Posted: Tue 31st Oct 2023
Side hustles have been a lifesaver! This has been proven time after time, especially during COVID. Jason's journey from full-time retail manager to full-time multi-business owner is not unlike the many stories we have told on Enterprise Nation.
Although initially set up in 2015, Curated by Dapper & Suave has made major strides in the last few years since Jason made it his primary focus. He says:
"It meant that all we had going was our markets. With COVID, we had to move to the big grand hall, so you could socially distance. We hosted some amazing events between lockdowns.
"As for Dapper & Suave, since weddings were not happening at the time, a friend suggested that we start making face masks as we had all this unused fabric. That is how we kept our brand alive, and we sold 2,600 masks in no time. The day Boris announced the mandate, we had 46 orders come in."
Did you always want to start a business?
Ages ago, somebody remarked that I should set up my own business as I knew what I was doing, but I laughed it off. And now to think that I'm in a position where I got exactly that, it's a really nice feeling. I actually wake up in the morning, my head's buzzing and I can't wait to get to it.
It’s not just that. By being part of the Help to Grow: Management Course, I'm now also a sounding board for small local businesses.
How did the idea for the businesses come about?
About eight years ago, I was having a glass of gin and tonic with my best friend, and he saw a picture of myself and Rob, my husband, who I've been with for 26 years. He looked at the two of us and said: "You’ll always look dapper and suave."
We took it as a compliment and then Rob had this eureka moment. He said: "We need to do something about who we are and what we represent."
We both like fashion, so we started a blog about mixing high street with vintage clothing. We started to make little lapels that would go on to your jacket. Rob would take a picture every day, commuting to work with his lapel for our Instagram account.
As things progressed, we expanded our accessories range and started to make pocket squares and bow ties. We found a sewing machine and watched YouTube videos to learn how to sew and then we realised that we could sell them.
We did craft markets, then wedding fairs and photo shoots for magazines, where we represented the groom, so they were not in just another suit. And the rest is history.
With the second business, when we went to these craft fairs, we started to notice how badly they were organised and the lack of variety when it came to vendors. So, we started Handpicked for Dorking, and hosted it in a little church in our local town of Dorking on Saturdays. It started out for us to be around like-minded people who had the same passion for what they made and sold.
Initially, we had a couple of 100 followers and it grew, so we decided to move to Dorking Halls, which is a beautiful art deco building that has hosted some massive shows. We were in the small room in 2019 for a Christmas market and it was so jam-packed that you couldn't physically move for two hours in the room. And then COVID hit.
Watch this webinar to hear Jason's tips on presenting yourself and your brand at a pop-up market:
How did these businesses go from a side hustle to a full-time job?
We don't have children, so we consider these businesses as our kids. We had full-time jobs at the time, so on a Friday night, we would be home getting ready for the next market. And then in 2020, with COVID, Rob lost his job at Debenhams, where he was for 23 years. And I was at French Connection, and it was the same story.
In that time, it meant that all we had going was our markets. With COVID, we had to move to the big grand hall, so you could socially distance. We hosted some amazing events between lockdowns.
As for Dapper & Suave, since weddings were not happening at the time, a friend suggested that we start making face masks as we had all this unused fabric. That is how we kept our brand alive, and we sold 2,600 masks in no time. The day Boris announced the mandate, we had 46 orders come in.
During lockdown, we branched out with a candle range, a facewash and a cologne. We worked with a local artist to create four characters – chameleon, zebra, lion and peacock – and put them on cards, badges, t-shirts and wrote four children's books about them.
Dapper & Suave has now gone back to what we are about, and Handpicked for Dorking became Curated by Dapper & Suave as we decided to merge the two businesses.
Given my background of 35 years in retail, hotel and catering, customer service is important to me and very much lacking on the high street. So with our events, we want to give each business a platform to shine in their own right and also provide customers with variety and choice.
When did you first come across Enterprise Nation?
It was an estate agent in my hometown who first mentioned Enterprise Nation. I looked it up, joined and the next minute I was a business mentor doing the Help to Grow: Management Course!
I went to the Enterprise Nation StartUp Show in January, and it blew my mind to be around these amazing people. Although we weren't necessarily a start-up, I got a lot from the event, especially learning about invoicing. Attending the Google Digital Garage in Brighton and hosting a Lunch and Learn webinar has all been a learning experience.
Enterprise Nation is an amazing platform for any entrepreneur, start-up or not. It's all about learning and learning from others. There’s still so much I want to do and improve, and Enterprise Nation is a great platform for helping me to grow as a mentor and business owner.
You mentioned the Google Digital Garage event. How has that helped?
Attending the event definitely opened my mind to what I could do to help my business. I realised I need to learn more about Google in general.
One of the things we ask when we have our events is "How did you find out about us?" And the number of people who say they found us through Google told me that I need to better understand how SEO works.
I also realised as I was sitting in the event that we didn't have a Google Business Profile for Curated by Dapper and Suave, so I've gone on and put that in place and I'm just waiting for that to be verified.
I'm at the stage right now where I'm constantly looking at Google, seeing how people are finding out about our events and then thinking about how we can better promote them. We list our events on lots of websites, like Pedddle, and they're very good with the SEO and the algorithms.
But now I'm thinking how I can use Google Ads and invest some money into that next year. And when you're doing that, you're having to learn about keywords and so on.
Another thing that I've started to implement is the questions and answers. I've put together a list of questions that people might ask about Curated by Dapper and Suave, and then answered them. So whenever anyone asks about the business, I can direct them to this one stop shop on Google.
Google Digital Garage
Free in-person workshops and 1-to-1 mentoring sessions hosted by Google. Expert coaching to help you grow your business. Sign up now
What’s next for the business?
I work with a charity for each market, and we have four Christmas markets coming up. I'm working with The Halow Project, which is a charity for children who are autistic or have a disability, putting them in homes and jobs; PSDS, a Down Syndrome charity; Grace, a cancer charity for women; and The Brigitte Trust, a bereavement charity.
I’m also in talks with University of Surrey to get in with the students. What I'd love to see is small businesses buddying up with students so that they can gain some experience and confidence.
I want our events to be about the experience and raise awareness about sustainability and mental health, especially male suicide.
What's been the best piece of advice you've got?
I would say be true to yourself. I'm slightly older, 51. I know who I am now and that's a great power to have. If people don't like me, that's fine; that's their choice and I'm quite happy with that.
I know that by being kind is what you get back. I’ve helped a lot of people through the Help to Grow: Management Course. I like helping people and giving them confidence. I won't be bullied and I will call people out and stand my ground. I'll use my voice and my power to make people change their perceptions of others.
I'd also say don't be afraid to ask for help and take time for yourself. Switch off as people will constantly take from you, so learn to be resilient.