Measuring his success, Mike Lane details the challenges of being a bespoke tailoring franchisee with Suit the City
Mike Lane has just tied up his first year as the franchisee for Suit the City Bath, the bespoke tailoring franchise. But while he’s happy with how things have turned out, he’s not afraid of mentioning that it has required a lot of hard work.
Lane was in the fabric of the corporate world before joining a franchise, having clocked time in different management roles with various industrial packaging companies and his own for 14 years. However, tired of pencil pushing, he threw in the towel in his 30s and spent some time as a tour guide. “When I got out of that I didn’t want to go back into that world or anything like it,” he remarks. But the allure of self-ownership kept grabbing him by the collar. “I wanted to be my own boss again, to work for myself,” he says. “So I started looking around for things that interested me.”
While joining a tailoring franchise may seem like an off-the-cuff career move, Lane has always had an eye for quality clothing. “I always had an interest in men’s fashion,” he says. Although, while previous jobs initially enabled him to experience the sartorial bliss of wearing suits and ties on a daily basis, things had changed. “In recent years, as I’ve got middle-aged, I’ve gained weight,” he says. “So I’ve found it harder to be fashionable when I was living the corporate life.”
Seeing the chance for familiar self-ownership yet a fresh line of work as a franchisee, Lane kept his eyes peeled for an opportunity. And upon discovering Suit the City, he was blown away by the prospect of combining his latent fashionista tendencies with a strong franchise model. “Through various franchise shows and things like that I met Suit the City and I didn’t know there was a franchise for tailoring,” he recalls. Striking up conversation at a franchise show at the Olympia in London with Tony Carr, franchisee of Suit the City Guildford, is what brought him into the fold. “I just thought it was right,” he says. Having considered his options, Lane decided Suit the City was the right fit for him.
After signing the dotted line, he quickly set out to make the most of his new venture. The first step of which was to embark on Suit the City’s rigorous franchise training regime. “There was an awful lot to learn,” he says. During several weeks, Lane repeatedly visited the franchisor’s head office and was rapidly brought up to speed about how the model worked. “Because it was totally new to me, [I had to learn] the technical side of it and how the franchise, systems, relationships with suppliers, measuring and everything else works,” Lane explains.
Despite the steep learning curve, Lane was thrilled when he opened for business. “It was a very exciting time,” he recalls. “Very exciting but daunting, wondering if anyone was going to come through the door.” However, he didn’t rest on his laurels but actively worked on getting clients through his doors, utilising his considerable networking chops in the process. Indeed, skills picked up in his past career meant Lane found more comfort with his clients than expected. “It really reinforced my thoughts that it was the right thing to do,” he says.
Opening a new business is always a daunting experience but fortunately the franchisor was there to support Lane. “They’ve been incredibly supportive and helpful,” he says. But while the head office was always just a phone call away, the size of the network meant that, for the most part, Lane had to do most of the heavy lifting. “But on the other hand I’ve got people that I can talk to and you probably wouldn’t have that so much if you were part of a big franchise that would be more formalised,” he says. “So it’s got pros and cons, definitely. At the moment it’s been right for me because I like that support and interaction.”
Looking back on his first year as a franchisee, Lane is happy that the company has grown. Albeit not in the pace that he first predicted. “This is effectively a brand new business in a new area backed by a franchise that isn’t well-known and a brand that isn’t well-known,” he says. “You wouldn’t expect much more.” Luckily, as the business heads into its second year, Lane is confident all his hard work will pay off. “I just hope the growth will continue and I think a lot of things that haven’t come in like referrals and repeat orders will start coming in,” he says. “What I would expect with this sort of franchise is you reach a point where you’re not fighting for every order, some orders will come in naturally.”
Despite the slightly disappointing growth, he’s optimistic about the future and happy that he decided to try something new for size. “On a personal level I’m enjoying it and it’s what I hoped for and it’s not any better or worse than I hoped it would be,” he concludes. “I’m prepared to work hard so all that is absolutely fine.” With that attitude, his business seems tailored for success.