Six years in the suit business

Adam King, founding partner of tailor King & Allen, reveals the most significant lessons he's learned from running the company through a period of rapid growth.

Adam King, founding partner of tailor King & Allen, reveals the most significant lessons he’s learned from running the company through a period of rapid growth.

Adam King, founding partner of tailor King & Allen, reveals what he’s learned from running the company through a period of rapid growth.

After launching King & Allen in 2004 we went from selling 500 suits in 2005 to more than 4,000 in 2008. Here’s what I learned in that time.

Lesson one: Enjoy your weekends
I remember the heady days of the first two years of the business. Jake, my business partner and I lived together and we had a poster on the wall that said “Weekends are for wimps”. The business was about our commitment, and we accepted that we had to make sacrifices to succeed, although we were enjoying it so much we didn’t mind.

The truth is that you have to tough it out during the make-or-break days, but there is a real risk of burn-out. Once we had assembled a team of great people, we didn’t have to work 24/7 anymore and we can now relax a little and enjoy those days off.

Lesson two: Recognition helps recruitment
A few years ago we won an ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award. It’s great to be recognised and awards can be valuable in a number of ways, although a direct impact on your sales is often unlikely.

The reason I mention it is because it has been extremely beneficial for our recruitment efforts. People like to join companies that are going places. It also attracted people that had more of an entrepreneurial spirit themselves.

Lesson three: Use search engines
Some people see search engine optimisation (SEO) as a form of dark magic. It isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We got King & Allen to the top of the search listing for “bespoke suits” through hard work and by knowing what our customers wanted. Nowaday’s it’s harder – Google is more demanding than ever, it’s less about quantity and more about quality but the principles remain the same: get your key messages and your key words right and it flows from there.

Lesson four: See the opportunity in every difficulty

As an entrepreneur, the highs may be higher, but the lows can certainly be lower. As Jake and I are a partnership, not a limited company, the risks to us personally are clear. In November 2008 we saw an immediate impact on our business from the recession. With sales slowing down, our response was to introduce a higher-quality range of suits, with more expensive material, that were still considerably cheaper than those of our competitors. This gave us access to another tier of more affluent consumers who were looking for better value for money without compromising quality. As a result our average spend per customer is now twice what it was in 2008.

What I learned was that sometimes you just have to take a chance and try a new approach, and that the single best way to deal with the problems you face as an entrepreneur is to see them as an opportunity to improve your business.

Lesson five: Know when to ask for advice 
When we invested in the business and bought the properties that now house it, we believed (wrongly) that they were VAT-exempt due to being new builds. So we found ourselves at year end with a very large and unexpected bill. It was as scary as it was depressing.

In the end, we secured a loan to cover the cost. This was relatively easy to arrange, due to how transparent our error in judgement was. However, the experience made me realise the value of expert advice, especially when it comes to tax, because you don’t get to negotiate. You may think all the ‘i’s’ are dotted, and the ‘t’s’ crossed, but a second opinion is often worth paying for.

Lesson six: Some things will always be hard

Without a doubt, making people redundant is one of the most painful experiences for any entrepreneur. We went through this in early 2009, and what makes it particularly unpleasant is that these are people you care about and through no fault of their own, are at risk of losing their jobs and all that that entails. Moreover, the processes that the government demands we follow forces business owners to engage in clandestine observation, monitoring and comparison.

In terms of how you feel, it doesn’t get any easier. With experience, however, the processes can become easier to manage. By explaining the situation as much as you can, where you can, and mixing in informal communications with formal by explaining what must be done, but also saying how you feel about it, you can make it more bearable for your people, and for yourself.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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