By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
Karla Bakersmith started her own store for medical apparel in 2000, after 13 years of working for Life Uniform. Life, a long-time national leader in selling uniforms to nurses and other medical staff, was a division of Angelica Corp., then a publicly traded company based in St. Louis.
“I really wanted to change the way stores approached medical personnel,” Bakersmith said. Her business, Scrubs & Beyond, is based on giving customers personal service and “a great customer experience.” She had built the business up to 27 stores when Life Uniform approached her in 2013 about buying its 200 stores.
Life Uniform then filed bankruptcy and closed 80 of its stores. Scrubs & Beyond bought the remaining stores out of bankruptcy and now runs 150 stores with just under 1,000 employees, including about 110 in the headquarters in Des Peres.
“It’s so exciting,” she said. “We are taking the Life Uniform stores that are not used to giving customers a great experience. We’re teaching those stores how to do it and watching them get excited about the business again.”
The company currently operates the stores under three different names: Scrubs & Beyond, Life Uniform and Uniform City. The Life Uniform name will be phased out as leases expire, Bakersmith said. Uniform City is an outlet store chain operating in Maryland, Virginia and Florida markets and will continue under that name.
Bakersmith said Scrubs & Beyond stores are merchandised much like a boutique, with lots of color and fixtures that match the products. They’re organized to make it easy for shoppers to find uniform components that go together. Instead of having all the tops together in one place and pants elsewhere, coordinating tops and bottoms are kept together. There’s a special section for men, who make up an increasing percentage of medical personnel.
“You’re greeted within 30 seconds of entering one of our stores,” she said. “If a customer doesn’t want help, that’s fine. But if they’re looking for something in particular, store personnel are trained to help them find what they’re looking for quickly.”
Before employees ever get to the floor, they go through training that includes a manual and training videos. They have to complete the training course before they work in the store. And they must understand the company’s ethical stance.
“Everything with Scrubs & Beyond is about ethics,” Bakersmith said. It’s embodied in “how we treat the customer and each other. Everything is above board and about being there for each other.”
Scrubs & Beyond also sells uniforms directly to hospitals and doctors’ offices. A sales rep can go into an office, get all the sizes and other information on personnel, embroider names or logos as needed and deliver the merchandise back to the office, with all the items bagged by employee name.
Scrubs & Beyond also sells uniforms online, both as a service to medical personnel who need to replace items quickly as well as an alternative to shopping in the stores.
With employment in the health care sector expected to grow nearly twice as fast as total employment, Bakersmith is optimistic about her company’s outlook. She expects the online business to keep growing, but the number of stores probably will stay about the same.
“Our customer base is getting stronger and stronger,” she said.
She’s also encouraged by changing trends in scrubs and other medical apparel. While color and prints took hold in the industry in the 1990s, fashionable solid color scrubs with stretch, zippers, snaps and cargo pockets are gaining market share. Hospitals are beginning to color-code scrubs for different departments, and they’re beginning to buy scrubs made with antimicrobial fabrics.
In addition to name brand merchandise, Scrubs & Beyond markets its own private label line, Beyond Scrubs. The company designs the line, which is made under contract by several different manufacturers.
Bakersmith says the company’s motto sums up everything: “We’re inspired by the caregiver every day. We don’t need to add to the stress level. We need to make it a pleasant shopping experience.”
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.