City professionals who found their strong suit

 
Annabel Denham
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Annabel Palmer meets the duo behind Cad and the Dandy, the tailors with a modern approach

THE charismatic pair behind City tailors Cad and the Dandy are sharp dressers and smooth talkers. But confidence is doubtless the key to their success. They have completed 11,500 orders since 2008 and are about to open a new 2,500 square foot shop (their fourth) on Savile Row.

They’ve bet on their friendly approach encouraging even the most trepidatious customer, fearful of looking “scruffy” in the wood-panelled chambers of the “stuffier” Savile Row tailors, to walk into their shops. “Going to a different shop, the 70 year old who serves you will be fantastically talented. But does he know that you want to look like a cool cat?” asks Sleater. This question comes from a man who knows what it means to be a “cool cat”. Sleater has over 100 suits in his ever-expanding collection.

Meiers and Sleater were first put in touch by a mutual acquaintance. It was a coy first meeting, with each viewing the meeting as an opportunity to “suss out the enemy”. But they quickly realised they had complementary skills – Sleater, then at BNP Paribas, had the sales experience; Meiers, at Barclays, had the accountancy and operations background. By 2007, they were ready to go: tailors and cloth-makers were lined up, the website was online, operations systems were in place. It’s lucky they waited a few extra months: in 2008 both were made redundant, giving them an essential pot of money to invest in the business.

Friends and family urged them both to just “get another job in banking”. But although the week they launched felt like the “start of the next Great Depression,” they think the timing couldn’t have been better. “A recession can be a good time to start up a business,” says Meiers. “There is a lot of top talent around at a good price.”

Being self-funded from the outset was a big strength. When a competitor went into administration in December last year, it did so with £600,000 of debt. That company was “theoretically making more suits than us,” but as the cost of cloth increased, and their prices rose accordingly, they lost crucial business. But Cad and the Dandy kept its loyal customer base, who were “able to stomach the increase”.

At first, they rented office space on a day-rate basis. It was a year before they opened their first shop, and two years before they gave themselves their first “meaningful” paycheck. They know their financial situation would have been less tight had they sought investment. But “taking on debt is a huge risk – and then you only own, for example, 90 per cent of your business”.

Two factors differentiate the tailors from its competitors. First, Cad and the Dandy is trying to “modernise the industry”. Its website, for example, is so stylish and accessible that a year after it was created, the “chap running Gieves and Hawkes told us his biggest aim is to beat our website”. And their website lists all its prices, so the more cautious customer knows what to expect. Cad and the Dandy doesn’t mind being the cheapest tailor on Savile Row. It offers a machine-made suit for £550, because it doesn’t see competitive prices as something to be sneered at.

But their initial assumption that the machine-made suit would be the “big seller” was quickly proven wrong, and they had to overhaul the business. “We thought the handmade suits were a luxury that would start to be more in demand once the economy started to recover. When they became more popular, we suddenly found ourselves needing to recruit higher-end tailors, and upping our standards.”

Meiers and Sleater offer two pieces of advice to City professionals considering taking the plunge. “Too many people go into this wanting to make money. That is the worst approach to a business. You have to do something you love,” stresses Meiers. The second, says Sleater, is to “exhaust all contacts”, because people are always flattered to be asked and willing to help.

CV IAN MEIERS
Number of staff: 12

Age: 33

Born: Watford

Studied: Economics and finance, University of Manchester

Drinking: Manhattan

Favourite business book: The E-Myth by Michael Gerber

First ambition: To be a professional basketball player

Heroes: Ernest Shackleton, Winston Churchill

Talents: Doing magic

CV JAMES SLEATER
Company turnover: £2m-£3m

Age: 32

Born: Leicestershire

Lives: South London

Eating: Japanese food

Reading: Filling in the Gap by Terry-Thomas

Drinking: Red wine and good ales

First ambition: To be a farmer

Motto: “Work hard in the day and enjoy the evening”

Talents: Making great suits!

Heroes: Terry-Thomas