Tough Duck Workwear

Listen to the Interview:

Links mentioned in this interview:

Tough Duck Website

Tough Duck (Richlu) catalog

Media Center (password: toughduck)

Contact Tough Duck:

Phone: (800) 665-3369
Email: sales@richlu.com

Interview Transcript:

Universal Unilink:
Welcome to our Supplier Spotlight interview with Tough Duck. We have on the line Kirk Wilson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Tough Duck. How are you doing, Kirk?

Kirk Wilson:
Tough Duck JacketsVery well, Marty. Thank you very much for organizing this, and we’re excited to join the Universal Unilink family and look forward to a strong partnership and relationship as we move forward together.

Universal Unilink:
Great. So in a sentence, what can Tough Duck do for Universal Unilink members?

Kirk Wilson:
Well, Tough Duck has been around for approximately 80 years. We’re actually in our 80th anniversary this year as it is. We believe that Tough Duck offers premium work wear and personal protective equipment and apparel to all of our customers that we’ve been working with for, as I said, 80 years. We’re Canada’s largest work wear manufacturer and provider. We’ve been selling product up here and servicing the needs of the end user or the wearer of our garments for a long, long time. And we believe that we build the best quality work wear that’s awkward anywhere in North America.

Universal Unilink:
Well, that’s great that you’ve been around for a long time. Now, you’re very prominent in Canada. How difficult is it for our US members to get your products?

Kirk Wilson:
It is extremely easy. So we ship directly being based in Winnipeg. Pembina, North Dakota, which is the border between the US and Canada where we go through, is all half an hour away, so we ship directly every single day. We have customers all over the US right now as it is. We’ve been shipping to the US for several, several years. Some of our largest accounts are Granger in the US. We deal with JCPenney. We deal with Northern tool. We deal with AmeriPride. We deal with several large, large consumers in the US and we’ve been doing that very successfully for several years.

Universal Unilink:
I have seen your product showing up in Tractor Supply…

Kirk Wilson:
Yes. Absolutely.

Universal Unilink:
Which is great.

Kirk Wilson:
Absolutely.

Universal Unilink:
Who is a typical Tough Duck customer? What type of industries are you filling needs for?

Kirk Wilson:
Well, I think the nice thing about Tough Duck is the duck apparel industry if you will has been changing and morphing over the last 15 years. As more safety legislation has been coming to the forefront and working to protect our workers that are on the streets and the farms and construction sites all across North America, the duck clothing itself has taken a bit of a backseat or is starting to take a backseat. It is still an incredibly durable product and you’re seeing it show up in more and more fashion places, not by just by us but by anyone who makes Duck work wear. What’s interesting is this product is really a lifestyle brand. It’s not a fashion brand, but it’s a product that we see our customers who are, who really have passion projects and are really passionate about what they do love wearing our Tough Duck clothing.

Our Working Safety line, which is a sub line of the Tough Duck line, is really our PPE or high visibility line, and you see that on construction sites. You see that on a motorcyclist. You see that being given away as safety awards. You see that in every single industry that drives the North American economy, so it’s really a versatile program and a very versatile product and definitely stands up to the rigors that are designed for the work site.

Universal Unilink:
Well, I have seen on your catalog, you do have some very innovative products like your reversible hi-vis jackets that people can wear to work and then turn them inside out while they’re working, and then just flip it around and wear it back home. So what other innovations do you have in the works at Tough Duck?

Kirk Wilson:
Tough Duck OverallsWe are always looking for things that make sense for the consumer and for our customers. So we don’t sell direct. So we work with distributors and we work with vendors. We don’t want to be our customers’ competition, but we certainly want to work with what our customers are telling us, and we don’t want to just be innovative for the sake of being innovative. What we look for are things that are be can purposely built and have a function and a solution for what is required in a job site. So whether that be segmented tape on a garment to allow more flex and more stretch and make it more comfortable, whether that be waterproof breathability, whether that be putting a DWR or durable water repellency coating on fleece to make the fleece more water-resistant, we look for any ways that we can innovate and add value to the consumer and to the customer and we don’t charge an arm and a leg for it.

We believe that we’re very value-driven. We’re not a price house and we have no desire to be a price house. There are lots of companies out there that will offer you the least expensive product. I’m not gonna lie. Our product isn’t the least expensive, but we do believe our product will last again to the expectation, exceed the expectation of a lot of what our customers put things through. We test our garments and everything we do to between 30 to 50 washes. We look for partnering with companies that will provide the top quality fabric and work with mills that really understand what we require of them, and we have worldwide partners that help us do this. We partner, we work really closely with 3M when it comes to innovation on Scotch Light and different types of tape. We work with the same mills that provide Duck fabric to some of our competitors. So we really, really look for opportunities to add value and build a relationship with our customers.

Universal Unilink:
You mentioned the 30 to 50 washes. So you’ve got some pretty tough garments there. Are they industrial laundry-friendly?

Kirk Wilson:
The majority of our garments are IL-friendly, not necessarily tunnel dry. And so when you start working with different insulations as you know, the majority of insulation out there now with synthetic, so when you’re dealing with polyesters or a polyester fill, the tunnel dries is too high of a heat for our insulated garments, although our insulated garments are fine to run through an industrial laundry machine itself, but with just the technology today and there’s more and more synthetic fibers are coming out and so forth, it does make the tunnel the tunnel dry difficult.

Again, we work with a lot of laundries throughout North America that use our garments, and we’ve been very, very successful and we outperformed several of our competitors because we do truly believe that when you buy a Tough Duck garment or a working safety garment, which is part of the Tough Duck family, that we know that people who are buying this are making a living doing it, and we take that they’re putting food on their table because of the clothes they’re wearing very seriously. And we want to have that long-term relationship with our customer, and we want our customers to have that long-term relationship with their consumers. We do not believe in transactional relationships.

Universal Unilink:
Wow, that’s great. Now, decoration, if somebody has some of your products in their offering for their laundry, for example, what about decoration? Is that something that can be easily added?

Kirk Wilson:
Absolutely. So when we’re constructing garments, we look for ways to add embellishment zippers or embroidery zippers. We look for ways to still have the function, so if you think about on some of your … most men, particularly on men’s jackets, have a breast pocket over the left chest. Well, that’s also where most companies want to do embroidery. So when we add an embellishment zipper there, and it’s not on every garment we can, but we can do it wherever it makes sense, we’ll actually do a free hang pocket so you can actually still embellish the chest and not interrupt the functionality of the pocket.

It’s little details that we look for inside of what we’re doing to just give you that step above what anyone else out there is doing, and those are little things that we look for. If you have a embroidery zipper on the tail of the jacket so you can get right to the back easy and do a nice embellishment on the back, your sleeve, your chest and so forth, these are all things that we look for when we build a garment. We hold the garment up as we’re designing and then we say, “Okay, now great. We see it being built this way, but who’s actually going to use this and how are they going to use it and why are they going to choose us over someone else?” And again, we look to add value where we can, not just add costs. We want to add the value, and that’s really critical, I think, what really differentiates us from anyone else out there.

Universal Unilink:
So what about marketing materials? If we have distributors that are interested in getting your products in front of their customers, do you have anything that can help them?

Kirk Wilson:
Absolutely. So we have a link and I can forward it to you right after this interview, Marty, that actually will give you all of our images, and we have a media center and access to logos and anything you could possibly need. And it’s kind of an offshoot of our website toughduck.com, but we can happily give this to yourself and you and all of your members can use this and download our images and create anything they need from logos to product to product specs. We’ve got everything there and a really easy-to-use marketing tool set. And I’ve got a great marketing team here who is eager to work with end users, and our customers, they are … we do so many different customized pieces and again we don’t charge for it. We just think that’s a value opportunity for us. The only we ask is to give us a bit of notice because like every other company we’ve always got a lot of work hanging off the side of our desk, but we are eager to help and support any of our customers with their business.

Universal Unilink:
So if somebody comes up, they like a jacket, but they’d like to see it in a different color that’s not available, pick up the phone and call?

Kirk Wilson:
Well, not necessarily a different color. Now we can do that for … domestically we can actually do domestic production here in Canada. So if you have customers that need union-made product, we can do do that here in Winnipeg. We have again right above my floor, I’ve got a team of what, 85 operators, sewer operators and a cutting floor and a design room and everything. We can do domestic cuts with a union for around 400 to 500 pieces.

Universal Unilink:
Oh, great.

Kirk Wilson:
So there’s really … again, we are a very flexible company and have the opportunity. We understand how important the union worker is and it really is the heartbeat of our economy, and so we support that. We have a union shop above me and again we can do cuts for four to 500 units. Now it goes back and forth and we have to get sign off and so forth, and again, like any factory we have to work with lead times and production times, but again we’re pretty flexible.

Universal Unilink:
That sounds great. So if members want to find out more about Tough Duck, should they, how did they get in touch with you? Who should they call and what’s the next step?

Kirk Wilson:
Well, they can go, they can certainly check out our webpage at toughduck.com and there’s a Contact Us site there. There’s a company history of who we are and how long we’ve been around and some of the different milestones we’ve had. And the other thing that’s really neat about Tough Duck and we celebrate is our end user. As I said, we don’t sell direct, Marty. We really cherish the relationship with our customer and we let our customers be the ones who transact with our end users. We think that’s a critical relationship. But we do celebrate our end users and we have a really active community site and a community portal, and we work so closely in talking to our end users and the people who are actually wearing our garments to find out what they like, what their feedback is. We are regularly doing phone interviews with the wearers of our garments because we always want to make things better for everybody. But they can check out our website at toughduck.com and if they have any questions, there’s a Contact Us and we’ll respond as quickly as we can to any questions or concerns or ideas that people have.

Universal Unilink:
Fantastic. So anything else you’d like to add?

Kirk Wilson:
Well, you know what? It’s just a fun opportunity for us, and I think there’s been so much change, particularly in the US marketplace when it comes to work wear and protective apparel clothing. I just think it’s just a great opportunity for everybody to be getting into this. And as I go around and I see all of the people in North America and I go to customers, and I’m on the road quite a bit, the stories that I hear are just fantastic, and you’re just surprised sometimes where you find our product and who’s selling it and how they’re selling it. It’s just an incredible opportunity right now and an incredible time for sure, so we’re super excited to be partnering with you.

Universal Unilink:
Well, we are definitely here at Universal Unilink excited to have Tough Duck as one of our supplier partners, and we hope that members get in touch with you. Thank you so much for the time.