From making 100 cold calls each day, every day, to win her first customer, Pamela Jabbour has grown her business to employ 40 people and has designed uniforms for Australia’s Winter Olympics team.
- Business name: Total Image Group
- Industry: Uniforms, textiles, manufacturing, promotional products
- Number of employees: 40
- Operating since: 2005
What was your first paid job?
The only paying job I could get through uni was telemarketing ironically, as it was this skill set that kicked off my current business! I would work from 6-9pm most weeknights for the MS Society, tasked with calling their database of people’s homes to sell raffle tickets to raise money. Tough gig!
What made you get into your current business?
I was fascinated by business from a young age. My dad had a fashion manufacturing company, and I spent my school holidays in the warehouse learning about fabric, at the office doing reception or out with the sales reps.
I knew that I wanted to work in fashion and manufacturing, but I also wanted to be creative and design. When I completed my university degree, I came up with the idea of making uniforms. I saw a really strong connection between clothing, uniform and fashion.
The uniform space at the time was more traditional and focused on embroidered blue or white shirts. My idea was to enter the market and sell the importance of bringing fashion to the workplace in a practical and fit-for-purpose way.
How did you get your very first customer?
At the very beginning of the business, I had a plan but no customers, so I gave myself a to-do list of 100 calls a day. Making those sales calls gave me confidence and insight.
Being young with a fresh perspective meant that I had a real point of difference in the pitch and sales strategy. I really believed that if I just got one customer, then the rest would happen.
I will never forget the day we made our first sale; it was Majestic Cinema and they ordered 100 purple polo shirts. They are still a customer today.
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
To date, our greatest business triumph has been representing our country on the world stage by being chosen to design and supply the Australian Winter Olympics team uniforms.
It would be the first time that the uniforms were designed by a uniform company and not a major fashion label, and really brought true our goal of bringing fashion to uniforms.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what have you learnt from it?
Often when pitching for a new design, clients can be very passionate about clothing and design and rather opinionated in the process.
Very early on in the business, I wasn’t as confident to push back on some of the changes to our designs and fits, even though I knew they were not right. I would convince myself the client was always right, and you should do what they say. This led to some poor-fitting designs being rolled out.
I am now a lot more confident in my design ability and experience in uniform and won’t make any design changes I don’t feel comfortable with.
What is the best thing about owning your own business?
Watching something you’ve created from nothing evolve, grow and change year-on-year.
I am also super passionate about working with and inspiring young women and men who are searching for their career path, and without realising it have become somewhat of a role model and mentor to current and previous employees. I love that owning my own business makes this difference.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Leadership can be lonely. Working as part of a team and forming good relationships with my team has always been extremely important to me. As my role evolved and changed within the business, so too did my relationships.
Understanding that leadership could be lonely prepared me for the shift and allowed me to work out my leadership style, to ensure I still had strong relationships with my team but understood that things would change.
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
Time! I have so many plans and ideas I would like implemented for the business and I find time — or more importantly, lack thereof — can generally be the one obstacle in the way of executing all of them.
Who do you look up to in business and why?
Growing up, both Mum and Dad were my inspiration, and Dad continues to be a mentor and sounding board.
But I have always made a proactive effort to seek out mentors and business leaders for inspiration, be it through reading a biography of a brand or start-up and learning about their struggles and how they got through, or going out to networking events and conferences and meeting other business owners and talking openly about our issues.
Name a little-known fact about yourself.
My team and friends all know I have a phobia of feet and feel strongly about meeting someone’s toes on interview! Way too soon and not appropriate. I’m a closed shoe in the office kind of girl!
What is the funniest thing you have come across in business?
As a uniform company, a big part of what we offer is uniform fittings, allowing people to try on products before they buy.
I will never forget my first few fittings and my total shock at how comfortable men and women were to just literally take off their tops and throw our product on. Lots of red face, eyes down, not knowing where to look moments for me!
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
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