The pandemic-driven pressure for PPE thrust the safety and workwear category into the spotlight like never before. Employers suffered the dual issue of meeting government guidelines and making employees feel comfortable and secure in the workplace. Now the massive need for face masks, for example, has subsided and the country is back to ‘normal’, what does the marketplace for safety and workwear products look like?
Clearly, the strength of sales for certain sub-categories rides on the back of economic waves as sectors such as construction wax and wane due to the appetite for big infrastructure and building projects. But, the underlying requirement for safety and workwear items touches every aspect of the working environment – from the premises people work in, to the clothing they wear, and every sign they read.
Moreover, the increased tightening of workplace health and safety regulations supports continued demand for related products and apparatus as, legally, businesses must put measures in place to protect staff and avoid major fines.
Peter Clayton, Sales and Marketing Director for wholesaler Centurion Europe, says: “The commercial sector, along with construction and heavy industry, are the biggest users of safety equipment and supplies. However, all organisations – multinational, national or SMB – assume equal responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of employees, visitors and other persons on site.
“This means the opportunity is sizeable, with the general safety supplies and equipment market alone worth around £1.2 billion in the UK,” he adds.
Plenty of opportunity
So how significant is the opportunity for dealers right now? D3 Office Group Managing Director Martin Shaw says the market represents around 10% of his current business but is rising. “We have plans to increase this to around 15% within the next two years. Clothing for uniforms – including polo shirts, fleeces, sweatshirts, etc – is a notably strong area for us, as we do all the production work in-house.”
According to Office Friendly, its members have actively diversified into safety and workwear over the past few years and the dealer group has added several specialist suppliers to its portfolio. The safety, PPE and workwear categories have seen significant growth states Purchasing Manager Simon Webb, and dealers have sought to acquire knowledge and resources to aid this activity.
“Some [dealers] have invested in equipment to provide an end-to-end service for their customers, such is the interest and development in these areas.”
Up to speed
With safety and workwear rapidly becoming a clear diversification target for dealers, how easy is it to pivot and get up to speed in areas that revolve around standards and legislation? There are many available options – from picking the brains of manufacturers and wholesalers and sending staff for training to hiring specialist salespeople.
Shaw sheds some light on the topic: “Talking to suppliers is often the best way of acquiring information and education, particularly regarding safety regulations. The Portwest catalogue, for example, is especially useful as it highlights the items required for use in a specific environment.”
Flipping to the sales side, Shaw believes if you have a good relationship with existing clients, then adding safety, security and workwear products to the basket from a reputable brand is an easy conversation to have. More to the point, he adds, it becomes a straightforward decision for customers to make.
Webb agrees with Shaw’s assessment of utilising any training on offer as an ideal way to gain any relevant information, providing the confidence to answer end user questions when they are looking to purchase products in these categories. A quick win in the knowledge stakes, he notes, is to sign up with the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive for regular free updates.
Office Friendly Sales Director Alex Stone states that, in his experience, most resellers train their salespeople when entering a new category to capture opportunities and work closely with trusted supply partners to win business.
“This tends to get them to a certain level and, when appropriate, they’ll either make a significant investment in an existing salesperson to transition them into a specialist, or they’ll hire a category expert to elevate their presence, relationship or understanding of the sector.”
He adds: “Office Friendly also offers a tried and tested seven-phase diversification strategy which we implement with our members. The ‘X stage’ process includes helping dealers to understand the opportunity, supplier reviews, sales and marketing planning, and product and solutions training.”
The security sub-category incorporating items such as safes and alarms has traditionally sat on the periphery of the workplace supplies offering. Now, with the adaptation and rejigging of the workplace during and post-pandemic, it has created the chance to further delve and expand into new areas like access control and storage facilities. VOW Wholesale, for example, offers video doorbells and alarm systems for both office and home use.
Hybrid working has facilitated the need for businesses to ensure employees have access to secure storage for personal belongings when in the workplace. Here, Bisley’s range of next-generation lockers springs to mind. Meanwhile, hotdesking, according to ExaClair UK Marketing Manager Lawrence Savage, has produced a demand for office products which provide secure storage and assist with GDPR compliance.
“Many companies are understandably looking to maximise space by investing in more adaptable surroundings, such as modular desk units and accessories, which incorporate a greater element of safeguarding against security issues. This has resulted in the rising popularity of our lockable Modulo filing units. In contrast to many alternative drawer sets, these merely require one turn of the key to lock all the drawers at once, thus allowing sensitive documents to be stored securely.”
Safety signage is another ‘hot ticket’ area that continues to benefit from the pandemic-induced boost. While the social distancing signs found everywhere during the COVID-19 crisis have all but disappeared from most buildings and locations, there is still ample need for the supply of health and safety signage.
The UK’s regulatory landscape lends itself to an active signage market. As Stewart Superior Managing Director Geoffrey Betts points out, the country is “obsessed” with health and safety to a level never adopted in mainland Europe. “We have signs saying ‘please read the signs!’ but this does mean it is a growing market and an area that continues to perform well for us.”
Traditional OP manufacturer Durable is also gaining traction in this arena, and one of its best-performing sub-categories is now wall signage. “Our hero product is Duraframe,” Durable UK Marketing Manager Sam Ryland told Workplace360, adding: “It’s versatile and can be used to protect people and assets in a huge variety of ways – from reminders to wash your hands to highlighting high-voltage hazards.”
Innovation and multifaceted solutions are key to the success of the safety, security and workwear categories, and there is a constant and substantial investment in design and development from industry leaders.
Take Bollé Safety, for example. A world leader in eye protection, the company recently launched a platform enabling users and distributors to customise two of its bestselling brands – Rush+ and Silex+.
This new service, accessible directly through the company’s website, enables the creation of 100% personalised safety glasses in a few clicks. According to Bollé, it is the first player to market with such an in-depth platform for unique branded glasses. Bollé Safety VP Anne-Sophie François says: “The implementation of this new personalisation platform offers a double advantage for companies – improving the visibility of their brand and increasing employee loyalty.”
Manufacturer and wholesaler of PPE and technical workwear Beeswift has just launched three new clothing collections as part of its latest innovations. The Flex range offers high-performance four-way stretch fabric; Deltic high-vis outerwear is made from a specialist ripstop fabric for longevity with high abrasion resistance and durability; and Envirowear is a sustainable selection of high-vis clothing (read Environmentally aware for more information on Envirowear).
Looking ahead to the future, safety equipment and workwear will benefit from the fusion of technologies like 5G and IoT, otherwise known as ‘smart PPE’. This market is expected to increase by a CAGR of 17.5%, reaching $15.5 billion in global sales by 2030.
ExaClair is already making investments in this area, as Savage explains: “Wearable equipment that connects to the internet or other devices and can help track employee movements, enhance communications and monitor health and safety concerns, is predicted to drive the requirement for smart PPE. We’ve been responding to this by expanding our range of luggage to feature additional benefits such as secure laptop compartments and USB charging ports.”
Footwear and head protection gear are other categories where smart PPE is expected to drive subsequent growth. Beeswift Chief Commercial Officer Darren Washbourne comments: “Smart footwear and head protection providing data around posture, working locations/zones – especially supporting lone working – well-being, activity and emergency support, is a key area for the future. Watch this space.”
Safety footwear is a high-performing product sub-category, with around seven million pairs sold every year in the UK. Workplace360 spoke to Rock Fall Company Director Richard Noon to find out more about selling into this space.
Workplace360: What are the openings for resellers in safety footwear?
Richard Noon: Reselling safety boots and shoes presents a great opportunity for those looking to enter the workwear market. As workplace regulations continue to be reviewed and more businesses recognise the need for PPE, the demand for this footwear keeps on growing.
Additionally, as safety footgear is required by law for many industries, there’s a captive audience of potential customers running alongside a consistent market for resellers to forge long-standing relationships.
W360: How can resellers start in the category?
RN: They should acquire a thorough understanding of the industry, the regulations surrounding safety footwear and the needs of their potential customers. Developing relationships with businesses in fields that require safety footwear will dramatically help to drive sales and sell-through products. It will also provide a better understanding of what each customer and sector needs.
Vendors such as Rock Fall offer comprehensive training packages on products, standards and industry insights. Resellers should lean on their manufacturing partners to gain knowledge rapidly.
W360: Who are ‘typical’ safety footwear customers?
RN: They include those in industries such as construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities. However, what is frequently forgotten is that hospitality and postal workers and warehouse employees must wear protective footwear.
W360: Is there anything related to selling safety footwear resellers need to be aware of?
RN: It’s not just a case of having a steel toecap anymore. Resellers should be familiar with the different types of safety footwear available as the industry has moved on and the rate of development and innovation has increased dramatically.
At Rock Fall, for example, we’ve just launched the Iris boot into the market – the first women-specific safety boot with internal metatarsal protection. It has been crafted specifically around a woman’s foot shape and is a product many of our resellers have asked to be manufactured for a long time.
Other aspects to take notice of are industry-specific regulations and standards. With changes to the certifications on the horizon, it is an area which needs scrutinising closely to avoid compliance errors.
W360: What are the latest product innovations?
RN: The obvious ones include lighter and more comfortable materials. Rock Fall has also introduced anti-fatigue and ergonomic designs, which can reduce strain on the feet and legs.
Sustainable footwear has taken the industry by storm since we first used recycled materials in 2020. We are now in the latter stages of launching environmentally friendly plant-based products using algae, bamboo and eucalyptus.