Ricardo Perez has seen both the highs and lows of running a business.

The Chicago resident always wanted to work in fashion, so he founded the The Dapper Club in 2013, a custom-suit business that offers high-end custom suits. Although it’s growing now, that wasn’t the case a few years ago.

“While I enjoyed my work, my business was failing,” Perez says. “I had a partner who was working on branding and marketing, but his experience with marketing nightclubs didn’t translate to a custom suit business. I realized I couldn’t turn the business around alone.”

That’s when Perez tapped his network to help him turn the tide. Below, he explains the steps he took to help take The Dapper Club from nearly shutting its doors to a thriving local business.

  1. I SOUGHT OUT MENTORSHIP

    We were months away from closing when I knew I couldn’t save the business on my own. My Northwestern Mutual financial advisor, Ulises Ruelas, knew what I was going through and as it turned out, he had another client, Juan Padilla, who was a local businessman known for investing in small companies like mine. He made the introduction.

    Juan agreed to invest in my company and, more importantly, he agreed to invest in me. His mentorship helped me get where I am today. He’s been an amazing partner and mentor, helping me with everything from figuring out the best way to position the company to connecting me with the right accountant.

    Ulises has also helped me by working with me to get a foundation in place. We obtained life insurance to protect myself, and then worked on building my emergency funds by opening up a money market account, in which every week we started depositing money for savings. Simultaneously, we have a plan to pay down my debt, and start a dedicated retirement account for myself and college account for my daughter. I am looking forward to starting my own investment portfolio as time progresses, but in the meantime, we have a great foundation in place.

    In addition to the financial planning, Ulises has helped with making sure we have a great process of prospecting for future clients, enhance existing relationships with current clients, and continue building a client base.

  2. I FOCUSED ON QUALITY

    The first thing Juan and I did was source better fabrics. We traveled to Europe and Asia to find higher quality materials and better factories. We now source fabrics from all over the world. With these diverse fabric options, we can make custom suits that accommodate to any man or woman in any position.

    That trip also allowed us to develop a better relationship with our suppliers — which helps ensure that the quality of our suits remains high. We work closely with them to ensure the best craftsmanship is executed for our custom suits to make sure they are up to par with our standards.

  3. I FOUND EFFICIENCIES

    Another thing that we did was figure out how to spend less money on alterations by working and learning alongside some of the best tailors. We used to have big alteration costs, but now we’re at the point where the suit usually fits perfectly on the first try or after very slight alterations. Now, the client gets their suit faster and we get higher profits. Our fitting process has become more of a sculpting and perfecting process rather than a fitting.

    We’ve also found ways to keep our customers engaged through the use of a customer relationship management (CRM) system. It helps us book appointments with ease and we’re able to do more targeted marketing to our client base, ensuring that we get a higher number of repeat customers. Our CRM system also cuts down time in communicating with our customers and keeps their information all in one place.

  4. I STANDARDIZED OUR SALES AND MARKETING APPROACH

    As I look to build out a strong sales team, we decided to create a training manual so that when we bring on new employees, we know that they’ll be trained correctly to help the business grow. We also wrote up scripts that will help our sales force in various situations, from securing new clients to closing a sale. I’m also building out a strong online marketing strategy to develop online leads so we’re not relying solely on word-of-mouth or referrals.

It’s been about a year since I started implementing these turnaround strategies with Juan’s help. At that time, we were close to advertising our close-out sale; now we relocated our office to a luxurious boutique suite, in the heart of the South Loop, we are growing! The future’s looking bright for the business. It hasn’t been easy to get to this point, but I’m so lucky to have made the connections I did. Running a small business takes a village and I’m fortunate to have some great people in mine.

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