Uniforms are continuing to play a vital role in the modern gaming enterprise. They provide another layer of facility distinction in an ever increasingly competitive casino marketplace. Vendors for uniforms not only have the task of designing for casinos, but also looking for new innovations and technologies to incorporate into their products, to make employees more comfortable and confident when they are on the floor.
“Uniforms tie in specifically to the brand. I think it’s something historically that has been left on the tail end of the project, almost like an afterthought,” said Karla Perez-Larragoite, national director of gaming at Cintas, a Chicago-based uniform company that got its start in the Great Depression and has since grown to become one of the gaming industry’s largest uniform suppliers. “Now it’s becoming evident that you have to have that cohesive brand image that ties in right with your uniforms and your employees. How the staff feels and looks is how they’re going to treat their customers.”
One of the challenges casino uniform designers are facing, along with the rest of the casino industry, is how to better attract Millennials into the brick-and-mortar gaming environment. Uniforms can play a part in this—with vendors adopting popular retail uniform trends for gaming operations, while still catering to each casino’s unique wants and needs.
“We have an extensive ready-to-wear line within Cintas that we take pride in,” said Joanna Cordero, gaming apparel designer at Cintas. “They’re eco-friendly garments, which is important to [the Millennial] generation and to the casino market. So it is easy care, moisture wicking, anti-wrinkle, so many job functions within the fabric that help day-to-day uniforms. But at the same time, I feel we do well staying on-trend with our garments… whether it is cut, various sizes we offer or variety of color palettes.”
That is the key to casino uniforms; incorporating the fabrics with new technologies, which keep employees crisp, dry and clean, while also being modern and appealing enough to attract the customer’s eye.
When designing, Cordero emphasizes the importance of tailoring the design of the uniform to the casino’s marketing goals. “It varies with the customer; every property has a color palette and something or someone they’re trying to target,” she said. “So we really work closely with our customers to uncover what message they’re trying to send. It seems there’s always that need and want for that ‘wow’ factor, and we have metal mesh and sequins to provide glitz and glamour and bright and shimmery fabrications. [Operators] really want a show-stopping piece.”
Some casino garment trends do eventually fall out of favor however. For a while, unisex uniforms were all the buzz at casino properties. Now vendors have started catering to men and women and their different body types separately. Cintas, At Work Uniforms and Vests Direct are all incorporating numerous sizes and lengths into their offerings for better fit with less tailoring.
Another trend for uniform vendors is the increasing customization of offerings, while also still offering the basics. On trend is Vests Direct, a New Jersey-based division of Pure Silk Fabrics, with a long history of supplying hospitality and formal uniforms and accessories. The company specializes in custom made garments including custom cocktail waitress apparel and vests under their “Mark of Distinction” label.
Alabama-based At Work uniforms got their start with a simple yet sophisticated polo uniform shirt. Their first casino customer was the Biloxi Belle Riverboat Casino in 1992. “For us a trend would be giving what the customer wants, with all the customizations they want, even if it’s in smaller quantities,” said Chuck Campbell, chief operating officer for At Work Uniforms. “The least expensive thing you can do to change the overall look of a facility is to change the uniforms, and the best operators are changing their uniforms every three to four years.”
In addition to supplying uniforms for customer facing front-of-house uniforms, companies such as Cintas and At Work Uniforms also provide work clothing for back-of-office service personnel. “Some of our best customers are rarely seen on the casino floor,” said Campbell. “Housekeeping is one such customer. They’re always buzzing about the casino floor. They don’t go unnoticed. Their uniform not only has to be comfortable, but also appealing.”
Although the overall design of the casino uniform is important, the ability to easily track and manage wardrobe distribution and care also plays an important role. One company offering this vital service is California-based InvoTech, which has provided uniform software management systems for the past 22 years. According to Jeff Welles, president of InvoTech, uniform inventory tracking systems have become standard equipment for the modern casino enterprise. “These properties recognize that they’ve invested a lot of money into the uniforms and there’s technology out there that can keep track of everything and manage it to provide ongoing cost-saving benefits,” he said. “So it’s really become a standard product for all new casinos, and more and more existing casinos are converting from manual paper systems and spreadsheets to RFID and barcode tracking systems.”
Welles said that there are four major cost-saving benefits to the uniform management software. “First, reducing your losses by establishing accountability,” he said. “The second benefit is cutting labor costs, since you are now able to track uniforms automatically with the RFID tags. The third is reducing your purchases by knowing what you have in your inventory, how long you’ve had the garments and the sizes of your employees. And finally, the fourth is reducing laundry and labor expenses, because you can track what’s going to the laundry and you can make sure you’re only being charged for what it being cleaned and brought back to the casino.”
Cintas is also involved the uniform management process. Rodney Ward, director onsite solutions for Cintas, explained that the company came up with the idea of outsourcing the service about 15 years ago. “The technology has changed over the years,” he said, “when we initially introduced the service it was strictly barcoded garments and it was, at the time, a new system for automation and delivery of the garments. Prior to that, servicing uniforms was little different from the process most of us go through at the dry cleaners.”
Now, according to Welles and Ward, the introduction of uniform management software has completely streamlined the uniform process saving operators time and money. RFID and UHF chips have replaced the barcodes and paper spreadsheets, according to Ward, making the process to monitor and track uniforms simpler and easier. The chips are sewn right into the uniform and electronically scanned throughout the servicing process. Now, with just the swipe of their employee card, the uniform software interfaces with the distribution conveyors. Once they swipe or enter their employee information, the software sends the information to the conveyor and brings that specific employee’s uniform straight to the front.
In recent years, vendors have noticed that human resources and uniform management have gone increasingly hand-in-hand. Operators have been using the uniform department within their casino to communicate HR information with their employees, while the employees have also been speaking up about what they need in a uniform, what’s working with their current uniform, along with what can be improved or modified. Employee feedback is starting to play a larger role.
“Some properties take the time to do wear-tests and get the employees engaged,” said Perez-Larragoite. “We offer a service where we hold focus groups in our Las Vegas design studio and across the country. We’re the experts, so we’ll bring in specific employees and have a session to understand what [employees] want. We take that investigation off the executive’s plate, interpret the results and take it back to the executive.”
According to Nikki Fields, assistant marketing manager for Cintas, the company is taking a hands-on approach to better understanding their customer’s needs. “One thing we do at Cintas is make sure that we are not only working with decision makers, but that we’re also working with the employees directly to get some of their feedback,” she said. “One example, called Day in the Life, involves Cintas representatives actually visiting our clients and experiencing their day-to-day job function right along with them. So we know the right technologies to build into the garments, exactly what they’re doing and where their stress points are. I think it is something that differentiates Cintas from a lot of vendors out there.”
The future for casino uniforms is bright, quite literally in fact. Design wise, Cordero promises a continuation of bright, bold colors going forward, while she and Campbell also agree that retail and even designer collections will continue to influence new casino designs.
When it comes to the fabrics themselves, eco-friendly advancements will make the employee more comfortable and happy. Moisture wicking technology will continue to provide casino uniforms with a crisp, clean and polished look, according to Cordero.
From a technology perspective, “our world is all about protecting that asset,” said Ward. “The industry is looking for a way to incorporate smart phone and mobile technology in a way that makes sense.”
Another technology gaining traction involves electronic body scanning. According to Cordero, there is a pilot program currently being tested that will allow customers to identify a garment they already find comfortable, which the uniform provider can then scan and use as a template to supply a new garment with a custom-made perfect fit.
One thing is for certain, casino uniforms are only getting better and better. Better looking, better managed, and in the end, better at communicating the casino’s individual brand message.