• Suhail G Algosaibi

Three Lessons from The Sad Demise of My Favourite Thobe Tailor


Image source: Lomar.com

The other day I took my sons to a thobe* tailor I’ve been using on and off for around a decade. The place had been in decline for a number of years, but this visit made me decide that this would be the last time I ever go.

The place had changed ownership several times over the years and with each owner the place seems to have deteriorated. The only reason I kept going was that the actual tailor who makes the thobes has not changed, but even that is not incentive enough to keep me as a customer.

Before and after

The shop was founded by a Saudi gentleman from Jeddah. In case you didn’t know, Jeddah is considered the fashion capital of the Gulf. All new and cutting-edge thobe designs and concepts come from there. This smart entrepreneur introduced new, never seen before thobe designs in Bahrain. Not only that, but the shop had an elegant design and feel. It felt like a high-end boutique with visitors offered beverages while they browsed albums of various design details offered on the garments.

I really used to enjoy going there. Every time I’d visit the mannequins were wearing new and attractive designs. The place was run by a professional and capable manager. The reception had a computer which saved your measurements and printed receipts etc. The place was ahead of its time and for a while the who’s who of Bahrain would go there.

On my most recent visit the place was a mess. The mannequins’ clothing had not changed in ages. The place, though relatively clean, is untidy and unattractive. The ironing board and hoover are left in the foyer for all to see. The reception desk is covered with inventory boxes and the ashtray is dirty with used cigarette buds that look like they’ve been there for weeks.

There is no computer in sight and the albums are still there if you ask for them, but they’ve not been updated since probably a decade ago. The current “manager” is not nearly as professional and courteous as the previous one. The items in the display window have not changed at all. The shop went from being cutting-edge to looking cheap and tired - rather sad actually.

So what are the lessons learnt from this sad demise?

1) Even cash cows need reinvestment:

A cash cow, in business jargon is “a business, investment, or product that provides a steady income or profit.” The mistakes so many businesses large and small make is assuming that cash cows can be milked indefinitely. Not only is this naïve but extremely dangerous. The decline is often slow and barely noticeable but eventually the business will fail if no reinvestment is done. I don’t know how the thobe shop is fairly financially today, but I doubt it will be around for much longer.

Not only has it declined from how it operated a decade ago, it’s not embraced ecommerce, AI or even social media. The last post on the shop’s Instagram account is from 2015.

2) Use “Genchi Genbutsu” – my favourite Japanese business principle:

Genchi Genbutsu means “go and see” or “go and see for yourself”. It was developed by Toyota and suggests that in order to truly understand a situation one needs to go to the place where something is happening. In Toyota’s case, the factory floor.

It’s obvious to me that the new owner is an absentee owner who does not spend enough time in the shop. Nor does he try to maintain – let alone improve – the customer experience. I suspect he comes in once a month to pick up the profits.

For a business to flourish it needs dedication from its owners or managers. If your business has multiple locations make sure you “go and see for yourself” to get an accurate picture of what is going on and what challenges the business is facing.

3) Invest in training your team:

The previous manager of the shop was eloquent, well-dressed and knew how to treat clients like VIP’s. The new manager is none of that. There seems to have been very little transfer of operational knowledge and there’s certainly not been any training in the new team. The shop is run like a cheap place that one would find in the traditional souq in Manama. If you want your business to succeed, you’d do well to invest in continuous training in your team. When I had a B2C business, training was conducted every single week through the year.

The sad truth…

To be honest, even if you do all the above there is no guarantee that your business will thrive - or even survive. But I can guarantee you that if you do not, your business will decline just like the sad thobe shop which I’ll never visit again…

Get on touch if you need some help in setting your business on the right path.

* A thobe is a traditional Arabic men’s garment, usually white in colour.

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