The first 1000 days of business is a challenging time for most start-ups, with the majority never reaching their third business anniversary. We interviewed four diverse companies who surpassed this milestone and now share their insights with fellow entrepreneurs (also read advice from JesseJames, So We Too and Dineplan). Meet Jamie Pike, the owner of clothing brand, Benger - a men's clothing boutique situated in Cape Town's St Georges Mall.
An idea is born
Before he started his business, Jamie worked as a banker in London's Square Mile financial district. During this time, he developed an appreciation for the bespoke tailoring of Saville Row and Jermyn Street. Having grown up with parents in the clothing business, Jamie was keen to start his own venture upon returning to South Africa. He identified a gap in the market for top quality, well-priced shirts between designer wear and mass retailing.
Tip: I think that a lot of goods and services that are already in the market can be improved upon. It just requires a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve a competitive advantage."
Day 1: Starting out
To get his first sample made, Jamie took one of his favourite shirts to a patternmaker and had a copy made by a seamstress. Next, he bought a roll of white linen and had more shirts made. Each time he made a profit, he bought more fabric and had more shirts made until finally he decided to start trading at the Bay Harbour market in Hout Bay. This was a convenient low rent option, only open on weekends, which would leave his weekdays free to focus on production. This was a time of lessons learnt the hard way. "On Friday nights, people are not really in the mood for buying shirts, they want to socialise. We also didn't have a card machine for a long time and lost a lot of sales that way", says Jamie.
Tip: "If you are selling products, a market is a great place to learn the fundamentals: how to price and how to sell yourself."
Day 107: Another market, another opportunity
Jamie continued to trade at Bay Harbour, employing someone for the first time. He then opened a second stall at the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. "This was a much better fit for our merchandise -more of a curated market", explains Jamie. Here, he continued to sell a modest selection of shirts, in different fabrics.
Tip: "I didn't go for custom garments. I learnt that I'm not a designer, I'm a retailer. I stuck to my strengths.
Day 245: Fine tuning the production process
As volumes started to increase, Jamie was faced with many production challenges. "Not being VAT registered was a huge barrier because I wasn't able to import fabrics or products", explains Jamie. He came up with three solutions: importing fabric through his family's business and making contact with suppliers in Mauritius (from where no import duty is payable). "I also realised that South Africa is a season behind Europe which means that I could buy excellent quality small rolls from Italian mills that supply the likes of Prada and Gucci", says Jamie. After a few months, he was able to supply his factory with digitised patterns which resulted in better accuracy, consistency and less wastage.
Tip: "If you run into red tape or a supply chain challenge, try to think out of the box. Share a container, use an import agent etc."Day 345: Ready to open up shop
A year into business, the time was right to find a permanent retail space. "I looked at the hip streets like Bree and Kloof but they were just too expensive", remembers Jamie. "Then the perfect spot became available in St Georges Mall." Initially many people didn't know where the shop was but Jamie had a gut feeling that it was the right location. "Today we get so much traffic, from tourists to the nearby courts, Parliament etc." Jamie opened in January 2013 and spent only R6000 on fitting the shop. He started adding jackets, suits, coats, leather jackets, socks and ties to the range - most of which are manufactured in South Africa.
Tip: "Be ruthless with what you spend money on. Focus on your customer and your product."
Day 391: Launching a basic website, offering multi-buys
After year one, Jamie had a website created through a trade exchange agreement (offering merchandise in return). It was also in his second year that he discovered the value of offering multi-buys. "We trialled different variations - buy 1, get 1 free, 3 for 2 etc. but in the end, people responded the most to getting 4 shirts at a discounted amount." Jamie continued to work at improving his garments and "making sure everything is perfect."
Tip: "Always make the product or service of the highest quality. If this falls down at any stage, it becomes almost impossible to attract and retain customers."Day 612: Faced with a festive season setback
In December 2013, the business was hit by a night time burglary. "We lost twelve expensive leather jackets because I didn't have my alarm linked to armed response like I was meant to, explains Jamie. "I took a knock, however, we were trading again by 9am the next day and actually used the incident to our advantage. People are drawn to drama so we had great sales that day!"
Tip: "You can sit and mope or you can turn a disaster into an advantage."
Day 875: Addressing challenges the smart way
One of the biggest challenges that Jamie faces on a daily basis is shoplifting. "So far, I've fitted an anti-theft tagging system and a security door but soon we will also add CCTV cameras."
Tip: "Security cameras are not just helpful to curb stealing, but could also help you keep track of misplaced stock."
Inspiration for the next 1000 days
The Benger store became profitable for the first time in 2014 and sales were up over 100% from the year before. "We are now opening a ladies shop and have our eye on a location in Claremont that we think will be a good location for our customers in the Southern Suburbs." Until then, Jamie is focusing on improving the quality, value and price of his products. "We also want to implement better IT systems so that we can improve our stock control."
Take a look at our YouTube video featuring Jamie from Benger.