The nature of its target audience also carried with it inherent benefits. "The average age is early 30's, with an even split between men and women. Because people at this sort of age are often into a profession, coupled with the fact that watersports and snowsports and generally enjoyed by people with more disposable income, it has kept us in good stead. We are reasonably recession-proof because of that. When the cards start to fall it takes a while to get to us."
But while Leaver makes it sound like a fairly seamless rags to riches transition, there have been problems along the way. "It's been a rollercoaster ride and the hardest part is probably the first few years when you don't have any track record. You have ultimate belief in both yourself and the business concept and you know you can make it. But you are the only person on the planet that does.
"Banks want guarantees on your house or your father's house, every supplier believes you won't pay them and every landlord tells you they also want a personal guarantee - there's no way round it. In fact, I still have one that is a hangover from those early days."
Face the facts
The gamble paid off for Leaver and Slade, but how have they managed to sustain the appeal of their brand to a relatively fashion-conscious audience over a decade of change? "By continuing to understand your customer," believes Leaver. "At the beginning you are very close to what you do, but as you grow it is easy to lose touch. We gather feedback from customers by email, panels, face-to-face or whatever and the info comes straight to the design team and myself. We discuss it as soon as it comes in - we don't believe in waiting for monthly meetings - and reflect it in our product. By being disciplined about this we have built up a reputation as an approachable company that listens. Tim and I still take direct calls too - it's amazing what you learn."
The top Fat Face tips for success:
- Know what your money is doing and where it is, to the last penny. This will help you manage inevitable cash flow problem
- Be tenacious in every aspect of your business and don't lose it as time goes on
- Understand your customer by soliciting regular feedback and acting on it quickly
- If you're choosing a business partner, don't choose one with the same skills set as you - you need to bring different things to the equation and where one loses the other will pick up
- Try to grow on profit rather than relying on lumps of working capital