Despite dropping out of school with only a Secondary One education to his name, Max Mohan has built Mohan Tailors into one of the most successful tailors in Singapore over the past few decades through grit and passion. STYLEGUIDE sits down with the spirited and intrepid businessman to find out more about his journey and insights over the years.
How did you get started initially?
I’ll be honest with you. When I was about fourteen years old, I was already helping my father in his shop at Changi Village instead of schooling. After seconday one, he got me to leave school to help run the shop – “You can count right? You can say ‘Hello, how are you?’. Okay, come here and sit down in the shop.”
At that time, education was not that important as compared to today.
My father later set up a small store at the pasar malam for me to sell the goods there. It’s like a streetsmart style of business so you learn automatically.
Eventually I started working for a departmental store back in 1971. They were close to Malacca street at Raffles Place, then they moved to Orchard road before closing down around 1984. I started my business on my own after that because of my passion in tailoring and clothing.
What makes Mohan Tailors unique?
In this building at Far East Plaza, today there are about eleven or twelve tailors here. However when I first started around 1984 in the beginning, there used to be about twenty-six tailors here at that time.
For most of these tailor shops, their bosses were not interested in working because business was good, spending time on golfing, underwater diving or other sports. I was the only one here at my shop from 9am to 9pm every day without fail. So if any customer has an issue, I’ll step in. Other shops don’t have this kind of system, because it’s ultimately a salesman dealing with the customers wheras here I’m involving myself directly in the process. So that’s the difference.
When the customer is happy with you, and he leaves the shop happy, then that shows how important he is to you. Automatically, he will have no hesitation in recommending you to others, so it helps with business.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Every businessman have difficult times, hard times and easy times in life. At one time, I almost went bust because things were very bad. But I faced everything and every challenge that came to me with a smile. Over time, things will slowly turn around again back to normal.
You know what they say, you can lose money, but you shouldn’t lose your confidence. Once you lose your confidence, it’s all over. So face whatever that’s coming and don’t run away from your problems.
One of our lowest points that lasted almost a year for us was the American crisis back in 2008. Our overseas customers stopped coming here to Singapore to reduce expenses, or because their company were in difficult times or closing down.
What I did then was to write to my customers and send my team from Singapore to other countries to take orders from customers - we went to Australia, the US and the UK to get some business. Because when you go on your own expenses, they will meet with you. Good clothing and a good suit is essential for every businessman in any case. So we went wherever we could to get business as every little bit counts. Things then got back to normal after some time.
Can you share your greatest inspiration in life?
Okay making money is one thing but if you have the money in your pocket, there’s two things that I will strongly recommend people to do if they can. Firstly, it’s to put a smile on peoples’ faces. Secondly, it’s to feed them.
If you see a hungry man walking and looking for food, feed him. Because, you are happy when money is coming to your family so why not share your happiness with somebody else? Make others happy. Feed them if need be. Whatever you do in this world will all come back to you in the long run, it's called karma. When you do good things, you get good things back. When you do bad things, you get bad things back.
The most important thing for me in the whole shop is that when the customer buys something from me and is ready to collect his suit, he should leave the shop with a smile on his face.
I’ll only be happy then because there’s nothing like a customer leaving your shop with a smiling face.
What's the change or impact that you want to make in this world?
I want to sell suits all over the world. At the moment, we are only selling in Singapore but we want to sell suits all over the world in every country - to make Mohan the most popular tailor shop in the whole world.
That’s the most important thing for me to do.
What does success mean to you?
Nowadays, the new generation either have education or some kind of family support. But in my case, I had no education, only up to secondary one, and I have no money. I started with zero, and made the company run with zero. Not many people could have done it. So that's the biggest achievement for me, I’m a self-made man.
Can you share about the mentors in your life and how they have guided you?
Well, the mentor which I have will be the boss at the departmental store where I worked for over twelve years. I eventually became the chief salesman there and moved from one counter to the next across the thirty-two departments there, learning as much as I can from cameras to watches, jewelry, tailoring and many others.
Everytime I was young, I used to dress well, so I wanted to make people dress well too. It was my interest, and I liked interacting with different people. In this line, you can see the customers at least four times. First he buys from you, second is the fitting then followed by collection and alternation if required. This helps build a bond and relationship with the customer, you talk with him, chit-chat with him, and if he’s happy, he’ll recommend you in the future.
If you can give your younger self one piece of advice, what will it be?
Pick a job that you like to do from your heart, not something that you’ve been told to do.
Do something that you love, whatever it is you want to do, and you’ll be happier and get the best results from it.
If you are a painter and painting a picture, your work should come from your heart. Because then the picture becomes more magical, you know?
Heart. Everything is done from the heart.
The word ‘art’ comes from the last three letters of the word ‘heart’.
So whatever you do – do from your heart and work from your heart to the maximum.