Warren Bennett: From a credit card loan to a £2.2m business
Warren Bennett co-founded his bespoke tailoring business with money he and his business partner raised on their credit cards. This year, their company is on course to make £2.2m in sales.
Want a good quality bespoke suit at a knockdown price? Bangkok's Khao San Road might come to mind. But Nepal? "Its not well known," says Warren Bennett, 28, co-founder of London tailor Asuitthatfits.com. "But everything they wear is hand tailored so there is a terrific tradition of tailoring and passing down skills through the generations. On a gap year, I got a fantastic pure wool suit made for £100 and just wanted to tell everyone."
David Hathirmani (also 28), an old school friend, was one person he did tell. And together, they set up Britain's newest name in bespoke tailoring.
Old friends from the Perse School, Cambridge, Bennett and Hathirmani took the olive green, three-piece suit down to Hampstead market in the summer of 2006 and stuck it on a dummy. "Within 20 minutes, we'd sold two of them."
The two quickly hatched a business plan. The idea was to measure up people in London and then send those measurements to Nepal, where the suits would be made up. Materials would be sourced from there, as well as Italy and the UK. To boot, customers could design their own suits on the website, adding buttons, waistcoats or changing colours and designs.
"We would charge in advance for the suits, have them made, and as long as the customer was happy with the suit then they'd come back and buy more," says Hathirmani. "So customers helped us fund the business."
With £30,000 raised from their credit cards, they opened a store on 1 Sun Street, at the heart of the City of London. "Most business now comes from word of mouth. But good PR was important in the early days." In exchange for food and a place to sleep, a student agreed to walk naked around London's financial district for a day, with a suit painted onto his body.
"That was a fantastic piece of PR because it got us coverage for a year afterwards," says Bennett. They also took advantage of fire drills in the City, when thousands of people at a time would pile out on to the streets. "You'd get 1,000 people onto the street, so we'd cycle by them on our branded bikes", with Asuitthatfits.com written across them.
On 7 June 2006, they made their first sale. Plenty more were to come. By December 2007 they had opened up a store in Canary Wharf. Another followed on Glass House Street, just off Regent Street, in August 2008 as the customer base began widening. As for the numbers, from June to April 2007, they managed to generate £270,000 in turnover, which grew to £1.2m in April this year as they sold over 17,000 suits. To the end of this financial year, they should make £2.2m in sales.
The recent downturn hasn't fazed them: "we've been growing at such a quick rate for so long that we were looking more at driving sales than keeping our costs down," says Hathirmani. Now they've begun negotiating down their cost of shipping as well as the amount paid on credit cards. "But it's also really helped in that you can get a hand-tailored suit that fits exactly your size for the same price as off the peg," adds Bennett. A smart move "that really works in our favour because people are searching harder for the best deal."