Well, it all started in October 1999. I was working as a recruitment consultant for Michael Page and I desperately needed some new suits. I had always liked having suits made for me and not being the tallest of chaps, finding an off the peg number that didn’t drown me, was always a challenge. So, I took the plunge and booked an interview room to avoid the embarrassment of my colleagues hearing my waist measurements. The tailor came equipped with some cloth books, a tape measure, as well as some of the worst halitosis I have ever experienced. Armed with all of these tools, he sold me two suits each costing around £600. Unfortunately, there was not much of a personality to his sales pitch, but none the less he managed that day to sell around 20 suits. He also tapped me up for a number of friends who also went on to experience his bad breath. But halitosis aside, there was clearly a market for this type of offering.
So, back at my office desk with my head clearly on the job in hand, I began to hatch a plan. If I could offer bespoke suits at affordable prices, without the smelly breath and with more personality, surely I was onto a winner?
During that summer, when I was in Port Grimaud with my then girlfriend and her family, the dinner conversation quickly turned towards my idea – and to this day, remains one of the most encouraging and uplifting conversations I’ve had. My girlfriend’s father, Adrian Whitney, who I had always admired for his gift of encouragement and positivity, really supported my aspiration. This was affirmed when he put me in touch with his friend, Shirley Biggs, who he thought might be able to help me. Shirley had recently retired as buying director for John Lewis. So after I arrived home and not really knowing what to expect, I traveled over to Hampstead, armed with my business plan to meet her. The moment her door opened, I can truly say that my life changed…
I was greeted by a vivacious, exuberantly cheeky blonde, big blue eyed lady, Shirley. After several glasses of wine and many laughs, she thought that my business plan had legs, and what is more, I had a business partner! Very sadly Shirley is no longer with us, but her energy, excitement, outrageous personality and humour are still very much at the heart of everything that Dress2Kill do.
A week after meeting Shirley, I handed in my notice at Michael Page. I think most of my team thought I was a bonkers, but I don’t blame them – “You’re leaving to set up what?!”… You can imagine it. My parents were also slightly nervous for me, but I have to take my hat off to them, they have always been incredibly supportive and continue to be so.
All this sounds great Jimmy, but where did you find your first customers?
Shirley and I began humbly; we each wrote down the names of just 15 friends and family, who we would approach. Although we never expected the suits to fit them perfectly the first time round, we did give them our guarantee that in the end, we would deliver them a suit that they would be incredible happy with. Once we had achieved this objective, which of course we did, we asked them to recommend us to their friends and colleagues and it took off from there.
What would your advice be to someone wanting to set up their own business?
The first two years were extremely tough. You have to be prepared to invest your time, money and energy, and usually much more than you originally think! Personally, I had to remortgage a couple of times and my credit cards were certainly feeling the stretch. Of course the concoction of every entrepreneur and business venture is unique, but for Shirley and I, the best decision we made was to invest similar amounts of personal capital into setting up. I’ m glad we did this, because I’m not sure if the drive to succeed would have been as intense, if we had chosen to take the external investment root.
Secondly, do everything you can to keep overheads low. Shirley and I decided to base ourselves in Borough High Street, where the rent was reasonable and we had access to both the City and The West End. We also had access to Borough Market, which is probably the best food market in London, not that that had anything to do with our decision of course!
Brushing up on the essential skill set unique to the particular business, is also important. Shirley and I both enrolled on a course to learn how to measure people for suits. We learned about the cloths, linings, features and how a suit is made. This meant that we were able to confidently oversee individual projects. That said, I don’t think anything can prepare you for running your own business like the actual experience of running it can.
Lastly, but certainly not least, make sure that you have good people around you – people who believe in your vision, but who will also be honest with you when they see you going off track. We were fortunate that my brother Andrew (a lawyer) and friend, Luke Jones (also an entrepreneur), were able to support us with their advice, contacts, as well as a small financial investment. Neil Biggs, Shirley’s husband, has been invaluable to us.
We chose the name Dress2kill because we felt it encapsulated the energy and passion that we had and still do have for the business. We’re an upbeat, creative brand who value substance, quality and style over boring and stuffy, any day of the week. Ever since the birth of Dress2kill, we’ve striven to breathe new life into the suit industry. We are not afraid to push boundaries. We love to innovate, explore and create, whilst not forgetting the rich heritage of the British Suit. But we take the most pleasure in giving our customers an incredible, unforgettable experience, as well as of course, delivering quality suits that make them feel a million dollars.