BEN YOUNESSI: THE INTERVIEW
Who are the people behind the manufacturing giant, Labeltex Mills Inc? Well, today we stole some time from one of our founders so that you can learn more about the beginnings of the company, what drives them and how they came to be the success that they are now. Introducing Ben Younessi…
Describe Labeltex in three words.
Ben: Honesty, Service Orientated, Integrity.
What did you do prior to forming Labeltex?
B: After gaining my Bachelor’s I wanted to do a doctorate, but that never happened. I got my Masters in Business Administration. After that, I went to Aeronautical Engineering school, and I wanted to work in the field of Aeronautics. However, since my father was in this business, and has been since a kid, I was able to move into the garment industry as knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. I have worked in all different facets of the garment industry from fabrics to grey goods, dyeing, and manufacturing. In 1994, with the formation of the three of us – Tony, David and myself, we came in and opened up Labeltex Mills.
When did you get the ‘bug’ and say “Hey, I’m going to go into the label making business”?
B: Tony and I got together, and his brother David soon became involved, around August or September of 1993. We thought why don’t we try working on the other side of the business? We were always ordering in labels/tags and thought, “You know this can’t be too hard.” But if I had known then what I know now, about how intricate and complicated the process is then I may not have made the decision to go into this side of the industry! There’s a lot to know about the process of label creation, including the engineering and formulas side of the industry which I had not even considered before we started.
So the short story is, we went to Europe, to Switzerland for eight weeks. We started to learn how to weave and how to work with yarn. Once we came back we got three machines and one cart of wool. To think about where we are now… we have come a long way. I have to say I couldn’t be luckier to have these two as my partners. They have been great to work with and they’re amazing.
Why did you choose Los Angeles as the place to start your business?
B: Los Angeles is one of the main focal points in the fashion industry. Just like New York or Chicago. Obviously, LA may not be as advanced as they are but on the production side of it, it is a key focal point of the Jean and Denim industry, the T-shirt industry, and the garment industry. Since then, in 2008 there was a collapse in the garment industry in this area, but that was why we originally set up in LA.
Did you find it easier to work when the company was smaller, or do you find it easier now that the company has become something of a giant? What are the differences between then and now?
B: Personally, I always try not to be resistant to the learning process. I always entertain learning something new, the sky’s the limit with learning. You get jittery, get butterflies in your stomach every time you start off something you’ve never done before. Especially when you go to a strange country for eight or nine weeks, all of a sudden you get exposed to lots of things. You learn a whole lot of knowledge that goes into simple processes. It’s just like going to school, there are lots of learning curves. You need to get through these to succeed.
It is much easier now because I needed to spend so much time learning new things back then. Our main challenge now is selling what we have, and keeping up with the market. The environment makes it very challenging, the economic situation makes it challenging. Clients can be very selective. The production part of it has grown a lot, and on the production side, we are the top three company in the world, with all the available techniques that keep on growing. We still face those challenges of meeting the clients’ demands, and that will always be our main challenge. Designers are becoming more detailed, and sometimes we need to educate them on techniques and processes.
I guess you could say it’s easier now because I have done it, and I know it all now. We needed to find the right people, and now we have. We have put in a lot of effort, working for 7 days a week, and now it is paying off. Our people make the company, we have a great team here.
At what point did you realize that you were successful?
B: I always measure success through happiness. When the customers are happy, the employees are happy, and everyone is happy, the outcome of what we have done is positive, that is my measure of success. I believe that we have a very prosperous company. About three or four years after starting, things started to flow. It feels like a rollercoaster, you are slowly winding up to the top and then all of a sudden things start to work quickly and successfully and all the areas you have put into come together. The time and effort everyone has put in, the team we have built, and the experience we have gained means we are always getting better. Just like wine, the older wine gets the more delicious it becomes, just because it is getting older does not mean it is deteriorating. As Labeltex Mills gets more developed, we are becoming more experienced and even better at dealing in our industry.
What is the plan for the future of Labeltex Mills?
B: We have been looking into the entrepreneurial opportunity to either purchase or partner with one of the leading manufacturing companies in Italy. This has been one of our dreams since starting the business, to get manufacturing in Europe, especially Italy. Why? Because this is where the roots of the fashion industry come from. The most beautiful designs, most beautiful fibers, micro fibers, and yarns all come from Europe. We’ve always wanted to do something over there and to be able to have representation over there. We want to be able to sell to high-end people and the top designers in Europe. We have that opportunity I believe, it is open to us, and if everything goes well then we have greater representation over there in the next six to eight months. If everything goes well, we would like to also have manufacturing and distribution in Europe. Manufacturing for sure.
What do you feel separates you from your competitors?
B: Service. Service orientation is one of our fortes, I think! I’m sure that if you go ahead and talk to our sales force, our clients and even to designers, they will say that there is no one who can out-service us. Our service is number one. We have friendly staff who give advice, lots of advice and are happy to always help clients understand how labels work best for them. Let’s say we bend over backwards for our customers. This is what puts us in a separate category. I believe that if a company grows too fast, they lose sight of their customers, and they become numbers. Our customers have names, and we attend to them and their needs. When we get an order for a client, we measure how many people we need on that project, to ensure that they get the service they deserve and that they’re paying for. We form a group of people to attend to that customer from the beginning of their order, all the way to the end.
How would you describe your clients?
B: Since I’m in charge of the production, I don’t have as much contact directly with the clients as say someone in a more customer-facing role. However, at events and meetings, I do meet lots of our clients and there have been a lot of interesting people that I’ve met. For example, leading designers for top fashion labels, and businessmen from the top businesses from around the world. There is a wide range of people that we deal with and provide a service for. Tony in the sales force is more in touch with that side of the business but I do get some interaction. As I said before, the environment is becoming more challenging and they want everything to be perfect. Perfection is their main target and until they’re satisfied, we won’t stop searching for that perfection. That’s what we do!
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing today, what would you be doing instead?
B: Erm… I’d probably be a co-pilot, maybe in the military. If I was not doing this, I was planning to go into the military so that’s what I’d probably be doing right now.
If you had to name, the soundtrack to your life what would it be?
B: The soundtrack to my life… that would probably be an old one. Maybe Ride like the Wind (Christopher Cross). I love that song. Every time I put that on it’s like the sky is the limit and you can keep going and keep going and keep going. It’s there, it’s like infinity.
B: I measure happiness in loyalty. I measure happiness in honesty, loyalty, integrity. I’m happy when I see everybody who works around me is happy. And I’m very blessed because of the people with whom I work. When you come to work, it’s important that you’re happy. To have good health and be loyal are the most important things to be happy
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