Small Business: Company culture - Damian Dobb

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Damian Dobb, General Manager, of mens shirt retailer, 3 Wise Men

Damian Dobb, General Manager, of mens shirt retailer, 3 Wise Men.
Damian Dobb, General Manager, of mens shirt retailer, 3 Wise Men.

Tell us your company story:

Back in May 2004, three great mates were enjoying too much red wine when the topic of business shirts was raised. They all concluded that the selection and cost of business shirts in NZ prohibited them buying on a regular basis. All three mates had lived overseas where selection, price and the ability to buy on-line made shirt shopping a pleasure. 3 Wise Men now has six stores in NZ - two in Auckland, two in Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton. It also has two stores in Sydney and a growing on-line presence in both countries.

Our business shirts are made of 100 per cent double ply cotton and designed here in Auckland in its "head office" -an old horse stable with a total of two fellas.

The range of shirts has now grown to approximately 100 styles in each store and probably double that on-line. Over the years we have expanded the categories which include ties, cufflinks, socks, boxer shorts, leather and canvas satchels, velvet jackets, suits and now a new shoe range, again all designed in the stable.

How would you describe your company culture?

3 Wise Men from the outset have tried to be true to ourselves by offering really great product at an affordable price whilst creating a great company culture so that our customers have a great experience no matter which store of ours they're in.

We have a culture of work bloody hard and play harder! We have created a business with no office politics, no BS and have complete transparency with numbers and future plans with all team members. Yes, we demand our pound of flesh but we also reward hard work and not just with bonuses but it's the other stuff that makes a difference. It can be something as little as sending some flowers or wine to the team for a great day or that trip overseas for smashing budgets. The people we surround ourselves with from the store managers, part timers to the people we outsource to and the small company we buy our stationery from, are all like minded and understand the brand, the culture and expectations.

Has the culture always been the same? Or has it evolved over the years?

From the "another glass of red," 3 Wise Men have always wanted to have a business with no BS, total transparency and definitely no office politics. If something needs saying, say it, if you have an idea, let's hear it. There has never been any: "I'm the boss, so bloody listen" and there is certainly not that today either. So from the outset the business has been true to itself but I would definitely say that it has also evolved into something that nobody really anticipated and is an absolute pleasure to be a part of.

A company's culture is all about the people in it and how their individual values such as honesty, integrity, work ethic fit into the company's values. To this day we have managed to get this balance right.

What effect has your company culture had on attracting and retaining staff?

The team at the face of the business on the shop floor are given so much training, which is ongoing, and autonomy with the role, that we have total buy in to what we are trying to achieve. People, when they work for 3 Wise Men, literally fall in love with the brand and retention within the business is massive for a retail business.

We have people managing our stores who were once part time employees studying at university who decided that they wanted a career with us. Currently we have a qualified lawyer/teachers/communications and media experts/artists/a marine biologist and HR people running our stores. This group are stimulated enough with managing one of our stores that they have total job satisfaction or enough to stay anyway!

We are also keen to encourage and develop peoples' skills and interests, for instance if you were formerly in media and communications, then help with our Facebook page, newsletters or event management or if you majored in HR then help out with the recruitment process along with staff development. If you are the lawyer - please tell us if we are overstepping the mark!

How is the company culture communicated to the customer and to the suppliers?

Our advertising mainly compiled by friends, Jamie and Josh from Assignment Group, conveys our brand and culture so well that reading our monthly ads in the Kia Ora mag on board Air NZ flights is sometimes all it takes to understand the brand. However we believe that you can't beat an in-store experience to get the real story. We would like think that all experiences in store, whether in Hamilton, Christchurch or any other store would be a bloody good one with really engaged people who can hold conversations with the CEO or the first day junior.

They genuinely want to help dress that guy for his first interview, a presentation to the board, a new work wardrobe, his wedding or even for that first date. We don't employ "key holders" we employ some great people who again have the same values as us and want to have some fun whilst working bloody hard.

What is behind the doing things in threes culture of 3WM?

We do things in three. It just makes sense I guess with there being 3 Wise fellas. Our shirts are such great quality but really affordable and one way we can do this is to offer a bundled deal - three shirts for $300 or an offer we may do once a year that really has a hit is three shirts and three accessories for $333.

We play on the three for some fun, we like to think it's clever marketing but really we are blokes and we like things simple and anything that is not that too hard to remember....well it's a bonus.


Next week: So often, small business owners tell me about the support they have had from family to get their new companies off the ground. Sometimes it's financial but often it's them rolling up their sleeves and getting in there and doing the donkey work too when numbers are tight in the early days. Tell me of the times your family - wife, mother, brother, father - have stepped in to save your bacon. It's an opportunity to say thanks for everything.

- NZ Herald

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