King & Allen: Adam King and Jake Allen

The King & Allen founders explain why a focus on quality will keep them a cut above the competition


The King & Allen founders explain why a focus on quality will keep them a cut above the competition

Earlier this year, Adam King wrote a letter to the Savile Row Bespoke Organisation (SRBO), a group set up to define the essential qualities of a Savile Row suit. In it, he informed them his company had developed a suit that ticks all their boxes for £500, countering claims that this was not possible. The last few years have seen an explosion of affordable tailors on the market, and this has ruffled a few feathers at the British tailoring institution, where bespoke suits can cost anything from £2,000. King and co-founder Jake Allen claim they were the first of the new players, and, unsurprisingly, the best. “We’re unique in what we produce at £500, and that’s where the battle will be fought,” insists King, substantiating the claim with a bit of tailoring history. In 2008, SRBO complained to the Advertising Standards Association about Bond Street tailor Sartoriani’s use of the term ‘bespoke’ in an ad for a £495 suit, which they argued was machine cut. The moniker originated on Savile Row, where it denoted a hand-stitched suit, hand-cut to a user’s unique pattern and meeting a 30-point quality checklist. Of course, language evolves, and the complaint was duly dismissed. However, King insists his £500 suit ticks every box, excepting a couple of seams that are machine stitched for durability. “We are incredibly close to what they do,” he says. They achieved this through a business model that’s low on overheads and forgoes West End rents. Instead, they hire function rooms across the UK, turning them into a tailor’s shop for the day, and have two “low-key” tailoring centres in Surrey and Cheshire. “Since we only sell bespoke suits, we carry no stock,” adds Allen. After meeting at university, the pair toured the world in search of a business idea to take to the UK market. After travelling separately for six months, they struck gold at a reconnaissance on Bondi beach, when Allen showed King a suit he’d had made in the Far East. After interviewing more than 100 tailors in the region, they found the one they still work with today. “We started with nothing, because we didn’t have any stock. We put in £500 each and bought a laptop and a taxi,” says Allen. The taxi, or ‘tuxi’ as it was christened, was a second-hand black cab used for marketing – something the founders have never splashed out on. Word of mouth has been a big driver, while being the first mover in the ‘affordable bespoke’ market gave them valuable traction in search marketing, plus a strong natural search position, which is invaluable in today’s crowded market. “In July 2007, we hit number one for ‘bespoke suits’, and things really changed. When you’re top for your key phrase on natural search, it’s fabulous,” says Allen. As well as operating from its two tailoring centres, the company now visits nine UK cities for weekly, fortnightly or monthly fitting days – a ‘pop-up’ model that kept overheads low during the recession. “The business model means we can shrink and grow,” says Allen. While the downturn has proved to be “really hard work”, the pair are grateful for the financial discipline it has taught them. “I think we’ll look back on the recession as being good for us,” adds King. “It teaches you to watch the bottom line, to really value your staff and not to take any customers for granted.” With many shops sitting empty, King and Allen now plan to capitalise on the cheap deals available with a new hub in the Square Mile, helping their £1.3m turnover grow to £1.8m in 2011. However, they insist they’re not muscling in on Savile Row’s act. “We’re not stealing their business. If anything we’re drawing attention to the concept of bespoke,” says King. Furthermore, they believe their youthful approach is another key differentiator. “One of our first rules was that you weren’t allowed to wear your tape measure around your neck,” jokes King. “We wanted to be approachable.” As for the letter, he says: “We’re still waiting for a reply.”

Company details: Company: King & Allen Founded: 2003 Website: www.kingandallen.co.uk

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