Sir Alex Ferguson has already worn one of his ties this year, his next target: David Beckham.
Chris Gibson, a former commercial solicitor is hoping to solve the issues of a poor necktie with the creation of SuperTie.
I recently spoke to Chris as he tells me how the idea for SuperTie came about, how he has managed to fund the business, get traction and continually grow the business.
Hi Chris, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Hello, I’m well. Great to be speaking with you. It’s great to see entrepreneurs supporting other entrepreneurs with platforms like YHP.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Originally from Belfast, I moved to Scotland in 2000 to study at the University of Aberdeen. After completing a BSc I went on to study for an Accelerated Scots Law LLB. I then took my legal practice exams and obtained a traineeship with an international law firm at offices in Edinburgh. Although I’m glad I qualified as a commercial solicitor, I quickly new it wasn’t the career for me. I needed to be the master of my own destiny (or as much as possible) so I then jumped into business at the first opportunity.
So how did you get into business?
Perhaps not the traditional way. Entrepreneurship was something I was always interested in, but my early education was firmly assigned to produce good academic success and a life in a professional career. This is, of course, very worthy, but it never felt right for me. Now that I’ve entered into the business and entrepreneurial world, I absolutely love it.
How did the idea for SuperTie come about?
Well, this is why I can never regret training as a professional! It was there that I realised the requirement for a solution to “bad tie syndrome” (which is rife by the way, and a terrible affliction!). All too often, the appearance of a fine suit, crisp shirt and polished shoes was tarnished with a poor necktie.
Whether it was a squint or messy knot, a short or crotch-pointing blade, it frustrated me that the traditional necktie allowed such scope for error. After researching other products like clip-on bow ties and slip-on shoes, I realised that convenience mixed with style was very desirable in this day and age. A historic but defective concept called a zipper tie gave me the starting point, and after lots of research, product design and hard work, we had created SuperTie.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
For me, the toughest part was learning the complexities of running a business. The last few years have effectively felt like a practical “degree” that you personally take, administer and assess! The learning curve is so sharp, but when passion fuels it, somehow that gives you the drive and thirst to learn and get better every day.
What is SuperTie and what are you trying to solve?
SuperTie is about 3 things: Ensuring a perfect necktie appearance; convenience and time saving for a busy world; and functionality. Naturally, as a fashion accessory, design is also very important. It is the combination of all these benefits that makes SuperTie what it is. It’s a solution to common necktie issues: squint or messy knots; too long or too short ties; and general time wasting and fighting with ties.
Through our product design, we also developed a safety version of SuperTie, which is now used sold into our newest markets of school uniform and corporate workwear uniform. It features a safety mechanism that ensures our tie is released from the wearers neck if force is applied when worn, but yet it still offers all the great benefits of a standard SuperTie.
How have you been able to fund it?
Initially I invested some money as a student into property and was lucky enough to see that work out for me due to Aberdeen’s property boom. I was lucky in so many ways, but you do make some of your own luck – I firmly believe that. With that I invested some money into SuperTie along with a Scottish venture capitalist. He became a director, mentor and investor in SuperTie and so the journey began.
Not everyone is so fortunate as I was, so my advice would be to work on your business idea while maintaining your 9-5 job to provide income and initial capital. With all the communication technology these days, it’s amazing what you can quickly achieve in your spare time. Even with the investments in my business, I still kept my job going until things were in place and we were properly ready to trade.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
The first few months were very exciting, especially once I had backers who saw potential in my idea. That really spurred me on. Juggling my training contract with a law firm while building SuperTie in evenings and weekends made life a lot tougher, but I’m glad I went through that. It toughens you up and builds stamina. As they say, if building a business was easy, everyone would do it!
How have you gone about getting traction to the business?
Through an awful lot of trial and error. I mentioned earlier that my journey so far has been a learning curve, and trying things has been the key to that learning. No matter whether something goes very well or very badly, you must always learn from it. That is the key. Keep testing until it works, and the traction will eventually start to come. My product is actually quite a tricky one to market, because it requires visual demonstration for people to really get it. Amazing as it sounds, it took me a long time to learn that. Every product is different. The trick is finding the best formulas to make it sell.
What’s your business model?
Again, after a lot of market research and market trials, we targeted 3 markets. Our first target is to get the product into schools, and so build a generation of customers for the future. Secondly, we target companies who want to improve their brand image through better employee presentation.
Finally, our fashion products and brands are available both online and offline and we are working on a franchising model for shopping centre retail and department store concessions going forward. The necktie is a global product, so in years 3-5 of trading we aim to push into foreign markets having built strong British brands. British clothing brands are very well respected, so if we can succeed here, I think we can then export very successfully.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Listened and learned. Whether from industry professionals, experienced entrepreneurs or our customers I believe other people have really helped me to shape this business. In terms of major events, I think getting us into Selfridges for our luxury brand launch has been my biggest and most beneficial achievement so far.
What should be expecting from yourself and SuperTie for 2012?
Growth. We have laid the foundations, and now it is time to build up. Our sales strategy is key. Hopefully we’ll also get more exposure and see more faces wearing our products. Sir Alex Ferguson wore one of our ties this year. I’m aiming for David Beckham next! I’m also aiming to do well at The Pitch 2012 – Britain’s biggest small business competition.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
If you tend to trust your gut instinct, then go with it. I cannot emphasise that enough. For me, I believe this to be a human beings sixth sense. There’s a reason we have it, so trust it if it screams out at you!
Nothing needs to be completely perfect. Believe me, this has taken me a while to learn. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so it was very hard to learn to just run with things. In business, things move too quickly to be perfect all the time. Make sure the things that genuinely need to be perfect, are perfect. The rest just needs to be good.
Keep going. At the beginning I must admit to naively thinking I’d have built my necktie empire in 3-5 years. In reality, any business takes a long, long time to build. Stick with it. If you keep working, things will start to happen. Don’t be put off by tough months, closed doors or naysayers. It’s your dream, your vision. It takes time for people to become aware and to truly appreciate what you are offering them.
Please do spare 10 seconds and vote for Chris and SuperTie at The Pitch 2012 through this link http://www.thepitchuk.com/pitch-80/chris-gibson.