Every day more than 100,000 postal workers deliver mail and parcel post to people all over Germany. Today, much of what they do is based on state-of-the-art information technology. Nevertheless, two basic demands of the job have never changed: the physical fitness required to do the daily round and a willingness to work outdoors, whether it be in heat, cold, rain, wind or snow.
With around 480,000 employees in 220 different countries the Deutsche Post DHL Group is one of the biggest private employers in the world. The logistics and mail communications company was first listed on the stock exchange in 2000 and boasts two corporate brands: Deutsche Post is Europe's leading postal service provider while DHL focuses on international express delivery, freight transportation, e-commerce and supply chain management services.
A NEW START AFTER 15 YEARS
Deutsche Post first set about producing a new generation of universal and modern corporate apparel 15 years ago. A major international roll-out took place in 2000. “As a brand-oriented company, we attach great importance to a universal corporate design,” explains Albert Krämer, Project Leader Corporate Brand Marketing Garment Design, sitting in his office in the futuristic “Post Tower” in Bonn. “Our corporate apparel plays a key role in this.” For this reason, when the first generation was introduced, the company commissioned private opinion polling institute Allensbach to conduct a survey of the uniform's impact on the public and its media value. The survey came up with some impressive figures. Every day postal delivery workers make eye contact with some 17.4 million people and have personal contact with 6.7 million customers. 96% of the population has direct contact with postal service employees delivering their mail and parcels. The researchers put a value on these figures, also in terms of media costs - which are often used as a basis for calculations in advertising. They worked out that for the company the value of the media potential of the corporate apparel was €103m a year and €744 per employee and year.
15 years later it was decided that it was time for a new generation of garments that would enhance functionality and wear comfort while accentuating the modernity and attractiveness of the corporate design.
For its corporate design Deutsche Post wanted a return to its traditional colours. The first generation of functional clothing had been designed in blue and yellow because of Postbank. After the demerger of the bank, the aim was to have Deutsche Post return to black and yellow and the global DHL brand add black to its existing red and yellow. Another important aspect was to further improve weather protection to help keep employees fit and healthy.
Occupational health physicians confirm that high quality corporate apparel that caters to the physiological needs of its wearers can reduce colds, flu and joint ache and prevent rheumatism. Albert Krämer raises another important point:
Corporate apparel also needs to change over time. Companies need to come up with more modern and innovative designs so that their employees like wearing their uniforms. It is also a way for an employer to show its employees how much they are appreciated.
CORPORATE APPAREL – A TEAMWORK PROJECT
A complex project that carries an element of risk: weaknesses may only be revealed once the apparel comes into wider use, or the employees may not even like it. The best way of minimising the risk of failure is to involve the management areas concerned and the employees in the development work right from the start. The core team set up for the project was therefore made up of employees from marketing, corporate design, purchasing and logistics, and in addition the mail and parcel post management team. To complement this team a working group consisting of members of the works council was also established. Albert Krämer, core team coordinator and project leader explains:
This set up was very important to us because it meant that we, employers and employees, were able exchange views and reach a joint agreement on the topic of corporate apparel.
Feat accomplished! The attractive new garments are well received by postal delivery workers. They like wearing them. The centrepiece of the garment concept is a weatherproof hooded Gore-Tex jacket, otherwise known as a hardshell. It is so waterproof that even when it is worn with a cycle helmet its wearer doesn't get wet in rain. It is as lightweight and breathable as high quality sportswear and yet still provides the functionality that wearers need.
FIVE JACKET VARIATIONS
The jacket solution constitutes a significant innovation in corporate apparel: the hardshell forms the outer layer of what is referred to as a 5-in-1 jacket. In actual fact it is a two piece garment system that can be worn in 5 different ways, each offering slightly different wear characteristics. The other element is a lightweight softshell jacket that is windproof and has zip-off sleeves. Depending on how these two garments are worn, you can have a winter anorak, a water repellent and windproof between-seasons jacket, a between-seasons jacket that is only windproof, a lightweight rain jacket, or a windproof vest.
The concept was developed by Munich based design firm Kreativcontrol. Managing director Christine Jäger believes that:
First and foremost, a good design needs to function and be wearable. It also needs to be sewable and its manufacture commercially viable.
At the first few meetings in 2012, the core team drew up the basis for the new design in consultation with Kreativcontrol. They discussed which performance features were required, considered the suggestions for improvements put forward by postal delivery workers and explored the ideas generated by the works council working group. For example, one of the suggestions was that both jackets should have their pockets in the same place. Another one was that the weatherproof jacket should be compact enough to fold up neatly.
In order to significantly reduce the weight and volume of the jacket, a novel Gore-Tex three layer laminate with Micro Grid Backer Technology was chosen as the functional fabric. Its abrasion resistant polyamide backer slides easily over the garment layers worn underneath it, allowing the wearer to move more freely. At the same time the material is highly breathable, lightweight and so robust that it can be neatly folded to produce a small pack size without being damaged.
Maximum functionality and cost effectiveness – a balancing act best resolved by reducing the number of garments. This idea led to the development of a 5-in-1 jacket that would replace the mixture of different jackets at the same time as maximising benefits to the wearers.
We were aware of the potential savings in logistics costs,
says Dagmar Kernweisz, Head of Dispo Trading Solutions at DHL and the person in the core team responsible for garment deliveries. “This meant that we would be transporting fewer garments while still keeping our uniformed staff well kitted out. Our central warehouse facilities, located in Oranienburg near Berlin, would also become leaner.
USER TRIAL WITH 40 QUESTIONS
The prototype of the 5-in-1 jacket was put through its paces in a large-scale user trial. For this purpose 600 jackets were manufactured in the new design. Half were distributed to Deutsche Post, the other half to DHL. At an event specifically organised for the occasion, members of the core team presented the first of these jackets to what they called the “Top 200”: postal delivery workers who had ranked in the top 200 in a Vote for Your Favourite Postwoman or Postman Contest.
These people were of particular importance to us,
says Albert Krämer.
We assumed that they would have high expectations of the garments and test them extremely thoroughly. They would also act as influencers and multipliers in their respective areas.
The core team had the test jackets made out of three different materials from rival companies. The materials were allocated at random to 600 test persons and the garments then manufactured in the appropriate sizes. The jackets were all made to look the same so that the test person could not know which of the functional materials he or she was testing. A unique code was assigned to each jacket.
Right from the start each test person was issued with a six page questionnaire containing a total of 40 questions,
explains Sabine Walber from the central mail and parcel delivery facility. At the end of the six-month trial period the same questionnaire, with an additional comments field, was resent to all the test persons. They were reminded that the questionnaire should be filled out and returned as soon as possible.
The performance features under assessment included breathability, wear comfort in different weather conditions and wet weather protection. Other questions concerned the colour fastness properties after repeated washing and abrasion, garment fit, and how well the finer points performed in everyday work situations.
The respondents put forward all kinds of useful suggestions, for example, that the design of the pocket openings should be changed or that the jacket should be designed with or without side vents depending on whether the delivery worker does his or her job in a van, on a bike or on foot. Most of the suggestions concerned the cut of the jackets. The test jacket had been designed as a modern, figure-hugging garment. It transpired that a considerable number of test persons found it somewhat restrictive in everyday work situations. A further outcome concerned the material: the jackets equipped with the 3-layer laminate from Gore earned the number one spot in the ranking: the test persons were of the opinion that these jackets performed the best in terms of wet weather protection, wear comfort and durability.
ROLL OUT IN 2015
In response to the results of the trial, the team made alterations to the design of the jacket. They also updated the technical performance specifications that formed the basis of the tender notice for the procurement of the garments,
explains Nicole Herking, Team Leader Corporate Apparel Procurement. Production of the garments in Eastern European garment manufacturing facilities started in March 2015, with different sizes catering for staff aged from 16 to 60. Garment deliveries are to take place step by step. Delivery workers based at the various depots are progressively being kitted out with the new apparel in response to individual order forms filled out and submitted by the workers themselves. By September 2015 some 65,000 parcels of garments had been delivered.
In order to familiarise the workers with the benefits and finer points of the new clothing concept a company-wide communication strategy was adopted. A flyer featuring the 5-in-1 jacket was produced, articles were published in the company magazine and an internal website was set up for postal delivery workers containing a catalogue of the collection. The company has also established a telephone hotline that workers can call if they need assistance.
Deliveries of the garments to other European countries are scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2016. Deliveries to further facilities will continue progressively. There is one thing that everyone in the team agrees on when it comes to explaining why the project's route to success was so direct. It was because everyone concerned came together very early on in the process. Consulting with each other at regular intervals, they determined an action chain and so achieved their objective of rolling out a new clothing concept.
Two and a half years is not long for a project of this size, but it is possible if the project team works well together,
comments Albert Krämer.
Author: Franz Frisch
From left to right: Annika Lara Bartholomäus; Category Manager Corporate, Dagmar Kernweisz, Head Dispo Trading Solutions and Sabine Walber, Mail and Parcel Delivery Operations
The waterproof garment construction with functional pockets and waterproof zippers provides protection against rain and water.