Getting to know you: Michael Conway

What do you currently do?
I am the managing director of Clothes2order, a fast-growing manufacturing business which supplies corporate uniforms, promotional and event clothing.

Our headquarters and our print, embroidery and distribution operations are in Trafford Park, Greater Manchester, where we employ nearly 50 people.

Our aim is to help businesses and organisations create a great impression through the clothing their staff and members wear, and by making uniforms quick and easy to order.

We supply polo shirts, t-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts and other products to customers ranging from start-ups needing only a few items to promote their business or event to corporate giants such as Google, Skype and the BBC.

In between those come businesses operating in a variety of sectors, such as retailing, hotels, pubs and restaurant chains, tradesmen and technology firms.

We also supply a wide range of organisations, clubs and societies. My role is to drive our strategy, with a strong focus on sales. I’m also a mentor on entrepreneurship to MBA students at London Business School and a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, a global network of over 9,500 business owners in 40 countries.

What is your inspiration in the business?
It’s a focus on making us a market leader in the uniform and event clothing industry.
Ordering clothing for events, workwear and promotions can be a pain. We are working to transform the industry by making it a fast and simple experience.

For example, we have invested heavily over the past 12 months to provide a 24-hour turnaround of orders and to improve our digital offering.

These measures have helped drive year-on-year sales up by 60 per cent, but we are not resting on our laurels.

Who do you admire?
I have total admiration for my team at Clothes2order, who have helped to develop the business into what it has become. I’m feeling like a football manager organising the strategy – the team are the ones scoring the goals.

In general, I have great admiration for people who succeed against overwhelming odds in any field of activity.

When it comes to individuals, I have to pick out Winston Churchill. He showed remarkable leadership qualities to win the Second World War, and some of his famous quotes are inspirational. For example, he said: ‘Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference’, which is something of a mantra for me.

Looking back are there things you would have done differently?
Thankfully, I have made a lot of the right calls, but in the early days we were reliant on too few customers.
One of our largest customers went bust, owing us a lot of money.

We were fortunate in that we had credit insurance to cover us, but we had to replace that lost business very quickly.

We are a much larger business now, with thousands of customers, and therefore not as exposed in the same way.

What defines your way of doing business?
We focus on what the customer wants, not what is best for our short-term profits. This means flexibility and speed. The uniforms industry typically enforces minimum orders of 10-25 pieces, with a normal turnaround time of two weeks. We can do just one piece if required, and can deliver within 24 hours.
Respect is another core value of the business, in terms of treating others how you want to be treated.

We are direct and open, and look to build long-term relationships with staff, suppliers and partners.

If there is an issue with a supplier, we talk it through, we don’t change for the sake of it.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Be aware that the life of an entrepreneur has many ups and downs, and it is all-consuming.
It takes a huge amount of time and energy, tenacity and stress, and you should be prepared for that.
Bearing in mind that the majority of businesses fail, you will need to plan well for success, but also be able to pivot and react quickly to problems and challenges. You have to be prepared to take risks and to fail. It takes great resilience to succeed.