FlynnO’Hara’s Evolving Mission
Our busiest time of year is late summer. The summer of 2018 will go down for us as our busiest season ever, and we can’t thank you enough for trusting us to outfit your kids in safe, durable uniforms for school. After the flurry of orders finally wanes a tad, we use early autumn as a way to reflect on the past year, what we did right, where we can improve, and where we’re headed in the next 12 months. Mostly, we reflect on our mission and if we’re measuring up to the ideal of that mission. Normally, we do this internally. We’ll buy a bunch of food that no one’s allowed to have at home, we’ll dress in our most comfortable attire, and we’ll analyze until the dry-erase markers run dry. This year, we wanted to share the fruits of that analysis, but before we do that, let’s talk a little bit about where we started.
FlynnO’Hara started in 1972. Like many businesses (and in 1972, most businesses), our founders, led by Ed Flynn, didn’t do a lot of mission brainstorming when they decided to open a school uniform company. Instead, the business grew out of a need: too many schools were patching together their school uniforms with one local supplier, and parents and administration were frustrated with the process. Ed saw a different way: what if one company could build-up its infrastructure to serve many different schools, save parents and schools some money, and make the whole process easier for everyone? And Ed was a gregarious guy. He wanted to work with a lot of different people, people loved working with him, and the school uniform business provided the platform for him to do that. If we were to have a mission at that time, it would have been something like “Making school uniforms easy, and meeting great people in the process.” It’s a good start, but over the years, it became clear that we were involved in something much bigger than that.
During the 80s and 90s, school uniform supply became A Thing. New vendors were popping up left and right, giant conglomerates were elbowing their way in, and competition was fierce. Almost everyone who entered the market at that time followed the same playbook: make uniforms as cheaply as possible, sell them for as cheaply as possible, and scale. And it worked…kind of. Many schools (and, honestly, some of our schools) took this new model for a spin. But most of these vendors never did reach scale because they were losing customers faster than they could gain new ones. It turns out that when your clothes aren’t durable, people tend not to come back the next year. During this time, we doubled down on quality. We made our garments in the USA whenever possible. We made sure our import suppliers were the best in the business. Our mission evolved: make school uniforms easy, and make the best product on the market. That felt much better. But it didn’t necessarily feel bigger.
Over the last 20 years, we’ve come into our stride. We’ve expanded to markets we never dreamed we would be in. We’ve opened stores convenient to 90% of our market to retain the one-to-one feel that’s key to our success. We’ve continued to push the industry toward quality and production transparency. And with every new community we serve, we see just how diverse our clientele is. We’re in cities and suburbs, farm regions and factory regions, public schools and parochial schools. They’re all so different. The only thing that’s consistent is that the schools we work with really care about kids and really care about providing the best education for those kids. And, over time, our mission has evolved to be more in line with theirs. Yes, we make the best, most durable school uniform on the market. Yes, we make getting school uniforms easier for schools and parents. But most importantly, our mission is to ensure that every child in America has access to a great education regardless of where they live, who their parents are, or what school they attend. It’s our loftiest mission yet, and it involves tight coordination between our partner schools, our parents, and the kids themselves. Everything we do today is in service to that mission. Its why we continue to support organizations that help at-risk youth. It’s why we provide low or no-cost uniforms to kids who need them. It’s why we over the last 5 years we’ve donated over $20 million back to our partner schools.
It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been in this business for almost 50 years. We’re as happy to do what we do as Ed was in 1972. Ed had a saying back then: “You can never have too many friends.” It’s a belief that’s in our DNA. We want all of our friends to succeed, and we’re learning every day how to help them do just that.