Uniforms on Douglas, located in the heart of Downtown Victoria, is a one-stop shop for all things uniforms. Whether you work in healthcare, housekeeping, a restaurant, or a spa, you can find everything from scrubs, to comfortable shoes, to lab coats at their store. To learn about the local love that drives Uniforms on Douglas, we sat down with the owner, Gayle Hinkley, as well as the two other key ladies of the business: Debbie, Gayle’s twin sister, and Joanne, who has been with the store for over thirty years.
Can you tell me about the long history of Uniforms on Douglas?
Gayle: “Uniforms on Douglas was established in 1943 by my aunt, Olive Barnes, who is still alive at 101. She started the uniform business when everything was white and the store was on Johnson street. Then it evolved to pastel uniforms and they moved to this location.”
Gayle bought the business from Carolyn and Erv Poss who had bought the store from her aunt Olive and had been running it for 15 years. She brought the store back to the family.
Gayle: “In this day and age you have to diversify, so we got into a big shoe program and hospitality uniforms–housekeeping for hotels, server clothes, spas. It’s not just uniforms for the hospital, dental, and vets anymore.”
What does Uniforms on Douglas provide and what is your mission?
Gayle: “We are a one-stop shop for uniforms and we’re open seven days a week. We have been for years, which is really good for people that are doing shift work. We want to be accommodating to people”
Gayle also explains that Uniforms on Douglas is able to fill gaps in niche areas where uniforms are needed, such as being asked for costumes on movie sets and providing PPE during the pandemic when it was hard to find, especially for professionals who didn’t wear uniforms traditionally, like massage therapists and eye doctors. They even have accessories to make everyday work easier, such as ID badge holders, stethoscopes, socks, light pointers, and blood pressure kits.
Gayle: “Creating an excellent experience for customers is the mission. We get lots of compliments because we can fit a person and they don’t have to be here for hours running around trying to find someone to help them.”
Gayle: “Not everybody likes to order online. They want to touch the fabric, they want to try on the uniform. With our product, we fill in the niche for all the body shapes that are out there–XXS, plus size, unisex. And if they don’t find it here, we make sure that they get what they want. It might be a style they like, they might want another colour, but we are a total special order store and can get pretty well anything a client wants.”
For Gayle, Debbie, and Joanne, it’s about helping the customer no matter what, even if it means looking to other stores if they can’t get what this person is looking for.
Debbie: “If we don’t have a shoe here that fits someone’s foot that is a little bit different, we’ll go to places to find one that’s right and we will send them there. Other businesses will send people here to us as well. So it’s a group community.”
Why do you think it’s important for consumers to shop local?
Gayle: “We really encourage people to shop local because it’s really important to our economy here in Victoria to support all the small businesses. Whether it be mine or a candy shop or a butcher shop.”
As more people shift to online shopping, Gayle, Debbie, and Joanne want to stress the importance of choosing a small business like theirs over a big chain, even if you’re just someone from the general public. You definitely don’t have to be an institution or large hotel to place a mass order from Uniforms on Douglas, and even regular people come in to buy comfy pants from the store!
Gayle: “We’re a family here. Debbie’s my twin sister and she was in the golf course industry but shifted into another world of retail and management to be with us. Joanne has been with the Uniforms store for thirty years. The older nurses in town come in and totally recognize all of our faces. They really like small business.”
What makes Uniforms on Douglas unique?
Gayle: “I’ve invested in going to the Uniform Retail Association and have been a member so that I can find the latest and greatest of the styles and bring them to Canada. I’ve been the first to introduce about five top lines over the last twenty years–being the first store in Canada…people like that we are on top of things.”
Not only does Uniforms on Douglas have the best styles in Canada, they also have been recognized by the Uniform Retail Association twice as Best International Retailer of the Year.
Gayle: “They just thought that we had it right with our selection, our displays, and how we promote it here in Canada. That was a really good recognition amongst our peers that shows our experience.”
Uniforms on Douglas also offers embroidery on their garments, which they hope is a good way to drive new business.
Gayle: “The one big thing that is a real good add on to our business is that we have a wonderful lady that does our embroidery. It doesn’t have to be a big order, she’ll do one lab coat with a doctor’s name on it and we probably have the fastest turn-around time in town because she works out of her house. Sometimes the next day! She does excellent work.”
In addition, Uniforms on Douglas has started to offer free delivery within the Downtown area, which has saved other businesses in emergencies.
Gayle: “Another good add on is that we decided to offer free delivery within our certain Downtown area. One of the big hotels ran into problems last week, and we were able to help them out. They’re a big chain and they normally don’t deal with us, but they couldn’t get their stuff. We can, because we know where to get it, so she put the order in and was blown away by the service.”
In terms of competing with competition, this is only one example of when Uniforms on Douglas was able to provide a better experience for a large organization who otherwise would have bought their uniforms from an online company. This is another reason why the ladies at Uniforms on Douglas hopes that more businesses in Greater Victoria, especially the big ones, shift to choosing them.
Debbie: “With a lot of the Camosun College programs, the bookstore is where students get their uniforms and their lab coats. But they have run out, and when they do, the College and students come and shop local from us. Sometimes, we can’t compete with their pricing, but we do have a better quality, size selection, service, and reliability.”
Do you have any favourite customers or stories from working here over the years?
Gayle: “It’s really exciting to see mothers who we have sold uniforms to now having their children or grandchildren come back to get theirs. Some of them are going into nursing and they’re so excited, coming in to buy their first outfit and stethoscope. Victoria is a small community like that, so you recognize a lot of names and faces.”
In 2022 you rebranded, can you tell me about how that’s going?
Gayle: “Lady Mae Uniforms was what we used to be, but there are a lot of males going into nursing and different healthcare programs, so it was time to freshen up the name. We wanted to appeal to a wider demographic because a lot of people came in and said they didn’t know we had male uniforms or as big of a selection as we do.”
“It was time to change the name and make it kind of fun and more diversified. So we rebranded with a new sign, new logo, new paint, all of it.”
“It has been very positive for business because a lot of the older nurses are retiring and the newer ones don’t know what Lady Mae is. So it’s simple, it’s easy to find, everybody can find us on Google.”