UToledo Family Business Center

City Apparel

City Apparel Owner Andrea

City Apparel: dressed for success despite the stress

Most family businesses include aspects of the past, present and future — but City Apparel arguably takes that familiar trifecta to new levels. Start with the past. How many other companies populate their “Meet Our Team” page with childhood pics of its leaders? (Clicking on each photo will reveal their adult faces.) It’s cozy, it’s creative, it’s just a little bit crazy.

That might not, in fact, be a bad set of adjectives to describe the Findlay business that supplies uniforms, apparel and promotional products to sharpen the brands of its customers — as well as to help those customers reach optimal impact for their communities and their employees.

If City Apparel’s own brand of savvy creativity is very much au courant, President Andrea Kramer comes by such corporate wisdom naturally: “I grew up in an entrepreneurial family,” she says. Her grandparents, Carl and Edith Kramer, founded City Dry Cleaning in 1944; her father’s company — City Uniforms and Linen — then coexisted on the same site. Although the original buildings are gone, Andrea oversaw City Apparel’s move to new digs at the same family address in 2020.

There were detours along the way, of course. After taking her MBA, Andrea’s plan was to work “for [accounting firm] Arthur Andersen, but that would require moving to Chicago — and by then I was married and had started a family. So I started working in the family business of cleaning clothes and renting uniforms, just doing administrative work, things related to HR, then to safety — just taking on positions that needed to be filled.”

It wasn’t long before she wanted more challenges, more ways to apply her degree in organizational leadership and marketing. Her father, Paul, was on board. As she recounts, “He said, ‘Why don’t you go out and sell the items we service?’ We did custom embroidery on the uniforms — so I just started knocking on the doors of any company that had at least one car in their parking lot.

“I told them, ‘We sell company uniforms, logos, merchandise, promotional products — are you interested?’ And essentially that’s how City Apparel started.”

An initially local clientele expanded first into a 90-mile radius, then outward into today’s organization that reaches customers across the U.S. and Canada. The scale of some of those clients, like The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, takes City Apparel into global markets. And although her company is no longer legally connected to that of her parents — she purchased City Apparel in 2017 — “we certainly partner on opportunities together when it makes the right fit,” Andrea says.

All the Kramers have more than a street address in common. “Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, both my grandparents and my parents have been very involved in community service,” she notes. “When I branched out on my own, I became very focused on the ‘Do good’ philosophy and how I can be a good steward to my employees.”

Among the programs she initiated are an employee emergency fund, a charitable match program for employees, 40 hours of paid time yearly so employees can donate their time to service projects close to their hearts — and the Braden Kramer Foundation, named in honor of a young family member with t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Through grants provided by the foundation, parents of children with cancer can tap into $10,000 for anything related to their child’s battle.

To date, the foundation has raised over $300,000 via 22 grants to local families. The Braden Kramer Foundation has also donated over $25,000 to other cancer charities. Additional financial support, Andrea says, is always appreciated.

City Apparel is also involved on the environmental front. On the way to becoming a zero-waste operation, all shipping material both incoming and outgoing is recycled. For items that need additional prepping, City Apparel partners with KanDu Group, a non-profit company serving adults with developmental disabilities, to assist in preparing packaging to be recycled.

It makes for a sometimes-daunting set of priorities, Andrea admits: “I do spend a lot of time and effort making sure that my team feels loved. It goes back to being a good steward, being a good partner, being there when my employees need me — because they're always there when I need them.”

She credits the company’s employees for the hard work that was necessary in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic challenged so many businesses. “We pivoted and started producing PPE and selling all over the world, starting from the state of Ohio. We’re still the PPE vendor of choice for the City of Philadelphia School District.

“Our business tripled in revenue in 2020 and we continued to grow to the point where we can't grow anymore. Everybody’s working crazy hours every day. I'm a salesperson by heart. I love to pitch what we can offer to people, but at this point, we can't even take on new business because we are just filled to the brim.”

The UT Family Business Center continues to play a role, especially since Andrea’s daughter joined City Apparel as an account manager a few months back, while her husband., Michael, became CFO in August. “He recently connected with the Center to get involved in an affinity group and learn the ropes of family business,” Andrea says.

“Really, since I started my career in my early twenties the Center was a huge resource, both from the relationships I built and built in my affinity group, plus the events that the Family Business Center provided on different topics. I can't say enough about what the Family Business Center has done for me professionally and personally.”

Past and present: they’ve determined in large part what City Apparel is today. Right now, though, the future beckons. Andrea says, “We've got new equipment on the way, as we’re investing in technology to create more automation. But when you ask about what the future looks like right now, I'm just trying to white-knuckle it to get through this year and make everyone happy and provide an excellent customer experience for our existing customers.”

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Last Updated: 10/6/22