PHARMACIST, restaurateur, uniform salesman. To some, that may not sound like a natural career progression, but for Member Narendra Patel, it’s the path that made the most sense, for him and for his wife and business partner of almost 40 years, Rashmi.
“We are both trained pharmacists and were fortunate to have success in that business in England,” Narendra says from his headquarters in Lithia Springs, Georgia. “When first our older son and then our younger son moved to the US, we started looking at it seriously.”
Once stateside, it was time for a change. While the couple’s older son became a dentist, the younger son eventually turned to his passion—food. After taking a brief break upon relocating, the Patels, who dislike sitting still for long, decided to pitch in and assist him in building his dream.
“My son got in at the very beginning of (quick service restaurant chain) Fresh to Order, so we helped him get the first restaurant off the ground. Rashmi and I were right there, washing dishes, cleaning floors, whatever it took. Then we built three more restaurants, and by that time, our son had the process down, so Rashmi and I again we became free. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to do next.”
The Patels soon became interested in Uniform Sales of America, a workwear, FR, public safety and healthcare operation with a booming embroidery practice. Narendra says he and Rashmi both relished the idea of a new challenge.
“We realized that in this business, there was much to learn and that was exciting to both of us,” he says. “We felt that this was exactly the opportunity we had been looking for. Robert and Pat (Yurman, the previous owners and Universal Members) had many offers, but they felt we were the right people.
“Ever since then, we have been constantly learning. But that is the exciting part about this job,” Narendra adds. “It’s also quite labor-intensive, but that’s the fun part.”
The biggest challenge for the Patels? Onboarding the massive amount of product data that faces anyone in the uniform industry.
“Knowing the products is always a challenge—there’s so much information coming from different places, and it’s not like there is a central resource to tell you about fabrics, technology and that kind of thing. It would be interesting if someone would put out a book on uniforms. As it is now, you’re constantly having to Google for products, fabrics, etc.
“The second thing is pricing. Right now, I’m facing a competitor who’s lowballing me. It is hard to understand how competitors can and will underprice just to win. Their pricing is below what our operational costs are. You can’t keep undercutting pricing just to win a bid—it doesn’t make good business sense.”
Narendra says his exemplary staff motivates him through even the most serious challenges.
“The best thing about our business is our employees. We just have the best, most passionate employees. Rashmi and I can leave the store for a week, two weeks, and know that everything is going to work just fine in our absence,” he says. The secret? “We were lucky to inherit some of the original staff, but the key is to provide a good work environment. It’s hard to find people, but the people we hire find it’s a great place to work, and that makes them want to give their best. And they do.”
As for technology, Narendra says it would be impossible to run his thriving, growing business without a good system.
“With the amount of data that we have and 300-400 customers, there’s no way we’d be able to manage everything without a system to handle our customers’ uniform programs and needs,” he states. “We’re always looking for something better, but it’s absolutely necessary this day and age.”