Pamela Jabbour had been in the uniform business less than a year when the 21-year-old’s Total Image Group (TIG) won a contract to dress a leading retailer’s 30,000 employees. “To put that in perspective,” she says, “our biggest client at the time had just 300 staff.” But TIG rose to the occasion. “We managed to deliver 60,000 shirts on time – and the client had no idea how much we’d suffered at the back end while we were doing it!”
Twelve years on, TIG is the largest privately-owned uniform company on the east coast of Australia, with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, China, Thailand and Hong Kong. The company was also chosen to dress Australia’s Olympic team for this year’s PyeongChang Winter Games. And TIG’s success is even more remarkable for the fact that Jabbour studied business marketing rather than design – although she did have a family connection to fashion.
“My father produces men’s business shirts and suits and, while I’ve always been passionate about fashion, I didn’t really want to follow him into the fashion market,” she says. “[But] I saw potential in the uniform space.”
Building market share
Jabbour began by drawing up a business plan and researching the industry.
“I discovered early on that, to be profitable, I needed to target businesses with 100 or more employees,” she says. “I broke these down into industries and created a specific product for each one. Then I did everything I could to start building market share, from telemarketing to exhibiting at trade shows. And whenever we had an opportunity to quote, I went to every appointment myself because I was the only salesperson.”
At first, her age was her biggest obstacle. “As such a young woman, I felt completely daunted and intimidated by the idea of walking into a room to present. In large corporations there might be eight or nine people from different departments reviewing the uniforms. I never admitted that I owned the business – and I always overdressed in a very corporate style, because I thought it made me look more experienced.”
Rapid but controlled expansion
In the early days, Jabbour’s brother focused on production, a friend took care of the marketing and she dedicated her time to sales. But as the company grew, she needed to decide how best to allocate her time.
“I discovered that I really love designing, so I held on to that,” she says. “Now I have a graphics team who sketch my ideas into storyboards.”
Jabbour’s ambition was tempered by her resolve not to expand too quickly.
“I was prepared to walk away from opportunities if I wasn’t 100 per cent confident we could execute anything we took on,” she says. “So, while our growth was rapid, it was also controlled. The fact that I had such a good relationship with NAB was also critical – not only in terms of funding our expansion but also for the advice I received.”
Learning from experience
Looking back, Jabbour says there’s nothing she would do differently.
“I’ve made mistakes that have cost money or caused us to lose a pitch – like the time I sent materials to print without checking them properly,” she says. “But I wouldn’t change any of them because they have helped shape who I am today. I’m really competitive, particularly with myself, so I reflect on how I can do things 100 per cent better next time.
“Owning a business is extremely stressful, and you’re under a lot of pressure, so if you dwelt on every mistake, you would never move forward. It can be hard sometimes, but you have to dust yourself off and focus on the future.”
This article was first published in Business View magazine (Issue 24).
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