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Locals Only: John Gleeson

At Hip Pocket Workwear & Safety, it’s about much more than just looking after the customer – instead, it’s about looking after the entire community, Director and Partner John Gleeson explains.

Last year, Hip Pocket Workwear and Safety worked with a marketing consultant to develop a brand proposition – a slogan that would embody all that the entire company, as well as each individual franchise, stood for. Together they settled on: "We’re from around here".

It perfectly and, more importantly, accurately sums up the mentality underpinning everything that Hip Pocket does – that they’re locals serving locals.

"It encapsulated everything, that we’re here, we know who you are, we know what you need, we’ll stand by you, we’ll support you, we are part of your community," Director and Partner of Hip Pocket Workwear & Safety John Gleeson says.

"I’m pretty sure I do speak for every store owner, that that’s how they feel about their business. You would be very hard-pressed to find any of our stores that don’t sponsor a local footy team or are involved in the community, whether it’s with a church, sport or volunteer organization."

Relationship focused

This emphasis on supporting the local community has been part of Hip Pocket’s DNA since it was founded in the Victorian city of Bendigo in 1993. Even now, with more than 50 stores Australia-wide, Gleeson and his Co-Director, Mark Fidler from Newcastle, insist it’s a responsibility they don’t take lightly.

"It’s a treasure for us and it’s something that you have to keep working on," he tells The CEO Magazine. "We are interested in having a place in our communities that has purpose and meaning.

"It’s just not a money-making machine. We have a very well-rounded view of how we fit in our communities. It’s something that is even infused into our capital city stores."

It’s just not a money-making machine. We have a very well-rounded view of how we fit in our communities.

Personally, for Gleeson, it’s that element that he sees as his greatest achievement since joining Hip Pocket as Partner in 2008. "As a business owner in Ballarat, it has been going from quite a small store to a very large footprint," he explains. "I’ve found that that level of community engagement very enriching."

That same approach extends into Hip Pocket’s dealings with suppliers, which have proved especially vital throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent challenges for business owners. "We are, at our heart, a house of brands," Gleeson says.

"We don’t have our own brand of clothing or footwear, so we primarily rely on other people to create warehouses and sell us a product that we can on-sell. Because of this we’ve forged really close relationships with the management of Steel Blue Footwear and the Workwear Group, which includes the brands Hard Yakka, KingGee and NNT."

"We’ve had a terrific relationship with Bisley Workwear at its most senior management level, and of course the smaller or lesser-known brands as well – they’ve just been fantastic."

However, Gleeson says that Hip Pocket is not simply a stockist of these brands."We are not a discount house because we do give really great service. We align and partner with brands that we know are trustworthy, that are reliable, and if anything goes wrong we know they’ll stand by their product and get it fixed."

A one-stop shop

Now, looking to the next chapter, Gleeson feels excited about the possibilities for growth at Hip Pocket, especially as Australia continues to prioritize safety for workers above all else.

"The future looks particularly bright because compliance is high and at the same time, the safety and quality of the products that people are using need to be high and need to be regulated and standardized," he says. "So we fit very comfortably in that scenario because we’ve been doing it for such a long time."

John Gleeson with his Hip Pocket Co-Director, Mark Fidler (right).

If somebody comes in for a set of scrubs, we can also sell them a pair of non-slip shoes.

Hip Pocket is also cleverly expanding its offerings with the aim to be a one-stop shop of sorts. "If somebody comes in for a set of scrubs, we can also sell them a pair of non-slip shoes," Gleeson explains.

"If somebody wants their logo embroidered onto their garments, maybe they also need some promotional stubby holders or caps or beanies. We can do all of that. So that’s something that gives us strength, because we can tick a lot of boxes for a customer."

Gleeson’s pride for his company is evident in every sentence that he speaks – and there’s no denying it’s justified, given the community he’s surrounded by feels the exact same way. "We recently had a very nice testimonial at our conference by one of the suppliers, who has been in the industry for decades," he says with a smile.

"It was quite touching. He said that his brother was looking to transition from a trade into a small business and he said, ‘If you were looking to go into a workwear business, I couldn’t recommend anybody other than Hip Pocket, I just wouldn’t’."

Proudly supported by:

"Workwear Group is proud to partner with Hip Pocket. Along with our Hard Yakka and KingGee brands, we’re excited to offer customers the best in quality and value. Our dedicated team strives to deliver top-notch products and value to their franchisees and customers." – Shane O’Dell, Head of Sales Wholesale, Workwear Group
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