About your business

Founder name: Michael Conway
Company name: Clothes2Order
Company age: 10 years old
Company location: Manchester
Staff numbers: 28
Date started: Online launch in 2002

Tell us what your business does:

We help businesses look great by supplying them with uniforms and event clothing. We do this all online through our website Clothes2Order.com which is specifically designed to allow businesses to create exceptional uniforms quickly and easily.

Where did the idea for your business come from? What motivated you to start it?

Creating and ordering a uniform can be a difficult process for a small business. In an industry with minimum order quantities, maximum number of colours in logos and lengthy lead times we wanted to offer a uniform service where a small business can get what they want, not what a supplier wants them to have. So we have built a uniform service based on speed and flexibility; it’s quick and easy to order what you want and is delivered when you need it.

What did you do before?

The business started out as an import business, supplying big brands including Next, Mothercare and C&A in the 90’s.
This was a dying industry as high street retailers were all bringing importing in house so we realised it was time for a change.

What did you have to overcome (if anything) to start it and get it off the ground?

In the early days we used external suppliers to do the print and embroidery which made it a challenge to offer the flexible and fast service we knew our customers required. We knew we had to bring manufacturing in house to deliver the best possible service. The change from distributor to manufacturer had its challenges, but the benefits to our business and our customers has been enormous.

What makes your business stand out from others like it?

Speed. Standard lead times in our industry are 10 to 14 working days. We deliver 95% of orders in just seven working days as standard, and if a customer needs it even quicker we offer a 24 hour express service.

What was your first big breakthrough?

Getting the website found (in terms of online search). Back in 2002 we had a website designed which looked great, but nobody could find it. By 2005 we’d started to understand SEO and our business took off from there.

Your business tips

You’re prime minister for a day. What would you change for small businesses?

I would incentivise entrepreneurship in the UK – only 21% of entrepreneurs currently believe the UK is an attractive place to launch a business.

What’s your best customer service tip?

Encourage open and honest customer feedback. This will allow you to identify what you’re good at, but importantly where you need to improve. Don’t sweep negative feedback under the carpet – embrace it and use it to drive business change and your customers will benefit.

What would you do differently? (What have you learnt?)

We would have brought the printing and embroidery machinery in-house earlier.

What one piece of advice would you give to people who want to start their own business?

Be different. Having a USP is a bit of a cliché but it is essential in a competitive market place.

Website: www.clothes2order.com