If you want people to think you've really lost it, you can't do much better than start a tie company. You'll get lots of people looking at you smugly, telling you that nobody wears a tie anymore, and that you'd be much better off selling shirts or suits. In their head, immediate conclusions trump all of your research and experience. On the way home, they'll probably tell their wife that you're stupid.
This week, I have been drowning in this sentiment because Tie-Rack began the process of shutting its doors for good. So are the smug people being proved right? I don't think they are.
Funnily enough, I had noticed that people had stopped wearing ties BEFORE starting my company. But, I had also gone a few steps further than Mr Smug and tried to establish why people had stopped. More importantly, I endeavored to work out what might make them choose a tie again.
I may not have had much experience in making handmade silk ties before the company began, but 13 years as a professional investor had taught me some valuable lessons. Perhaps the most important of which is that when everyone tells you that something is finished, it might be about to spark back to life (especially if it has a history of doing so).
Silk ties have historically been cyclical in their popularity. For example, in the late 1960s, the consensus was that the necktie would be dead in 10 years as the flower power generation discarded it for good in favour of a more casual look. What actually happened? In the 1980s, everyone was wearing power ties.
You can go to nightclubs today and see young people wearing ties (and probably a t-shirt to work on Monday). That tells me that people don't have a problem with ties. They just have a problem with the message a tie sends. If people think an item of clothing says something good about them, they will wear it.
Changing that message is at the heart of Reef Knots. Being smart, yet expressive and showing people a little bit of the person behind the suit. Ties have most recently been associated with comformity and I don't believe that gels with what people want today. They want to display some element of being an individual, but also want extremely high quality.
I don't think companies like Tie-Rack (and many still operating) have ever tried to address why people didn't want their products anymore. Maybe they felt it was out of their control. Mr Smug certainly thinks it is. I don't.
Patrick Dudley-Williams (Founder of Reef Knots)
(As a final note, I wish all the best to those employees of Tie-Rack that will find themselves without a job this Christmas. I've been there).