Monday, December 14, 2015

Small Business Man (5) - Knowledge Transfer

The subject of knowledge transfer came up when I was chatting with a good friend of mine, Umair (or Mr. Sandhu, as I like to call him). We used to work together as COOP students back in the day, and we've remained good friends since. I had the pleasure of making him a suit earlier in the summer.

About a month ago, he and his wife invited my wife and I over for some fine home-cooked Pakistani cuisine. Halfway through dinner, his father stopped by to say hello. Umair's father is a local Ottawa businessman and happens to own Salang Kabob House, a restaurant on Carling. They serve Afghani style food, and to this day it's one of my go-to places when I want a good meal. (If you happen to go, make sure you order naan - it's my favourite.)

Anyway, Umair's father has owned various small businesses in Ottawa, but Salang Kabob House is a relatively new venture in his portfolio. I found out that while his father enjoys running his small businesses, the restaurant is his favourite, and consequentially his passion.

"Kind of like you and YourSuit," Umair said to me.

Having worked in the finance and assurance field, I learned that a key formula for building and growing a restaurant business heavily relies on spreading out salary expenses over multiple locations, though I'm sure this can also be applied to various other industries. Opening a restaurant requires a lot of investment, but one of the biggest components is staff; specifically, a manager. Or, should I say, Mr. Manager.

Arrested Development, for the win.

If you have one restaurant, you need staff. If you have two (or more) restaurants, you'll need more staff. But, you may be able to employ one manager to oversee multiple locations. One manager salary, but multiple revenue generating locations, equating to reduced cost and (hypothetically) increased profits. Sounds pretty straight forward.

But in comes the challenge of knowledge transfer. It doesn't matter if it's something administrative like supply chain management, or operational like following recipes. Knowledge transfer is not easy, because knowledge is not always written down in a manual. Knowledge is often related to experience; a lot of what you experience is on the fly, based on your gut instinct and not taught from a book. Therefore, it's not what's inside a manual that's important, but what ISN'T in the manual. From what Umair's told me, his father's long-term goal is to grow the restaurant and potentially open a new location. But a new location requires training, and as much as we'd like to think new hires can follow instructions, it's often not the case. The challenge is even bigger when dealing with a unique product.

"It's like when you try and follow one of your mother's recipes," said Umair. "You can follow it all you want, but it won't taste as good. Not for a while, at least."

Replicating is no easy task.

This statement is very true. Rarely does something work on the first try, or even after several tries. By the time you get it right, customers may have already gone elsewhere. I've ran into a couple business owners who have encountered this problem. Either that, or they are having trouble scaling their operation.

Umair and I talked about Salang a bit more before he asked me about YourSuit; specifically, how I envision expanding it. I've been very fortunate so far and haven't allowed myself to think too far ahead. It's hard to think how I'd scale this operation, especially since I touch (literally) every single sale.

"It's like being the cook," said Umair. "How are you going to write down your recipe so you don't have to cook all the time?"

This is why he's a good guy to be around; he always makes me think. I'll get back to you on that, Umair.

Our wedding day, with the Sandhu's by our side.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

the Diplomat

I had been meaning to post earlier as I figured November may be a quiet month, but to my surprise, things actually picked up a bit.

Eric Tamayo, a diplomat stationed here in Ottawa, reached out to YourSuit during November, inquiring about a tuxedo. He said he needed it for the first week of December; I thought he may have been a groom who forgot to make wedding suit arrnagements (a common occurrence, unfortunately). But, I later discovered that he'd been asked to attend a diplomatic Black and White Ball and was only informed of it hours before he emailed me, hence the rush.

Normally, I don't take on such rush orders because the margin for error becomes supremely thin, and the major issue is not in the suit itself, but in the logistics (which is left up to the gods of parcel service). I'm always up for landing a client, but not at the expense of failing to deliver on a promise, and rush orders run that risk. I looked over the timeline and decided that we could do it.

Eric's a busy man, so the only time we were able to meet was one early morning in mid-November.

A busy diplomat in the morning - note the two cellphones!

What caught me by surprise was Eric's attention to detail. For a man who was in a rush to get a tuxedo, he was very calm and had thought a lot about what he wanted prior to our consultation. I rarely get clients who want classic tuxedos, but Eric had planned on going full out, complete with tuxedo studs and satin pant stripes. He also asked that the front dress shirt placket be hidden, a request that I rarely, rarely get.

The classic satin stripe, a.k.a. the military pant line.

We conversed for a while about suits, work and life; being a diplomat, he's well-traveled and was even stationed in Tokyo, Japan for a time. I wanted to ask him so many questions about Tokyo (I've always wanted to visit), but our time was limited. After about an hour, we finished up and shook hands. He left to catch a flight and would return to Ottawa a few days later.

I met up with him this past weekend for his fitting. His wife came along with him to give the final verdict. Fortunately, for both Eric and myself, the wife approved.

The Black and White Ball was held last night in Ottawa. I was not in attendance (obviously!) but I was able to snap this picture of Eric during the weekend fitting. It's not everyday I get to see a client fully dressed in a tux, complete with tuxedo studs and all, so it was very refreshing to see such class on a man.

Locked and loaded for the Black and White Ball.

Cheers, Eric. May we meet again soon.