Every September, Australia celebrates National Family Business Day – a day designed to recognise the invaluable contribution family businesses make to the Australian economy, community and culture. Founder and CEO Pamela Jabbour reflects on how Total Image Group started, and the journey to where the business is today.
I will never forget my first Total Image Group sales presentation. It was to a major automotive brand, and I was utterly petrified. Selling, pitching and presenting was my absolute worst nightmare, and I would break out in hives and not sleep for days leading up to the presentation. “I’m only 21!” I would think to myself. “I can’t do this. I don’t belong here.”
I remember every step I took through the head office to the board room. I’d planned my outfit out the night before, down to every microscopic detail. Towering heels and a more mature hairstyle bolstered my confidence a little, but even then, I felt as if every eye in that building was staring at me, judging me. I wished the ground would swallow me up.
The first five minutes of the presentation were, from my perspective, a disaster. I was nervous, stumbling over my words, not making any sense. I persevered, however, and I found my flow eventually as I presented to the room about what I felt their uniforms could be – something I was truly passionate about.
Afterwards, I ignored reassurance from colleagues about the overall success of the pitch. I was convinced that I had completely ruined it, a product of the imposter syndrome that plagued me endlessly when I first started Total Image. In my head, I was out of my depth, an upstart young woman with no business experience and no right negotiating with the hot shot executives, HR managers and owners that I was presenting to.
A few months later, we won the client.
Total Image Group has come a long way since the anxieties of those early days. Over the course of 16 years, we’ve learned, grown and adapted, and as the Founder and CEO, my own personal growth has been inextricably linked to my business from the beginning.
I started TIG from a spare desk in my father’s office. 21 years old and fresh from university with a Bachelor of Business Marketing, I was passionate about the opportunity I saw in the market – bringing fashion to workwear.
The hunger to start my own business came from my Dad, who I watched run and close many successful businesses as I grew up – everything from sports retail to ladies’ fashion, to manufacturing. His wins, challenges and frustrations were endlessly fascinating to me, and he remains a mentor and sounding board to this day. My Mum, too, was a huge source of inspiration. As a fashionista and perpetually stylish woman, she fueled my love of fashion. I find it endlessly amazing the influence that our parents have on us as we grow up – and it’s something that I think about constantly now as a mum.
For all the support and wisdom that my parents gave to me, the first 12 months of Total Image were no picnic. We had no wins, no sales, all our quotes were in limbo. I made 100 calls a day, Monday to Friday, for a year. I heard thousands of polite “No Thanks” (and several less-than-polite versions), but I persevered, convinced that just one “yes” would turn the tide.
Our very first sale was Majestic Cinema. They ordered a grand total of 100 purple polo shirts from us, and believe me when I say that it was a truly momentous occasion. Now, we dress over 300,000 Australians everyday and provide uniforms to some of the country’s largest national brands. Majestic Cinema remains a valued client to this very day.
Despite our hard-earned position as industry innovators and uniform experts, Total Image Group has always been a Family Business, and that has created the culture and spirit of the TIG brand. My very first employee was also my close friend. As I started to see rapid growth, I needed more hands-on deck, and I was so grateful to have both my brother and my father involved in the business. My then-boyfriend – now husband – stepped up to help as our “Fitting Expert” for our very first on-location fit out for a huge contract, driving through country NSW to get to sites and help staff try on their new uniform. He’s still part of Total Image as our I.T. and Project Manager.
Even as we’ve expanded, that essence of “family” is still intact, and honestly, if you aren’t in it, it’s hard to explain. It’s the care, compassion, commitment and support we all have for each other and for the business. One of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of running my own company is caring about each team member individually. The highs are even higher, and the lows can be devastating, but that family connection is in our brand DNA, and we wouldn’t succeed without it.
As I look back on 16 years of Total Image Group, I am grateful for each challenge that I was presented with, especially when I first began. Every nerve-wracking board-room presentation and cold-call rejection has built my resilience and made me a better leader as a result, someone who is confident in their vision and capabilities. Through hardship and uncertainty, these experiences have helped me to cultivate the business that I dreamed of as an eager 20-something, built with passion and the mutual support of people that share my goals and aspirations.
by Pamela Jabbour
About the Author
Pamela Jabbour is the Founder and CEO of Total Image Group. Formed in 2005 she has developed a reputation of being an authoritative expert within the uniform field. Her passion and determination are evident through the substantial growth of Total Image Group and today Total Image Group dresses over 300,000 Australians per day in their work wardrobe.
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