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Cargo Crew: How hospitality uniforms got smart

Smarter Staff
Smarter Writer

This article has been written by the Smarter Business™ Staff Writers

Smarter Staff
Smarter Writer

This article has been written by the Smarter Business™ Staff Writers

eCommerce lets this Australian small business kit out cool baristas in the world’s culinary capitals.

If your local barista is looking sharp in a denim apron and fresh striped T-shirt, you may have Felicity Rodgers at Cargo Crew to thank. The Melbourne-based designer has totally made over hospitality uniforms, upping the style quotient and making them cool.

Since Cargo Crew set up an eCommerce site in 2012, orders have more than tripled from 3000 to 10,000. Its ‘smart casual’ hospitality uniforms are now being worn in 27 countries, including culinary capitals Shanghai and New York. There are even Cargo Crew imitators.

But it’s been no overnight success. Rodgers started her business in 2002 in a one-bedroom flat, using a $2000 tax return and a $1500 loan from her parents to buy the materials she needed for her first order of uniforms.

Back then the business was little more than Rodgers and her phone, but she grew the business organically, without borrowing more money, inching forward to financial viability with a solid base of customers.

Over time Felicity’s sister, Narelle Craig, climbed on board as client director and Felicity’s husband, Paul Rodgers, also joined the business.

The release of Cargo Crew’s denim apron range in 2012 was a game-changer, pivoting the business from bespoke orders to also offer ready-to-wear ranges. Add in clever marketing and it’s clear why Cargo Crew has more than tripled its business in the last three years. The team headcount is now pushing 20, and clients include Dulux, Freedom, McDonald’s and Renault.

Those 14 years of careful evolution and hard work also saw Cargo Crew collect the 2015 Telstra Australian Small Business of the Year Award. The judges praised Cargo Crew’s growth potential as it remakes the look of hospitality uniforms and expands into the casual professional category. And since the award announcement in August 2015, Cargo Crew’s sales have shot up by 44 per cent, says Craig. 

Members of Cargo Crew meeting at an office table.

Target your market

Cargo Crew has a knack for keeping its brand close to its market. For instance, it supplied vouchers for hospitality uniforms and work wear to winners of Time Out magazine’s food and pub awards in exchange for advertising. That helped bring hospitality heavyweight Merivale Group on-board as a client. But that wasn’t all.

“[Furniture chain] Freedom Australia contacted us after seeing our ad in Time Out Sydney,” explains Narelle Craig.

“We have just successfully rolled out staff uniforms for Freedom stores nationwide. And the new Cargo Crew uniforms have been received so positively that Freedom New Zealand are now keen to get on-board.” 

No-sweat technology lets you do more

Cargo Crew has embraced technology to meet growing demand. While the business can’t afford to employ tech experts full-time, it gets around this by engaging contractors with specialised knowledge for shorter periods.  

Craig says one of the business’s smartest decisions was investing in a warehouse management system (WMS) that connects with the accounting software. They upgraded the whole system to also integrate with the online store, so orders and shipping notifications upload automatically. Previously they had to be updated manually, which was both tedious and time consuming.

“The investment in our systems has enabled us to productively manage our growth to successfully service well over 1000 orders per month,” Craig explains.

And she is proud that they have been able to do it with their current staff.

“Although our business has tripled in the past three years, we have not had to bring new people in to manage expanding roles and responsibilities. Our team has continued to meet the challenges a more complex business places on them,” she says.

Other benefits of the upgraded WMS are real-time viewing of warehouse stock and improved day-to-day cash flow management.

They are also planning to launch an online shop for business clients, similar to the current consumer site. The website will be integrated into the WMS to show a client’s previous ordering history, invoice management, and access to stock.

Collaborating with new staff might mean networking and connecting remotely.

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The advantages of mobile broadband for business

Mobile technology from Telstra is also helping the business. “We do a lot of work from home on the weekends,” says Paul.

“And when we go away we have our white 4G mobile internet dongle that we take with us so we can go into our servers and see our reports, jump on our social media sites and monitor traffic.”

It’s all about the convenience of integrated digital communication, such as the apps on their smartphones that link through to sales.

“Our current social media consultant is based in South Africa, and through the power of our phones and laptops we can keep in contact with her,” adds Felicity.

“When we were featured on reality show The Block, she was able to, in real time, get pictures up on our social media. It’s amazing. Everything these days seems to make the world so much smaller.”

Looking to get your business mobile?

Talk to Telstra today about Mobile Broadband.

Find Out MoreLooking to get your business mobile?

Cargo Crew accepting the award for 2015 Telstra Australian Small Business of the Year

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