A chairman’s challenge
Matthew Easter on his new role as Schoolwear Association chairman.
By Laura Turner
19 June 2013
Matthew Easter was recently appointed new chairman of the Schoolwear Association (SA), an industry body whose members clothe three quarters of the nation’s school children. Replacing outgoing chair Howard Wilder, Easter is the Association’s fourth leader since it launched in 2006 to give a much-needed voice to the industry. As he embarks on his new role, Easter, who is also the managing director of schoolwear supplier Trutex, tells CWB his vision for the Association and the message it will be voicing: “Good-quality school uniform creates a sense of pride in students and their communities”.
Laura Turner: What made you take on the role of Schoolwear Association (SA) chairman?
I strongly believe in the role of the SA and have been actively involved since I joined Trutex in 2010. Equally, a number of colleagues in the industry have given up their time to take on the role previously, so I felt it was right that I put my name forward.
LT: What do you feel will be the main challenges you will face as chairman?
Like any voluntary association, where we all have separate day jobs, the challenge will undoubtedly be balancing the goodwill of the executive team with achieving as much as we can, and continuing to demonstrate to the members that their annual subscription is worthwhile. Sometimes this is hard, as a lot of work goes on in the background that does not necessarily give visible results, but I do think we have moved our industry forward and achieved a lot, all things considered.
LT: As MD of Trutex, what skills and experience can you transfer to the role of SA chairman?
Hopefully, a structured and results-focused approach. I am an advocate of keeping things as simple as possible and will try to work with the rest of the executive committee to keep focused on the long-term aims of the SA.
LT: As well as your appointment, what other changes have been made to the SA council?
Alex Gani has taken on the role of vice chairman, which for me is very positive, as he has been active in the Membership section for a while and has a fresh and enthusiastic approach. It’s also good that he is an independent retailer, so both sides of the SA are represented between the chair and vice chair.
LT: What are your immediate priorities for the SA?
To continue the good work that we are doing on several fronts in public affairs with our active campaigning, press and communications, but also on marketing, member support and best practice for our members.
LT: What is your long-term agenda?
To build the SA to a position where school uniform decision-makers know and can trust us to represent the professional and reliable uniform suppliers in the marketplace. In essence, I would like to see SA membership as a benchmark for quality.
LT: What campaigns is the SA working on?
We have recently developed a marketing campaign for members to encourage their customers to buy uniform in good time – avoiding the typical Back To School queues – and we are working on promoting our message through various educational publications, too. We have also launched a press campaign to encourage parents to look for value in their garments since their children are worth the effort.
LT: Is the SA currently lobbying, or planning to?
Yes, absolutely. This is one of the core aims of the SA and one where we have had considerable success in the past.
LT: Is the SA planning further market research of members’ surveys?
Yes. We conduct an annual survey that has proved useful, and we also commissioned an extensive study into the opinions on school uniform with YouGov in 2012. We are currently planning to supplement that research with more
LT: Will the SA be making an appearance at any forthcoming events or trade shows?
Our main event takes place on 13-15 October in conjunction with The Schoolwear Show at Cranmore Park in Solihull. We will have a stand at the event so members and prospective members can meet representatives of the SA. We will also hold an annual fundraising dinner on the evening of Sunday 13 October after the first day of The Schoolwear Show. I would encourage all members to come along to the fundraiser and get involved. We are also becoming more present at conferences, where we provide literature in packs for delegates, such as the NAHT – the National Association of Head Teachers – which is a trade union representing head teachers, deputy head teachers, assistant head teachers and other school and college leaders in the UK.
LT: What is the SA’s strategy in terms of working with the national media?
We have appointed a PR agency – Hopwood – this year, which is so far proving successful. We will continue to try and engage with national and educational media where possible and hope, as in previous years, that we will have the opportunity to get our message across with radio, press interviews and so on.
LT: Does the SA utilise social media, and if so, has it helped open up channels of communication?
Yes, it does utilise social media and, through Twitter and Facebook, this side of the SA is becoming increasingly important as it allows members and interested parties to ask questions, voice opinions and engage in our activities. We have also recently launched a new website, which is a vast improvement on the previous one.
LT: What are the biggest challenges facing the school-specific sector today, and how does the SA plan to help fight them?
As ever, our biggest challenge as an industry is to remind public bodies, schools, decision-makers and consumers of the benefits of school-specific uniform and the value that our members bring in providing year-round stock, service and support to schools. As I have mentioned, I believe the SA is focusing on driving this message in all areas.
LT: What key reasons would you give to a schoolwear specialist, not currently a member of the SA, to join?
Given that our industry is largely made up of small and medium sized independent businesses, I feel strongly that it is essential for us to have a strong collective voice through a body such as the SA. We currently represent around 75 per cent of our market and have an active and committed executive committee. It is not expensive to become a member and, the more we have, the more positive an impact we can make to support our industry. So, all in all, I think everyone involved in specialist schoolwear should feel a duty to join the SA.
LT: What essentially would you like to achieve in your term as chairman?
I hope to continue the good work that has been done by previous chairmen of the SA and work with the executive team to give more impact in all areas where the SA is active.
The Schoolwear Association, which has over 300 members, promotes the benefits of school-specific uniform to schools, students and parents. It represents all those involved in the supply of school-specific uniform including retailers, direct-to-school suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, suppliers, decorators, agents and schools.
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