Today on the blog, we’re joined by Jess from The Vintage Suit Hire Company. The company is an award-winning supplier of suits for hire and purchase, including made to measure. They offer three colours of worsted wool tweed suits, which clients can either hire, purchase in off the peg sizing or opt for made to measure. They also offer shoes and a quirky line of accessories! Jess tells us how she and her partner Tom created The Vintage Suit Hire Company because they felt there was a gap in the market, and gives some great advice for startups and small businesses.
Can you tell us about your suit hire business? How did you get into it?
We started our business in August 2016, following frustrations we felt when we were planning our own wedding. We wanted to clothe our groomsmen in blue tweed but it just didn’t seem to exist either to hire or purchase on our budget.
We are based in Bedford but most of our clients aren’t actually local, generally travelling an hour plus to visit us. We have had clients travel from as far as Nice and the Isle of Wight, after finding us online! We differentiate ourselves from other hire companies in shipping hire suits and collecting them from locations nationwide, and providing the same suit for either hire or purchase. This means that the groom gets to have an awesome fitting suit to keep, while his groomsmen match him but give the suit back after the big day.
We started Vintage Suit Hire because there was proof that there was a gap in the market, and we were willing to put the effort into bringing our vision into reality for other couples. We have now built a strong company based on an original small investment, which was paid back after 7 months. We’ve now serviced over 450 weddings, 350 of those in 2017 and set to be much higher this year. We are now a close-knit team of 5, and we now spread our main operations across two sites, our shop and our warehouse. Although we started up with just the suits and a small selection of neckwear, we’ve responded to client feedback and diversified our offering to include footwear and expand our line of accessories. And since we’ve had such a great response in Devon and Cornwall, we’ve opened our first concession in a wonderful quirky boutique in Plymouth in February which is already thriving.
How did you know when you were ready to pursue the business full time?
The VSHC is run by us as a couple now, Jess running the customer and collaborator-facing aspects of the business, and Tom running back of house operations.
However, when we started, the business was built through spare time Tom had after his full-time consultancy work, and Jess, as a new mother, using the spare time she had while her baby slept! Demand in The VSHC was fairly immediate and within 4 months of starting the business, we had taken on premises and Jess moved into working practically full time at the business, and Tom cut down his consultancy hours.
We knew that the demand would only increase as time went on, and we could only make the necessary improvements and growth in capacity and offering if we had more time to spend building the business, so we took a necessary leap of faith in order to move towards realising the potential of the business. Without this leap to full-time, we would’ve needed to turn away a great deal of interested clients.
What do you think were the key factors in what got you where you are today?
There are several things we have done in our business for it to have been so successful early on. Firstly, Tom is keen to implement systems that make operations easier for the business. If there is a piece of software to reduce workload or reduce causes of problems in the business, we have found that it is what seems like a daunting initial outlay that actually pays for itself after a short period of time, and makes our lives so much better. Our clients are trusting us as industry experts, so we are keen to ensure we have the best systems in place to create strong relationships with our clients and reduce human error.
Jess has worked hard from the beginning to build a strong base of supplier relationships through networking and collaborative PR opportunities. We collaborate on several styled photo shoots each month, and our collaborations with local and national brands have lead to increased recommendations and all important free promotion online and in print magazine, which has driven traffic to our website.
Did you face any struggles, and how did you overcome them?
We struggle mainly with a lack of work-life balance, and we haven’t quite overcome this yet! We have worked hard to ensure we do get time off during a 7-day period, although not always at the same time! We are looking to further recruit to ease the workload on us both.
What have you learned during your entrepreneurial journey?
We have learned that we should’ve employed additional staff earlier on in our business journey. We held off hiring staff for too long, as we were not certain in how successful the business would be, and whether we would have a stable enough income to take on staff.
By the time we recruited our first employee, we were already so overwhelmed by demand and workload that we were both feeling quite stressed. It’s easy to recruit a virtual assistant, and this is something in retrospect that we could’ve invested in with minimal risk.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
It’s scary at first, but we truly believe that you need to take risks in order to make real progress, both financially and with your comfort zone. We push a great deal of investment back into our business in order to grow and provide a better service for our clients.
We also thoroughly recommend getting to relevant networking events finding a base of local and national like-minded collaborators who you can both work with and also bounce ideas off. A business cannot exist in a vacuum, and learning this really helped keep us motivated, speaking to other small businesses having similar issues and asking questions between us. Our recent speaking appearance at a wedding supplier’s conference will enable us to further collaborations with well-known wedding influencers.