Sometimes you have to learn from other people's mistakes and trust your instincts. That is what Muhammad-Farhan Aslam believed when he took over his father's business. Not only did he change the business model, but he also shelved his own plans to move to England. Instead he stayed in Bremen. And it turned out to be one of many good decisions that he made.
Aslam had learned from his father's experience: in 2002 his father founded Sigma Textil GmbH in Bremen, which imported containers of textiles from Pakistan. The fabrics were processed and sold in Bremen. "In Pakistan, a handshake is binding, but in Germany you need everything in writing," explains Aslam. "When my father ended up with the wrong business partners, he lost a lot of money."
In Germany, there is a lot of bureaucracy – but that also has many advantages because it means everything is regulated and set down in black and white.
- Muhammad-Farhan Aslam, Managing Director of Sigma Textil GmbH
Aslam came to Bremen from Pakistan in 2007 with the sole aim of winding up his father's business and moving to England. "But I really liked Germany," he says. "So I stayed in Bremen, learned German and got my driving licence – and then things got started."
Aslam kept Sigma Textil. Bremeninvest, the international brand name for Bremen's economic development agency, helped him to get settled and change his business model. Instead of focusing on large volumes in large containers, as his father had done for years, Aslam concentrated on small quantities, but offered that little bit extra. He had aprons and caps made and embroidered in Pakistan for restaurants, clubs and associations.
To start with, the company handled small batches of 100 or 200 items, and then larger orders of 20,000 pieces followed. "My focus is very much on high quality," Aslam says. "My customers know that. I now have many regular customers, including well-known clubs, breweries and restaurant chains." At the end of 2015 he closed his production facility in Pakistan. "High quality doesn't come cheap in Pakistan either. On top of that, we have to factor in the costs for air freight, as many of our customers expect fast turnarounds," he explains. That is why he has moved part of production and embroidery to Germany. He buys the products from German suppliers and has them embroidered and printed at his two sites in Bremen.
He was forced to establish two sites because his head office is too small to accommodate production, warehousing, shipping and administration. “We recently tried to create space in our warehouse. But after two days of clearing out, the next delivery arrived and took up the space that we had cleared,” Aslam says with a chuckle.
Moving forward, he wants to return to manufacturing at a single site, and with the help of Bremeninvest he has already found a 1,500 square metre plot where he plans to build a new production facility. It will be equipped with higher-capacity embroidering machines and will be able to handle orders of up to 50,000 items.
Aslam has significantly expanded his business interests in recent years. The main focus is still on promotional wear for cooking schools, hotels and restaurants, an area where he says he is a market leader. But he also provides companies across Europe with customised work wear, such as jackets, jumpers, shirts, polo shirts and hats. “There was a time when I had to turn away orders because we were unable to process them, but today we say ‘no problem’ to any enquiry,” he says, laughing. In addition to embroidered logos and lettering, he also offers a range of printing services, including screen printing.
The next big step is planned for 2019, when he plans to sell directly to customers through an online shop offering customised embroidered and printed items for hen dos, sport clubs, birthday parties and more. “We will list around 6,000 products and variants of a range of brands, and offer quick delivery,” he says.
In addition to his new production facility, he is dreaming of a showroom in Bremen where customers can check the quality of his products for themselves and place orders in person.
After more than ten years in Bremen, he has never regretted his decision to stay. The central location is a particular advantage for his European business, he says. And if all goes well, he will soon be adding to the four employees he has already.
Interested in Sigma Textil? Look here: https://www.sigmatextil.de/
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