On April 9th during the convention, NAUMD will recognize those who have made a lasting contribution to the uniform industry. The Pulse will profile these Lifetime Achievement honorees over the next several weeks, sharing their stories, highlighting their accomplishments, and gauging their reaction to being a lifetime achievement recipient. 

First up is Margaret Ramsdale, the first woman – and only Canadian – to make the Lifetime Achievement list. This former board member and small business owner didn't choose the uniform industry; rather, it chose her. Hard working and entrepreneurial, Margaret is known as a team player. In fact, NAUMD's Steve Zalkin says she's the type of person that everyone wants in this business. Read on to find out why: 

Other 2019 Lifetime Achievement honorees include Bob Gates, Ron Pate, and Warren, George and Robert Heldman. What's your reaction to being included in this year's class? 

Margaret: Wow, it's humbling. They're all powerhouses of the American uniform industry. I didn't get to meet the Heldmans, but I am fortunate to know Bob and Ron. Both were always generous with their time, and eager to share their expertise. It's such an honor to be included with all of them. 

Tell us how you started out. Why uniforms? 

Margaret: I didn't really choose the uniform industry. It chose me. I was in retail for ten years as a buyer, then spent the next two decades in fashion as a vice president of merchandising and design. When the company downsized, I was out of a job. That's when a friend asked me to look at some proposals for hotel uniforms that were being sent to her. I told her they didn't seem right, so she asked if I would put together a program. That was twenty years ago. 

Was that the beginning of Omega Uniform Systems? 

Margaret: Omega started with that one account. In the beginning, I worked out of my house, putting samples in my car and showing them around to customers in the hospitality sector. You wear many hats as a small business owner; from bookkeeping to design to sales, you do what it takes. In time, I partnered with another woman who had worked for Cintas, and we hired staff along the way. We never advertised; we were selling our reputation. Eventually, word spread and the business grew. 

At its peak, Omega had a customer base of 250. We expanded into the transportation market and kept an eye out for customers who were career minded. 

A distinguishing feature of Omega was its focus on technology. You developed a proprietary ordering system that at the time, wasn't the industry norm. What was the genesis? 

Margaret: A Canadian airline invited us to bid on their program, but they required the winning bid to have an online ordering system, which we didn't. So we got creative. We contacted a web design firm that was advertising in a local business publication and asked if they could help create the platform. They had never done anything like it before, but had an entrepreneurial spirit and were up for the challenge. In certain ways the experience turned out better because we weren't constrained by preconceived notions of what they system should be; we created something very new. 

Omega was on the list of Canada's Top 100 Women Owned Companies multiple times, and the company won the NAUMD's Image of the Year Award for five consecutive years. Yet you sold the business in 2015. Why? 

Margaret: As an entrepreneur, you're always looking ahead to better position your business. A few years back I met James Bottoms, head of Canada's preeminent uniform provider, Unisync Group. Unisync was looking to expand to Canada's west coast. We talked for about a year before I decided to sell. It was a good fit; like me, James is entrepreneurial, and I wanted my company to live on. I went over to Unisync as a vice president, but retired last year after health concerns and family matters made me look at life differently. 

You served as a NAUMD board member for a number of years. What was your impact? 

Margaret: I think my most important accomplishment was raising the profile of image apparel. The NAUMD was viewed by some as a blue goods organization, and I worked hard to dispel that perception. The result was a better balanced association, one that attracted new companies from the image apparel sector. 

Any final thoughts? 

As a woman in a traditionally male industry, it was important to play well with others. By doing the work and being successful, businesses grow, and the association becomes more successful. That, in turn, normalizes women entrepreneurs and creates more opportunity for everyone. 

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