May 19, 2011By Steven Frank Observer staff
Adorned with reflective, yellow, waterproof attire on one end of a wall and white chef’s clothing hung on the other, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Williston Workwear is not a typical outfitting store.
Personal service and attention from owner Matt Cohen, which sometimes extends to his pet dog and in-store companion, Apollo, offer another unique element.
And that’s just the way Cohen wants it.
“We do not want to give any secrets away, but we want to treat our customers the way we’d like to be treated when we go shopping,” said Cohen, 57. “In an electronic world where so many interactive functions have now become minimized by new technology, we hope that our old fashioned customer service and comfortable shopping environment is what the area is looking for.”
Williston Workwear opened on March 10 on Harvest Lane in Williston, between Buttered Noodles and Harvest Equipment. Since that day, Cohen has been working long hours to grow the business “one customer at a time.”
Merchandise, which Cohen said will continue to grow little by little, features a little something for everyone but focuses on clothing for non-office employees. Items include hospital scrubs, construction apparel, work boots, slip-resistant shoes for those who work in kitchens, and Army/Navy apparel.
“The Williston Fire Department has bought boots from us. (Williston) Public Works knows about us, we had someone from there come in, so the word is starting to get out there,” said Cohen, who lives in Fairfax.
Cohen doesn’t brag about his store’s condition – one time even referring to it as a “mess” – but the former owner of Phil’s Trading Post in Essex Junction who spent the last five years as an outside sales representative promotes the quality of his merchandise.
He doesn’t carry items by Carhartt, which he said is the name brand for much of the merchandise he sells, but stressed that his pants and footwear are durable and comfortable.
“Look at the riveted pockets – that helps prevent tearing. It’s a lot of pant for $38,” Cohen said.
Some of the brands Cohen carries include Dickies, Thorogood, and Big Bill, which is based in Canada but has a distribution center in Newport.
“We are a premiere dealer for Big Bill products. They are a great company, and at this time their focus is on industrial work clothes and flame resistant apparel for all types of industries,” Cohen said.
Cohen, who didn’t want to comment on his store’s competition and even stated at one point that he “doesn’t have any competition,” pointed to a pair of Dickies canvas pants that he sells for $29.99. Cohen said a consumer could easily pay between $15-20 more in another store for a pant of less quality.
“People pay for the name but (Dickies and Thorogood) make great stuff,” Cohen said.
Looking ahead, Cohen plans to add more work boots from Thorogood and items for women. He also plans to add more protective apparel, such as flame-resistant clothing for electrical and utility employees.
Cohen and Stephanie Thompson, who works for F.W. Webb in Williston during the day and assists Cohen in the evening and on weekends, agree that business could be busier. The duo believe the store’s location near the Harvest Lane-U.S. 2 intersection in Williston is ideal, but that business has been slow because of poor weather and a lack of promotion on their part. Thompson said they plan to have a grand opening that could occur at the end of the month.
“The customers that we’ve had so far seem excited. We have a good atmosphere to come into,” Thompson said. “A lot of people remember Matt (from Phil’s Trading Post). People missed that store.”
Thompson, who does the customer’s books and rearranged much of the store last weekend to accommodate the additions of nurse scrubs and chef uniforms, believes Williston Workwear’s dynamics will eventually lead to increased popularity.
“We live in a world where it’s self serve – get in and get out,” Thompson said. “Matt measured a guy for shoes. He was a B-width, which is unusual for a guy. Matt called, ordered it, and he got it in a few days. Now that guy has shoes that will be comfortable, and help his feet and knees. Where else are you going to get that? That’s our whole concept.”