Sleepwear King Peter Alexander was in Launceston last week looking at his newest store in the city's Brisbane Street Mall. The Sunday Examiner's MANIKA DADSON caught up with Alexander for coffee to find out how he got where he is today, why he opened a store in Launceston and why he is still on a mission to find happiness.
HAVING coffee with Peter Alexander is just like having coffee with a friend - he is down to earth, is still trying to achieve what he wants in life and has a sweet tooth.
But not too sweet, he discovered, when the barista served him my skinny hazelnut latte rather than his skinny latte with two sugars.
Peter Alexander is a household name thanks to his sleepwear brand, which has taken over Australia and New Zealand.
He was in Launceston for the first time last week, visiting his newest store in the Brisbane Street Mall, meeting customers and their dogs.
He said the decision to open in Launceston was a credit to consumers.
"We had a lot of requests to open up in Tassie," Alexander said.
"We thought Hobart was the obvious place first.
"Launceston was obviously the next pick and we were getting so many requests to open.
"That's the good thing about online and Facebook: consumers talk to you."
He said he was surprised that in Tasmania the most popular clothing item wasn't his classic range, it was his fashion pieces.
He said both the Launceston and Hobart stores stocked the same products as Melbourne, as they both had similar climates, but it would take a while before he knew exactly what Launceston residents wanted, as the store only opened in July.
While Alexander is more than successful now - with 80 stores across Australia and New Zealand bringing in more than $100 million in sales each year - he didn't have success handed to him.
"The starting point was I was terrible at school," Alexander said.
"I was more of a D-E student and had a learning disability and was always in remedial classes.
"When you go through school like that, you often think that you're never going to be successful, because you get all these grades that tell you who you are."
Alexander said he was a creative, not an academic.
"Luckily I had good parents who instilled in me some sense of worth and I realised after school that I didn't want to study anymore," he said.
"I worked in a bar, I worked in retail, I was a hand model ... I worked in a florist - pretty much anything I could get my hands on."
At 19, Alexander stumbled across a job, being advertised for men, at Sportsgirl.
"They wanted us to work during lunch hours, from 11am to 3pm," he said.
"I thought those hours were great, because I could go to the nightclubs, sleep in and then go to work.
"As soon as I started working there, I loved the energy and realised that I understood how the industry worked.
"I applied for a cadetship for training with Sportsgirl and I got that."
After four years, Alexander became Sportsgirl's state visual merchandiser, but it didn't take long before he went out on his own.
"It was 1987 and being entrepreneurial was all the rage, so I thought I'd give it a go," he said.
He created a range of umbrellas, called storm sticks, that sold successfully for six months.
Then he came up with his so-called "silly idea" of creating pyjamas.
He said a lot of his female friends were sleeping in men's pyjamas because in the '80s it was only really sexy sleepwear or nothing.
"I thought maybe if you do man's style pyjamas for ladies, but in nicer fabrics, that might work," he said.
"I was young and I really didn't know what I was doing.
"My first range was literally 12 prints in one style, in a one-size-fits-all pyjama, and it just worked from day one.
"I worked from my mum's dining room table. It really wasn't a moneymaking experience at first. I didn't make money for five years. But it's paid off."
He said while many people called him a designer, he wouldn't call himself that.
"I actually don't know how to design or sew: I'm very good at finding people who do sew though," he said.
"I'm basically a very good ideas man.
"I've got a good sense of style as far as humour and colour and I make it happen by surrounding myself with good loyal people."
There were two times during his career when Alexander thought of giving up.
Once was when he got "screwed over" by a supplier.
"I realised that people in the industry care more about the bottom dollar than the way they behave," he said.
"I nearly chucked it in then, because I wasn't a monster and it seemed the industry had all these people that it didn't matter who they stood on, as long as they made a profit."
The second time he almost gave up was when business was going well and he couldn't keep up with demand.
It was then that Alexander sold his company to the Just Group so he had more time to be creative rather than just run a business.
The sale paid off, as Alexander went from having 12 people working for him to about 600.
It also meant he could spend more time with his three babies: two dachshunds and a chihuahua.
"I'm a bit like a crazy cat person but with dogs," he said.
"Whenever I'm away from them, particularly on the weekend, I feel guilty, so I've got to run back to them."
Alexander said that if he wasn't creating pyjamas, he would have been a photographer.
He would have also liked to start a catering business, but didn't have the marks to get into the course he wanted.
"It's been a journey I never predicted," he said.
"I'm now the success story of the year: at school reunions it's all 'here comes Peter Alexander'.
"I like going to schools now and talking about how school doesn't predict who you are going to be.
"Kids have to take the pressure off themselves by always thinking I'm a D, or I'm a C, or I'm a B, it's not like that in life.
"Different people have different ways of finding out who they are going to be."
He said the next step for him business-wise was to open up a store in London.
Personally he is still "trying to find the secrets of happiness and get the most out of life".
"A lot of people think once you're successful and financially capable that's the answer, but it's not actually," he said.
"It doesn't make life easier.
"I would love to get into my old age being very content with who I am and what I've achieved.
"That would be my goal."