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Superior Surgical fits a new name

Published May 9, 1998
Updated Sep. 13, 2005

Gerald Benstock stumbled over his company's new name a few times Friday. As the third-generation Benstock to head Superior Surgical Manufacturing Co., founded by his grandfather in 1920, that wasn't surprising.

"Believe it or not, it's difficult and kind of emotional," Benstock said of the name change to Superior Uniform Group Inc., which was approved by shareholders at the company's annual meeting.

The new name reflects how Superior's line of workplace apparel has broadened over the years. The Seminole company got its start supplying uniforms for hospital workers, and that's still a large part of its business. But Superior now carries workwear for everyone from fast-food workers to casino croupiers to security guards.

It manufacturers the garments at eight plants in Tampa, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi and through contracts with factories in Central America. Superior's uniforms are sold directly to employers as well as through mail order and retail uniform stores.

And with its acquisition in January of Marietta, Ga.-based Sope Creek, a company that specializes in embroidered golf, resort and corporate logo apparel, Superior is branching even further from its roots.

Michael Benstock, Superior's co-president and Gerald's son, said the company is aggressively seeking other acquisitions, especially in the resort and corporate image lines.

"That's a very fragmented industry, with lots of cottage businesses," Benstock said, referring to companies that embroider everything from polo shirts to sweat shirts with corporate or resort logos. "We offer financial stability, and we also manufacture our own garments. Many of these smaller companies buy the garments elsewhere."

Another benefit, said the younger Benstock, is that Superior's 100 sales representatives can encourage existing corporate accounts like Publix and Winn-Dixie, which already buy uniforms from the company, to order casual wear for their workers.

"We've got 20,000 accounts and everybody's spending money on corporate identification programs," he said. "We hope to be able to tap into that."

Superior, which reported a 12 percent increase in sales during the first quarter, heard few complaints from the handful of shareholders who attended Friday's meeting at the company headquarters. As Gerald Benstock noted at the start of the meeting, Superior's stock had risen more than 50 percent in the past year, closing Friday at $17.12{, down 25 cents.

But one female retiree in the audience had a question: Why didn't Superior's board of directors include any women or senior citizens?

"We have many women in top management roles at Superior," Benstock said. "And it's my sincere hope that if a woman is truly qualified, she might be rewarded with a directorship. But we'll only put a woman on the board if she is truly qualified, not just because she is a woman."

The men of the Benstock family are well-represented on the board: It includes Gerald Benstock as well as his sons Michael and Peter, senior vice president.

AT-A-GLANCE

Superior Uniform

Group Inc.

WHAT IT DOES: Manufactures and sells uniforms and resort and corporate logo apparel.

EMPLOYEES: 1,750/450 locally

WHERE: Seminole

FISCAL YEAR ENDS: Dec. 31, 1997

1997 REVENUES: $144.6-million

1997 NET INCOME: $9.2-million

TICKER: SGC (AMEX)

STOCK PRICE: $17.12{, down 25 cents

52-WEEK RANGE: $11.37{ - $18.50

Source: Company reports