This is the start of a new series to have a chat with remarkable people in our industry. We are trying to spot patterns of excellence. Join today to discover a bit about their personal story, of the ways they think, their mindset, their routines, that you can test and apply in your own life.
What a team! I heavily recommend you check it out. Please enjoy this conversation to my mind very important talk with Mr T. and team Esstee.
My interview guest is N.Thirukkumaran no other than the managing director of Esstee Exports. A quality knitwear manufacturer and exporter in South India. Known for their insight into the consumer of today and tomorrow. From Tirupur, specifically. One of the places I love. We really cover a lot of ground and I had a lot of fun. Here he is Mr T and his team:
We cover a lot:
- THE STORY from losing all his money his father gave him to start a garment business - and not being able to even go on a honeymoon - to a thriving business.
- Why garment exporters MUST FIGHT for their choices, and how to survive the backlash… and how his wife helped to get the company out of debt get it kicking.
- One simple way to OVERCOME A MAJOR FAIL (If you recently failed at achieving your sales results small or big, then you need to read this)
- Why it's true that "the market is challenging", unless you do THIS ...
- THE ONE TIP from Bert his marketing manager Europe how to make your LIFE EASIER.
- The creative director William is sharing INSIGHTS behind the scenes what ESSTEE is working on in terms of design developments for A/W 19-20
Dive into this rare and momentous conversation.
Let me give you the big picture real quick. We met at a place opposite the Elbphilharmonie is a concert hall in the HafenCity quarter of Hamburg, Germany. After their meeting and right before they headed off to Milan and Porto we come together for lunch and an inspiring chat...
1. Mr T: Your name is N.Thirukkumaran. Introducing yourself you said my name is Mr T. How come? Who is calling you Mr T.?
I have a friend and customer from Holland called Mr. Pieco Feith and he named me Mr. T. As my name Thirukkumaran was hard to pronounce and from that on my name became Mr. T with my western customers and friends.
People back home call me Thiru.
2. Mr T: What was the BEGINNING OF YOUR BUSINESS? I heard that you got money from your father for starting your own business and you totally screwed it up and lost all of it... What a story! Please tell us more about this. About the start of your journey…
My father gave me an investment of Euro 2500 in 1992. And I had to start with that money including renting a factory/office plus buy machinery. Also use for working capital requirements like for fabrics, salaries etc.
I started the factory with 6 machines with 3 machines. Bought on monthly repayment basis and my journey started like this. I was doing job work for exporting units till 1995. In this year I entered into direct exports and made a huge loss in 1997. Due to a customer in France totally did not pay my goods worth Euro 1 Million. Which was very high at that time and also very difficult to overcome at that stage as mine was a company which started exports only in 1995.
You know, I was just married and did not even go to my honeymoon for which I still regret. I explained all these issues to my newly married wife Mrs. Leellavathi. She was so understanding and helpful! She readily agreed to join me in the company take the company out of debt get it kicking.
My wife was a big moral support as I would have been gone at that time without her.
From 1997 she is with the company and always been a pillar of strength for me and the company. With the help of my family we had got some loans in 1997. After the loss and soon we were able to put the company back on track by paying all debts and loans by 2000 and from 2002 we had a rapid growth.
That was a big lesson for me and I have learned a lot from that.
3. Mr T: Your company name is ESSTEE. Is there any meaning behind the name?
Yes. S stands for my mother’s name Subbulakshmi and T my name Thirukkumaran and to look good we named it Esstee with E ‘s as silent while pronouncing.
4. Mr T: What was one of your MOST DEFINING MOMENTS in your business life?
I do have some defining moments in my life. The most important is meeting my friend - now a family friend - Mr. Pieco Feith from Holland. And started doing business with him as this was pivotal in growth of Esstee and he introduced a good customer to me in Belgium to whom we did great business for 13 years.
Without any benefit for him and this is really hard to find people like him.
We share a very warm friendship within our families.
5. Mr T: What does a normal, regular, TYPICAL WORKDAY looks like of Mr. T?
My work day typically starts at 8.30 am and ends somewhere by around 7.30 pm in the evening.
I am typically on my mails and follow ups and figures and have regular meetings with my teams during the day.
But I see to myself that I don’t stress too much and take time for myself by chatting with friends and family in between and also look after my other business real estate which I ventured 4 years back.
6. Mr T: The smart garment exporter blog is all about how to sell more to European buyers. What have you done in your marketing THAT PRODUCED THE MOST SURPRISING RESULTS?
And we at Esstee really believe in this. And that is the reason we offer a complete solution from design to finished product and also be fast in reactivity and innovative for any customer requirements.
7. Mr T: What retailer, brand, chain-store, importer – ANY CUSTOMER of ESSTEE - over the years made the BIGGEST IMPACT on you and why?
Of course without doubt it is GUESS and this a customer who challenges us every time with their new innovative techniques/designs and products.
8. Mr T: What in your point of view are the TOP 3 QUALITIES needed to succeed as a knitwear manufacturer in India and specifically in Tirupur today?
First and foremost is to win the trust and be reliable and loyal. Second is constituency and be innovative and I am repeating this again and again because if you are not innovative in fashion industry it is hard to survive and the 3rd and last is long term partnership.
9. Mr T: Is there ONE THING you'd do differently today?
Being very flexible and readily begin to adjust our company to any needs of the market condition according the way it reacts.
10. Mr T: What is the main thing on YOUR AGENDA for 2019 with Esstee?
The current textile market is hard and very challenging. And in 2019 is going to be tougher on margins so our agenda is to focus to be innovative with our existing customers and also focus on 2-3 new customers who are growing at very rapid pace and partner with them.
11. Mr T: You TRAVEL a lot. And currently you are travelling with a bigger team. Your marketing people as well your creative director from Los Angeles, USA. Reasons for it?
See, we need to be differentiated from other exporters and for that we need to offer our customer a complete solution from design to end product and I am proud to have a great team.
With Bert as our Marketing Manager Willie as our Creative Director and Raza (DGM) as our Merchandising and Product head and many more back in the company in Tirupur. The reason for having an office in Los Angeles is it gives a complete different angle to the fashion with Willies previous work experience and also acts as a marketing office in North America.
12. One question for your Marketing Manager Bert Boex: Of course you are on a mission to generate more prospective customer. I mean who isn’t? Do you have one specific tip for the smart garment exporter community how to get on the radar of new buyers successfully?
Heike, to be honest for marketers from India/Asia it’s far more difficult than for marketers that live in Europe like you and I. I remember one time you said to me that if you cold called a target that the gatekeeper in 70% of the cases would put you through with the responsible buyer. That’s huge.
In my opinion besides of your fantastic skills, that’s also partly because you are German and speak German and target German companies. This creates a bond. But if we had to target the Indian market from Europe…. That would be far more difficult. Even for a good marketer.
That’s why I do only Europe and Willie is doing the marketing for the US market, … even without any marketing background. He is there. He knows the place. He knows the culture. The people, the vibe and speaks the language like they speak it. And he is doing a great job.
So I could give you the usual tips like create trust, get personal, don’t be a typical salesperson … which are all very true.
But seriously the #1 tip I would recommend a supplier from Asia is find a good and trust-able European marketer based in Europe who knows the market. Just like Mr T. does. It’s an investment that will pay off. Take the first step, find one and connect.
13. One question for your creative director William Armstrong: Willie, what is the top thing you are working on in terms of DESIGN DEVELOPMENTS for A/W 19-20?
In regards to upcoming client development, I can tell you that we always have a little bit of everything in our que. The common thread among our client base is quality... we maintain and only pursue clients that insist on better quality over cheaper cost.
This allows me and my team to constantly innovate and push ideas. Knowing that one new idea can easily work for several clients.
Working with several US brands for over 15 years, each season had a specific mood as one would expect. But working now on the supplier side of the business I am typically working on roughly 4-5 different mood styles at any given time.
In general, most companies are working on roughly the same season at any given time. And there is always some crossover in terms of styling, fabrics, and other details.
For EU clients
For our EU clients, fabric, wash development and print techniques are always a high priority. So the development team and I are always researching the International markets for new innovations in these areas.
Currently we are focused on hand embellishments, which include handmade embroidery, bead application and even metal trims applied in a variety of ways to logos & graphics (this will always be one of biggest advantages). We are also applying dye & wash to typically cleaner fabrics such as linen and viscose blends and the effects are really beautiful and have been well received in our recent meetings.
For US clients
Our US clients are mostly higher-end & focus on fabrics and clean construction with touches of subtle wash and styling details.
Typically we offer light weight jerseys, slubs, linen-blends and more loose-knit qualities. But as we have moved into Fall/Winter Seasons we have been exploring rich textures like pattani, french terry and jacquards along with heavier jerseys in our offering. Subtle wash details and 'dry hand' finishes have been a mainstay for several seasons in the US. However as the temps get cooler, I believe peached jerseys and soft-hand french terry will become increasingly desirable.
As said, with our robust client base we always have a little bit of everything going on.
Which from a design perspective is a dream come true as it keeps the work we do fresh and inspired.
14. Mr T: Several members of the smart garment exporter community think about STARTING THEIR OWN BUSINESS. What is the most important thing you'd advise garment exporter “in the making” to FOCUS ON when they are just starting out?
I am not a big person to advice.
But my suggestion is to any new exporter is to be patient and learn from the mistakes you do as everyone including me has learned from mistakes we did.
Please try and never repeat the mistakes you already did.
15.Mr T: What’s your FAVOURITE COUNTRY IN EUROPE and why?
There are many countries I like in Europe like France, Germany, UK, Holland, Spain, Swiss, Italy etc but my most favourite is Belgium. Because I feel at home there. This is a country I travel a lot every year and with so many close friends over there. This is a home away from home.
16. Mr T: Last question. Where can people FIND YOU? How can they reach out to you?
I am not in any social media except Linkedin which I also don’t use much. My email contact is: email@example.com
All right. That was awesome.
I hope you enjoyed that chat with Mr T and his team.
A lot of great information today.
If you have a question for me just reach out. Even more if you know somebody you want to read about in our industry. Maybe you would like to meet me in Hamburg, have a chat and share some stories and insight with our community ... if this is you, just get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment right here.
Thanks Mr T and team for the interview - I was all ears and even my puppy under the table was, too.
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