“You can’t build a business. You build people. People build a business.”
These wise words are from a chap by the name of Mr Spencer Hays – a legend in the world of textiles and tailoring.
Raised by his Mother and Grandmother, he started out in life as a shoe-shine boy in Oklahoma.
His first break was winning a basketball scholarship to University and it was from here that he was recruited by Southwestern Company to sell books, primarily bibles.
He did well. Incredibly well.
Within no time he was running the company, a selling-machine with an uncanny ability to motivate and inspire those around him to believe in themselves and give everything they’ve got.
Within ten years, he’d grown it from a value of five hundred thousand dollars to seventeen million, pocketing a cheeky two mill when it was sold to Times Mirror.
He’s always had a passion for clothing. As a student, he drooled over the fine threads of Oxxford Clothing, and believes, like myself, that “If you dress well, you feel a little better and walk a little taller.”
But it was his shrewd business mind that spotted an opportunity; many business people don’t like, or have the time, to shop.
So, he set up the Tom James Company in 1966, selling made-to-measure suits, office-to-office, the way he’d sold books, door-to-door.
Since then, he’s built up a group of clothing manufacturing and textile businesses servicing a global army of sales people, turning over more than $600 million. Forbes estimates his wealth at over $400 million.
Despite that he retains a humble air. I love the fact that on his business card it says “Salesman.”
Very much from the school of “Glengarry Glen Ross”, he’s all about the “Smile When you Dial,” “Always Be Closing” and “Every No brings you closer to a Yes.”
He even lives up to his name, and the first thing he’ll ask when he meets an employee is, “How Are Your Sales?” (HAYS!)
Some in the trade look down on this approach to selling, considering it heavy handed and aggressive, but it’s exactly what I had to do to get started.
Luckily for me, much of my business now comes by repeat and referral, but I will always admire anybody who is willing to pick up the phone, introduce themselves politely, and extol the virtues of a product, or, service, they genuinely believe is of value to a potential customer.
One of the businesses that was bought by this bible-bashing, sales-god of the Deep South, is the Savile Row based cloth weaver and merchant company, “Holland & Sherry,” with the motto “the finest cloths in the world.”
Now part of his “Individualized Apparel Group”, Holland & Sherry has significant resources – a fully vertical mill for worsted and linen fabric production, together with the Yorkshire mill Joseph & H Clissold, which has been producing worsted cloth since 1910.
Founded in 1836 by Stephen Holland and Frederick Sherry, they opened their doors at 10 Old Bond Street, merchanting woollen and silk cloths.
In 1968, the business bought the Scottish merchant, Lowe Donald, based at Peebles (which is now the centre of their distribution and warehouse operation) and in 1982 the business moved their head office to Savile Row.
I’ve been doing business with them from the day Michelsberg Tailoring was born, and as my business has expanded, so has sales of their cloth – music to Spencer’s ears!
Whilst I often get to see their Northern agents (the effusive John & Liz Knox), I’d decided it was high time I met the gang down South, who check stock, send out swatches to my customers and keep me updated on new bunches and future initiatives.
So, last Wednesday, I hot-footed it down to number 9/10 Savile Row to press the flesh and meet them in person.
Here are the team below – introducing Nicolas Guilbaud, Werner, Sharon Francis, Hasnaa Nabeebocus and Lindsay Taylor (their Sales Director).
I was given the warmest of welcomes and it was great to check out their fabulous range of fabrics, some of which are pictured below.
As I made my way back along the golden mile with the sun shining down upon me, I fell in love with London all over again.
I adore it’s energy, and feel inspired and uplifted by the beautiful buildings and impeccably dressed people.
Heading down the Burlington Arcade and Piccadilly, you’ve got immaculately turned out British gents in grey flannel suits, with sturdy chest canvas, nipped in waists and roped shoulders.
Then, you’ve got some euro-dude with long flowing locks, resplendent in a floppy linen deconstructed jacket, with a wool/silk scarf draped effortlessly round his neck, Tod’s loafers and Persol sunglasses. The very spirit of Italian Sprezzatura.
The place makes me want to do better and achieve more.
Very few in the trade have done as well as Spencer Hays, but it’s guys like him that give us something to shoot for.
Whilst a set of steak knives is all very well, at the end of the day, we all want that Cadillac El Dorado.
God bless him and every salesman out there.