Jimmy Au's for Men 5'8" and Under in Beverly Hills, Calif., is a family business that has served a niche in men's wear for over 50 years. Jimmy Au and his son, Alan, run the business together. I had a great conversation with Alan about his family business, and was surprised to learn that behind the business was a worthy cause.
Jimmy Au grew up in a dirt village in China. His father built a mercantile business, and Jimmy learned from his parents how to build a family business. When Jimmy came to the United States with a student visa, he worked two jobs in college. He sent most of his earnings back to help his family and only kept what he needed to get by. Alan shared this about his dad, "He started looking into doing clothing and made more money doing custom clothing than his other two jobs."
Jimmy has nine siblings and his family business paid for all of them to come to the United States and to go to school.
Jimmy worked with his wife until she eventually transitioned home to become a stay-at-home mom. Alan is Jimmy's first born and was exposed to the growth of business more than his siblings. "I don't think I was shown any other way. I grew up in the business. I was literally in the playpen in the tailor shop," recalls Alan. When he was a tween he did odd jobs , such as helping with customers and inventory. He started doing sales by the time he was 15. His other siblings are not interested in the business.
The menswear industry is competitive, but Jimmy and Alan have a unique following because they are the only short men's clothing store in the USA. That's not their only competitive advantage. Alan says, "As a family business, we are more service oriented. We pay more attention to details." He explained that great service allows them to remain competitive year round. They don't have to wait to get "in the black'' during the holiday rush.
I wanted to know about Alan's passion for his family business. He explained, "It's difficult for shorter men to get jobs, and when it doesn't fit right, people judge you. It's important for people to look at a shorter man as a person and not as a boy. I want perceptions about their height to go from negative to a non-issue."
His menswear line does just that. He believes that employers do not take notice of the height issue when his customers are dressed proportionately. This, in turn, helps to increase their chances of success.
Jimmy and Alan Au also design attire to help short men be confident and succeed in their social lives. Alan knows first-hand the difference clothes can make when making an impression. Alan's wife is much taller than he and he attributes some of his dating success to attire that fit just right. He emphasized the need to empower shorter men to make their height a non-issue in all areas, including in their relationships.
Running a family business has its challenges. Alan admits, "There are times when I get frustrated with my parents. When there are family gatherings, sometimes one of us has to stay behind to close up shop so others can go." I wanted to know if he would advice a couple to go into family business. He shared, " I really think it depends on the dynamic of the couple and maybe more importantly, how it will impact their kids if they have any. I think it would be easier if you didn't have kids yet or are empty nesters."
Alan does incorporate his children into his family business. "I have a very highly gifted 11-year-old daughter who can handle what I expect most college students to be able to do. With her knowledge of technology, I can have her work on email cleanup, prepping markdowns, and double-checking SKU numbers. You try to give them work within their abilities so they have small successes to build upon. There are many learning opportunities that can tie into what they are learning in school."