How to Evaluate the Experience and Expertise of an FRC Clothing Supplier
This is the first post in a series looking at Keys to Selecting an FRC Clothing Supplier. Click here to read the series introduction.
The flame resistant clothing industry has experienced rapid growth and increased demand over the past decade. Along with an expanding marketplace come new entrants selling the clothing you will invest in to protect your workers. But how do you know who to trust? You understand that flame resistant clothing equals safety for your workforce. What you may not know is that the knowledge and experience of your FRC clothing supplier can also affect the effectiveness of your clothing program. The majority of knowledge and expertise a supplier has is quite simply gained just from their experience in the flame resistant clothing industry.
While OSHA, NFPA, ASTM and other industry organizations set the regulations for what you need to protect against, FRC suppliers can guide you through the options of apparel and protective clothing to help you meet such industry requirements. The right supplier will be able to help you understand the best products for your specific hazard and to meet your protective needs and budgetary requirements. In order to do this effectively, the flame resistant clothing industry should be the supplier’s core business.
Ways FRC Suppliers Can Earn Your Trust
Consider the following seven items to help you gauge any FRC supplier’s experience, expertise and/or credibility:
- Tenure in the industry
- How long has the company been selling FR products and services specifically?
- Has the company been able to endure the recent economic climate – have they laid off workers or have they closed any of their business centers/operating units?
- Is the leadership team active in the industry or do any company representatives participate on industry committees?
- Sales representative and program manager dedication to FR
- What level of experience and knowledge do the individuals have selling you these products?
- How many years have they been working in the flame resistant clothing industry?
- Current customers
- Look at the industries their current customers operate in and what types of programs those customers have.
- Reference list
- It’s impressive to have a long list of customers, but is their reference list equally as long?
- Any supplier should be able to give you at least three strong references that will expect you to call.
- Programs similar to yours
- You’ll get the best information from customers that are similar in size to your company, and that have similar protective needs to yours. Ask for such examples as their references.
- Size and scalability
- Even though you’re in the market for flame resistant clothing, different industries (oil and gas versus electric utilities) can have very different needs from their suppliers. Take a look at the size of the FR clothing supplier: can they service several large accounts at once? Quite frankly, can they handle your business?
- Consider suppliers that are large enough to ensure consistency and redundancy, but small enough for personalized and flexible service.
- Retention rates
- Internal: This will help you understand the expected frequency of change in account management assignment (i.e. account management turnover).
- External: This will help you understand how happy customers are with the supplier as determined by how often the company brings on new customers and loses current customers.
How FRC Suppliers Can Really Stand Out
Site Visits: Some suppliers offer potential customers a visit to their site to take a look at how the company operates and to give you a peek inside their company culture. This is an important item to take advantage of, especially if you are located in close proximity to the supplier, or if you are going back and forth between multiple suppliers. It affords you the opportunity to speak to individuals at the company outside of the sales staff and give you insight into how working with them will be. Plus, you will be able to ascertain from a site visit whether or not that supplier can scale their services and operations to meet the unique demands of your company.
Wear Trials: A comprehensive wear trial will give you and your workers a true picture of how a particular supplier’s products perform while in real situations. It’s a chance for employees involved in the wear trail to give their feedback and it also encourages employee buy-in prior to any contract being signed.
Fittings: On-site fittings bring value that fit kits just can’t compete with. In-person fittings ensure that workers have face-to-face meetings with the supplier, allowing them to resolve any clothing issues personally. Fittings are another opportunity for the supplier to provide support to end-users and give employees guidance during the ordering process.
Do Your Research: Public and private safety organizations are typically reliable sources of background information on FRC suppliers. Additionally, technical assistance should be offered by the FRC supplier from professionals with experience and understanding of the FR standards and testing, the industry as a whole, and end-use applications of various garments their company sells.
Next up, we’ll take a look at How to Evaluate Products and Programs Offered by FRC Clothing Suppliers.