Our business, Dobell Menswear, has been in operation since back in 2003, operating in the niche men’s fashion industry, specifically that of formalwear, wedding wear and accessories. The business is self-funded, and currently turns over around £9 million. It was started with a guaranteed overdraft, backed by parents of the entrepreneur owner, which was paid back many years ago. The business originally focused on providing students with affordable tuxedos to wear to student proms and graduation balls, before expanding to other black tie accessories, and later men’s smart office and wedding wear. We currently have around 20,000 products within our ever-growing lines.
We found out about the East Sussex County Council grant when we were looking for additional financing to support a move to larger warehouses as we looked to grow the product lines within the men’s smartwear and suits markets. The warehouses we were looking at needed some adjustments to the logistical abilities, such as racking and packing benches. We also looked to invest into our photography studios, office equipment and computers, which would allow us to scale up, and at the same time, simplify some of our core processes.
We also heard about the specifics of the financial support available from various friends of the business, as well our own mortgage bankers, before we deciding to go ahead and apply. It was really one of the best business decisions we’ve made, as it almost forced us into an area of substantial growth, through investment and driving specific business areas forward.
Applying for the grant
The application process was relatively simple. It benefited from a presentation we completed for East Sussex County Council, where we gave a very detailed plan on our growth strategy, and business plan going forward. We applied for £100,000 in funding and, as part of the scheme, we had to provide a thorough spend plan, on every area that the money would be used for, with multiple quotes for each, to prove there was value in the return on the investment. We had to also prove that there was a strategy in place to provide new job opportunities; something we still have to prove periodically as part of an FTP Submission, with employees’ tax and national insurance information.
We used the money specifically to create three large professional photography studios, as the importance of quality imagery in e-commerce was increasing, almost day to day. There was specific spend on the SLR cameras, high-grade ring lights and lightboxes, as well as textured, plain and green screen background drops, and an editing suite. These have been key to allow us to grow sales in new product lines, through detailed imagery and video reviews.
To relieve the growing strain on the logistical side of the business, we invested heavily into work stations for the picking and packing of products. To provide more logically sound processes required a change in software to such as Real Time Dispatch, as well as intricate development on our Magento store. And the investment in these areas have been realised in turnover growth as well as impressive customer feedback (Trust Pilot scores of 94 per cent customer satisfaction from near 17,000 reviews).
Don’t delay in seeking assistance
Our own advice to other SMEs around the UK is simple, apply and take advantage. Financial grants in business can really transform an organisation, and sometimes through the requirements of the grant, almost force the business to improve its internal processes and commitment to turnover and profit growth.
With the uncertainties of the future economies within the UK as they are, these types of schemes may be harder to apply for in coming months or years, and companies, like us, should take advantage of their (the grants) current existence, now. It can be unclear where the funding is sourced from, whether it’s EU backed or the UK, so it’s worth acting sooner rather than later. Your growth as a business is in the interest of your local councils and local economy, and we can all do with a little help along the way to make it happen.
Keith White is head of marketing at Dobell Menswear.