Dress to Kill

Cranfield School of Management

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Success Story

The Times profiles BGP business Dress2Kill! Read all about it here and find out how founder James Hibbert benefited from BGP

reproduced with permission from The Times, 30 April 2005

Never too late for school

(c) 2005 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved Michelle Henery meets a businessman who needed help to tailor expansion plans.

JAMES HIBBERT decided to go back to school this year even though his company, Dress2Kill, is already a success.  Profits at the travelling made-to-measure tailoring service have doubled year on year since he launched the business in 1999. Turnover at the London-based company reached £500,000 last year, while its 2,000-strong client base continues to grow.

However, Mr Hibbert, 35, wanted help to tailor a specific strategy for expanding his business, where staff visit the homes or offices of clients for consultations and fittings of outfits. "I needed some focus in achieving my goal of becoming the first national brand of bespoke tailors," he says.

So he enrolled on the Business Growth and Development Programme at Cranfield School of Management, at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire, which aims to help ambitious owner-managers to achieve their company objectives and personal ambitions.   Mr Hibbert, who was nominated in the young entrepreneur category of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards, sponsored by The Times, the London Stock Exchange and Coutts, the private bank, says: "The programme helped me to identify what I was looking for and where I was trying to take the business.

"When I first started the course, I was asked to draw a picture of Dress2Kill. The picture was a mess. There were no structures in place and it showed how I was running around, trying to do everything by myself."

Gerard Burke, Programme Director at Cranfield, which has helped more than 650 business owners in the past 18 years, says:

"Businesses that participate in the Programme increase their sales and profits more quickly than their peers and grow more quickly after the programme than they did before. Individual owner-managers also report significant improvements in their own management and leadership skills."

Mr Hibbert says that he was able to make improvements to his business almost from the start of the 11-week programme, as a result of brainstorming with other entrepreneurs on the course.   "One module looked at the strengths and weaknesses of a business. We took mine as an example it was incredible to have so many people coming up with constructive ideas on how to improve - from ways to save money to issues with staff and recruitment."

He says that Dress2Kill`s strong client base had shown him that there was interest in travelling bespoke tailoring among younger professionals, with people starting to turn away from the "outdated" Savile Row approach of fusty tailors with hefty price tags. But he wanted to find a way to ensure that his customers kept returning.

"One idea from the group was to have a shirt or suit club, where people would pay an annual or monthly fee and receive clothing on a regular basis," he says.

His classmates also gave advice on improving his profit margins. "By subtly putting up prices, they showed me that I could massively boost margins. It has had an effect on the bottom line. Suits used to start at £350 - now they start at £360. I always thought that business was about a high turnover and the number of customers - that profit came second, which was off the mark."

He also negotiated better rates with his suppliers and used motivational techniques on his sales staff. He is already selling more suits since he completed the course.

"I designed a new business plan, in which I am considering franchising instead of my current arrangement of owner-based outlets. And for the first time I am going for external investment to help the business to scale up. My business partner, Shirley Biggs, and I have been funding Dress2Kill 100 per cent since it started.

"I knew that increased investment would help the business to grow, but I was often unsure about talking about my plans and ideas to outside investors. I was also concerned about losing control of my business. But I now have the confidence to go for it."

He adds: "The greatest benefit of the programme was that it allowed me to step back from my business and achieve clarity."

Dress2Kill: 0870 7802066,


 Survival tips

Don`t become too emotionally attached to your business, otherwise you will lose perspective and inhibit its growth.

Negotiate with suppliers, contractors and landlords for better prices and prompt-payment discounts.

Actively seek out new business. Consider adding an extra service to give you an edge over competition.

Try to mix with other entrepreneurs to exchange ideas. The business always benefits.

(c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 2005


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