There are many reasons quoted for starting your own business, but possibly none as simple and honest as Susanne Malim, founder of Jermyn Street Design. She simply didn’t want to work for anyone else.
That was over 30 years ago and the business is still growing (an average of 23% each year for the last four years) and she is still loving it.
Jermyn Street Design has designed and manufactured uniforms for some of the world’s best known brands, including Givenchy, Ascot Racecourse, World Duty Free, Lancôme International, Virgin Rail, Eurostar, Gatwick Airport, Nuffield Health, De Beers worldwide, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inns.
Susanne had worked in fashion since her mid teens when she began modelling and developed a passion for clothes. Her modelling experience became a valuable skill when she was invited to become sales director for a fashion company in London, selling Italian and French brands to top UK fashion boutiques. She wore the clothes to all her sales meetings and knew she had found her path when, within a single season, she had tripled the company’s turnover.
During that time an opportunity arose for her to dress the staff of Trident Casinos and Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race and on just those two orders she launched her business.
Using her modelling savings she bought a shelf company and started with a blank sheet of paper. A contact had some business space which he allowed her to use, along with basic office services, for a share in the business. The office was based in Jermyn Street and the new company adopted the name, and so began Jermyn Street Design.
British Airways was an early win and led on from designing the company’s promotional clothing world-wide, to designing the uniforms for the 450 employees of BA’s retail outlets.
Susanne claims that her bank played a big part in helping her to get the new business off the ground: “In those days banks backed individuals if they believed in you and my bank, Barclays, was exceptionally supportive.” In fact one of Susanne’s top tips for launching a successful business is to be honest with your bank, “tell your bank the truth and if you’re honest and realistic they will support you. People feed off confidence, and that goes for clients too, but they can tell whether that confidence is real or not.”
The business grew steadily, based on Susanne’s reputation for customer service and delivering on promises. As she explains, making excellent customer service the foundation of her business was key, “making money is the consequence of doing something well and should never be an end in itself.
“Know your value and never compromise on price to win business at all costs. Cash flow is a vital element of a well run business as is margin protection. We’ve grown out of our own cash flow. Businesses can fail even with a full order book.”
Customers and employees have also played key roles in growing the business, and their importance is reflected in Susanne’s approach: “Listen to your customers and keep learning; you never know it all. Employ the best people and reward them properly.”
When asked about the high points of running Jermyn Street Design, Susanne is not short of answers: “Winning business. Delivering on promises. Building long-term relationships. Seeing people happily dressed in our designs. Still being in business 33 years later and still loving it!”
The low points however are more difficult to pinpoint, as one in particular became a business opportunity that no-one had foreseen: “The economic downturn was a challenging time for everyone. Our competitors slashed prices and as a result customer care suffered. But we stuck to our values and ended up winning lots of new business because we were seen as a trusted, safe pair of hands.”
When asked to give advice to others who may be considering starting their own business, Susanne keeps it characteristically simple: “Do what you understand, do what you love and look forward to Mondays.”