1. Building a business often involves hard work and not a lot of income, but much can be learned.
Peter Alexander admits to having no business smarts in 1985 when he started selling pyjamas from his mother’s dining room table in Melbourne. As sales began to boom, the young entrepreneur realised he needed help.
“The first stage was to figure out how to run a business. We had no computer, just the house phone. It was very archaic. We were running it as a mail order business and sometimes people would call for orders in the middle of the night. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we struggled along for about four years. We weren’t making money, but I was learning a lot. Phase two was to get an office and hire staff, but I realised I didn’t understand how to do it with the huge growth we were experiencing. I had mortgaged my mother’s house and that made me very uncomfortable. It was also keeping the business from growing. Things were going so well and we had so many orders and I thought, ‘I’m damaging my own brand’. I needed to find someone who could buy into the brand, so I sold it to the Just Group in 2000. I’ve been with them for 15 years now and we’ve got a very nice relationship."
2. Creating a brand that people can trust and relate to is important.
Peter believed that if he made his brand personal and identifiable, people would trust his business.
“Back when we were relying on mail orders from Cleo and Cosmo, people didn’t like putting credit card numbers on coupons. I knew that by using my name, face and little dog Penny as the signature of the brand, people would trust it. It was like saying, ‘This is who you’re sending money to. I’m a very nice person. Look, I’ve got a dog on my lap and I’ve even got my mum working with me’. I think it works so well because pyjamas tend to remind us of a time in our lives when we were youthful and had few problems. Often when people get dressed for work, they have to put on something that might not display their true nature, but rather what the company wants them to represent. My pyjamas let you be kooky, pretty, sexy — whatever you want to be. Kids love the brand and their mothers grew up with me too. It’s inclusive, rather than exclusive. It’s for all ages, types and sizes.”
3. Nurturing the customer helps to build a better business.
Peter wanted to create an inviting atmosphere to welcome customers into his stores.
“When customers walk into a Peter Alexander store, the experience is an adventure of the five senses. There are scented candles for smell, a lot of stuff you can touch, quirky ornaments, pictures and visual things. I wanted to make the stores places where people would like to hang out and explore — and it worked from day one. We are looking at continued growth in Australia and New Zealand and a plan for international expansion. Ultimately, I would like to sleep my way around the world.”