We also try to buck industry stereotypes by being there when our customers need us and offering more transparent service agreements. Our terms are written in plain English and are easy to understand. We even offer short-term and month-to-month agreements for certain services.

Our Competition

our competition is much larger than us

When a Rentwear team member mentions what they do to a friend or family member, the first response we get is almost always "Oh, like Cintas!" Cintas is Google, Facebook or Coca-Cola in our industry. They make billions of dollars per year, and their stock price continually increases. But they're not the only giant in our space. Unifirst and Aramark are also billion-dollar, publicly-traded corporations that compete in our industry.

It's not easy to sell when you immediately get compared to your biggest competitor right off the bat.

These competitors can quote extremely low prices to get sales. However, after they have an agreement signed, they implement price increases often without alerting their customers beforehand. These reasons are part of why our industry has a bad name.

That aside, our competitors have massive budgets and teams making it hard for the few remaining uniform companies our size to compete.

How Do We Overcome Our Massive Competitors?

Well, it's not easy. But we always try to put our customers first and do the right thing. To us, our customers are more than just data points; they're real people and real businesses. So, we do our best to help them succeed.

Sometimes our larger competitors are unable to give small and local businesses the attention they deserve. Rentwear, on the other hand, can be there for our customers at the drop of a hat to make sure their needs are met.

In Northeast Ohio, we rally together and lift each other up. Our ownership and team members make it a point to visit our customers’ restaurants, repair shops, grocery stores and many other companies because we are committed to supporting local business because we are one ourselves.

The bottom line: we think we care more about our customers and our community than our competitors do.

Conclusion

It’s not easy being Rentwear. Our industry and our competition create problems for us to overcome every day. We don’t have a massive budget or an army of team members to solve these problems. It’s just our 75-member team located right here in northeast Ohio.

We do everything we can to help our customers succeed because their success is our success. If you want to learn more about how we overcome our obstacles or you want to partner with a scrappy underdog company, talk to us today.

Connor is the Director of Marketing at Rentwear Inc. and writes about how uniform, floor mat and linen service can help your company.
Connor Clay