With economic recovery expected to be driven by small business growth, the Forum of Private Business is seeking stories from thriving firms as part of its Get Britain Trading campaign in order to pass on the secrets of success to other entrepreneurs.
Tailoring firm A Suit That Fits was founded by school friends Warren Bennett and David Hathiramani. The company is now in its sixth year and has grown to boast a team of more than 50 staff with an annual turnover of £3million.
What is your start-up story? How did you seize the opportunity you saw and what barriers did you have to overcome?
We founded A Suit That Fits in 2006 as the world’s first online tailoring company, and we now have over 30 studios nationally. I founded the business with my school friend David Hathiramani following a gap year in Nepal where I had stayed with a family of tailors who made me a fine woollen suit.
After returning to the UK, David and I met and decided we’d like to enable people in the UK to order their very own bespoke suit online.
At the start, we had to overcome customers’ concerns about buying a bespoke suit online but, by producing a great product and offering a fantastic service, we soon developed a great reputation.
What products or services to you provide? What problem does your company solve? What is your USP?
We ethically hand-tailor affordable bespoke suits, either online or in one of our studios – traditionally, suits and shirts were sold as packages but we revolutionised the industry.
What are your sales and marketing strategies? What do you think about using newer platforms such as social media etc to reach customers?
We always engage with our customers in the way that’s most convenient to them – we’re active on Twitter and Facebook – each of our style advisors has their own Twitter account so that they can share tailoring insights and musings with their followers.
What is your attitude towards your competitors?
We respect the work of our competitors – bespoke tailoring is a growing market and it’s great to see it thriving in Britain.
Do you have any other thoughts about your market and how you operate in it?
We are always as flexible as possible in terms of the way we operate and continually listen to feedback from our customers and team to enable us to remain agile and grow in a busy marketplace.
How important to success are repeatable business processes? What about flexibility and product/service innovation? How do you make sure this is happening?
It’s important to have innovative systems in place that enable the business to run smoothly whist allowing flexibility for each and every customer and order. For example, we tailored a suit for the tallest man in the world.
What have you done to make sure you get the right people with the right skills in place?
We always look for brilliant, talented people who we know will be an asset to the business in the future. We look at their personality, background and interests, as well as their qualifications to identify those who’ll be a perfect fit.
Do you have any tips for managing suppliers, customers and other business relationships effectively?
Always be transparent, flexible and open to feedback.
What about tips on the legal side of running a company?
Outsource your HR function early – getting the ground work in place with good contracts will stand you in good stead. This expertise needn’t be expensive; there are options like the RBS Mentor Service which provides contracts and advice.
And finance and cash-flow tips?
A great way to grow a business is by using a positive cash flow model. The cost saving of having no credit control can be passed back to your customers. This model also teaches you to learn quickly and be very disciplined.
Any thoughts on the future of your company?
We’re always looking to develop our product and service to enable us to be the most useful we can be for our customers. We recently launched a concession in John Lewis Oxford Street.
What are the most important things to remember when starting and running a company?
Recruit team members who’ll fit into the business you want to be, not the business you are now. Look at where you want to be and recruit people who can help you get there. View feedback as a gift. Many people will give you feedback at the start of your business. See it as a gift and learn from it.
What new Government policies would help you run a business?
The government’s Apprentice scheme is a step in the right direction in terms of employment. This could be taken further by having basic professional skills taught in the classroom before young people leave school. Starting work in a business is a big learning curve.