Tailor Made For Success

WearWell Garments Ltd.

WearWell started in 1978 after a buyout of an existing company in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. Together with his father, company president Stirling MacLean then grew it from a small business into what it is today. WearWell now employs just under 100 people and produces about 1,500 garments per day.

Stirling started out at the young age of eighteen as a salesman for the company in Atlantic Canada. Selling, while on the road, was something he found to be quite an adventure at the time. Though he did not initially believe that his tenure with the company would last thirty-five years, he has no regrets. It is a family business that has one nephew working on the road in Ontario and another family member operating out of Kanata and the western Quebec area. The close family ties are part of the reason for WearWell’s success. However, WearWell’s sales family is much larger than those related by blood. In addition to the two sales people in Ontario, they have VP Sales Shawn Brown who has been with the company for nearly 15 years as well as Andrew Cronkite, the current Atlantic Canada representative who has been with the company for more than a decade.

In addition to excellent sales representation, WearWell prides itself on its focus on customer service which they feel is second to none. Employees with a long history with the company know the details of both the product and the customers inside and out. This allows for a personalized service that leaves the customer feeling like they are important and appreciated.

WearWell is a specialty business and does not simply produce clothes to follow fashion; instead, the company manufactures corporate work wear and safety apparel for numerous companies and healthcare operations. “Every day, without fail, our product goes out – to the tune of approximately 1,500 garments – to many different types of customers; corporate retail is our biggest customer and buyer,” says Mr. MacLean. Sobeys, one of the company’s largest clients, is an example of this, with WearWell manufacturing its employee uniforms for locations all across Canada. To cater to the needs of these industries, the clothing has to be very durable, looking as good as new even after multiple washings.

The WearWell product line is constantly evolving. Customers have different specific needs either due to government regulations or corporate branding. Typically, an organization will have uniforms that last four to five years before a new look is needed, and that keeps WearWell busy. “There are only so many products we can make – shirts, pants, overalls, etc. – but new looks within that line of products is what we do well, for theatre companies, drug store chains, the fast food industry, and more.”

The company has five apparel lines: career, service, safety, active and uniform. An in-house designer oversees all of the necessary design work and is a definite company asset. Being capable of custom design allows the company to handle any job specification that comes its way.

One of the biggest obstacles for the company is one faced by all in the garment industry: potential employees lacking in necessary skills. “Finding employees is a challenge because we look for trained operators if possible, and they are largely a thing of the past,” explains Mr. MacLean. “Sewing is a trade that is not learned at home anymore. You don’t even see it in trade schools, so anyone that comes here has to be trained by us.” WearWell spends over $100,000 per year on training.

The first thing management looks for in a potential employee is dexterity, followed by personality and working attitude. This is a very difficult and meticulous job and it takes some time and a lot of training for workers to master the skill sets. Typically it will take about three months of instruction and practice to get the worker trained and comfortable with their work. As an indication of its success, the turnover rate is quite low; some workers have been with WearWell for over thirty years.

WearWell has also invested in temporary foreign workers though they only account for about ten percent of the company’s total workforce. The temporary workers come to Canada already fully trained, which is an obvious advantage. They are interviewed via Skype before being approved for work and most have already worked within the industry in their home locales.

“We need more people, and that’s a challenge,” says Mr. MacLean. “We have a declining and aging population here in Nova Scotia, so we advertise right across the country for positions. But, it is hard to get the right people. A lot of people are looking for jobs, but not a lot are looking for work. A lot of people go to a job and fill a spot, but when people come here, we ask them to work. There is a big difference.”

The company stays innovative by attending trade shows to stay current with the latest developments in equipment. Companies also come directly to WearWell to showcase new products. However, due to labour rates offshore, innovation in the industry is not growing as fast as it could. Many companies can’t invest in innovation or new equipment because the industry is no longer here in North America to support it. Overseas companies, with huge pools of labour and low labour rates, charge next to nothing to make garments.

WearWell does stay on the leading edge, though. “We try to buy the best equipment that is available to us and utilize automated pocket setters, belt loop machines, etc. and, within the last five years, have incorporated auto-cutting machines for cutting fabrics. That has made a huge difference. We are producing more, in less time, with a better quality, due to the precision in cutting.” The cutting machines have also freed up more labour which can be placed in other positions.

The Canadian government appreciates the value of this “Made in Canada” business and its relevance to the province. Efforts are being made to assist Canadian companies in being more able to compete against international rivals. In August of this year, Nova Scotia MP, Peter MacKay, proudly announced funding that will go toward the purchase of modern equipment and related training for WearWell Garments Ltd.

“A repayable investment of $47,760 from the government of Canada through ACOA’s Business Development Program (BDP), will allow WearWell Garments to purchase three new pieces of equipment and undertake related training that will increase productivity and enhance competitiveness, allowing the company to grow and survive in the global marketplace.

“We are proud to support WearWell Garments as it increases its productivity and expands into new markets, creating economic growth in our rural community,” said Mr. MacKay, with regard to the initiative.

One major advantage the company has in making its product in North America is that it is able to deliver much more quickly than the offshore competition. This makes the cost of transportation significantly lower on a quick turnaround. “We run about a three to four week schedule, where offshore products are six months,” explains Mr. MacLean. “We are not into retail type garments, so seasonal changes are not an issue. We are dealing with customers who want things quickly, and that gives us a good advantage.”

Mr. MacLean believes that customer service is the key. Pride in the team’s work shines through and makes customers very comfortable in doing business with them. In an industry that struggles against cheap imports, WearWell is a bit unusual in that it continues to thrive and expand. It also recognizes that the only way to expand is at its own pace. That pace is one which will not compromise on quality and service.

Within the confines of its 43,000 square foot factory at 126 Acadia Avenue, a hum of activity continues to produce some of the best quality clothing to suit various specialty needs. Despite the challenges and competition from overseas, WearWell has proven that with a good business plan, skilled workers, good management, and the right equipment success is not only possible, it is probable. The company continues to expand in an industry where many are shrinking, and the future seems tailor made for the team to defy the odds.

September 23, 2017, 3:52 PM EDT

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