From the Premier League to the Wimbledon tennis championship, from the Tokyo Olympics to the Formula 1 grid, chances are you’ve seen Castore’s winged logo adorning the sportswear of elite athletes this summer. In only its fifth year, the Manchester-based brand’s rise to global prominence has been jet-propelled by the pandemic.
The trifecta of more people shopping online, more working out from home and more with commuting cash to burn, has driven triple-digit growth with the business forecasting £100m in revenue by Christmas.
Along the way the business has scored high-profile partnerships with tennis player Andy Murray, Olympic swimmer Adam Peaty and top 10 PGA Tour golfer Patrick Reed, as well as football’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, Glasgow Rangers, two of the top three rugby league sides Down Under and the West Indies cricket team.
Founded by Liverpool-born brothers and former pro sportsmen Tom (older) and Phil (younger) Beahon, Castore welcomed petrol station tycoons Mohsin and Zuber Issa as its largest outside investors in May. Now its sights are firmly set on becoming “the number one premium sportswear brand in the global marketplace”.
Here, Co-founder Tom charts a course for world domination – and reveals how the brand’s lofty ambitions were forged from failures that still sting to this day.
On the motivation of failure…..
I can say this now…I am a failed professional footballer. I left school at 16, signed a professional contract with Tranmere Rovers, which played in the third tier of English football, but I frankly wasn’t good enough to make it. I played in Spain at a similar level for a couple of years but realised when I was 22 that I wasn’t going to make it to the top. That led me to think, “I don’t want to be a mediocre athlete, I want to be very successful at whatever I choose to do with my life”. My brother Phil had a similar story in cricket, so we decided to start a business together.
Has that made us ambitious? I think when you suffer a severe failure early in life, when you’ve dedicated so much of yourself, and it doesn’t work, you have failed. That’s how I look at it. When that happens you have two choices. Either you feel sorry for yourself and blame other people or circumstances or, as was my case, you have a little cry and then analyse it in a cold way. “Why did I fail? If I want to be successful at something else, what lessons can I learn?”
Those setbacks really lit a fire in both of us. We didn’t want to feel that pain and disappointment again. We made a commitment to each other that whatever we did next we would do absolutely everything we possibly could to make it successful. As we’ve had a bit of success along the way
it’s made us want to double down and go even faster. Those formative experiences are a big reason for our ambition today.
On growing through a pandemic…..
We’ve been big beneficiaries of two major trends in the last 18 months. The first has been lockdown. More people than ever before are shopping online. They’ve got used to it, see it works and are a lot more comfortable with it. Because we founded Castore as a digital-native brand we have the infrastructure to support that.
Secondly, more people than ever before given what’s happened with the pandemic, now take their fitness and health seriously. Even in the depths of lockdown we were still allowed out to exercise or were doing home workouts. I think that will stay with us post-pandemic.
Because of that we’ve been fortunate to grow rapidly. This financial year, January 2021 to January 2022, is forecast to do £100m revenue. That would be triple-digit growth in each of the last couple of years and that growth is accelerating.
On the power of branding…..
We’ve always been very committed to our brand DNA, which is “Better never stops”. That’s our equivalent to Nike’s “Just Do It”. We didn’t pay an advertising agency to come up with it, it came organically when we started the business. Phil and I had quit our jobs, we’d invested our savings, our parents had remortgaged their house. We’d dedicated our lives to this business, even though everybody told us we’d never be able to compete with the likes of Nike, Adidas, Puma and Under Armour.
Because of those naysayers we developed this mindset that we would refuse to give up, we would keep going, be so hard working, so committed, and have so much perseverance. We felt if we refused to give up this thing simply couldn’t fail. That mindset evolved into Better Never Stops and that drive to be successful has resonated really strongly with our customers as well as the athletes we work with. They appreciate that Castore represents that attitude, that ethos, that refusal to give up.
On standing out in a crowd…..
In the current world where there’s so much noise, so much driven by social media, where the barrier to entry to start a business is lower than ever before, the biggest challenge for startups is how do you stand out? There are so many brands vying for people’s attention. At Castore that led us to these high profile partnerships.
We felt that would elevate us above the myriad of brands that don’t have those partnerships. They might have a cool product or be stocked in a cool retailer, but having a high profile athlete use your product on a regular basis gives you almost instant authority. That’s very hard to acquire any other way.
On athlete partnerships…..
When we started out, we didn’t have a lot of money for high profile sponsorships, so instead we’d gift products to the people around these elite athletes. So their coaches, physios, masseurs, PTs. One of those was the strength and conditioning coach for Andy Murray.
He thought the fabric was great, the fit was great and gave Andy a shirt to try. Andy really liked it, and from there I had the chance to tell him about the business and where we’ve come from. The fact we were two brothers with big ambitions resonated with him, given his brother Jamie is also a pro tennis player, and he could see how committed we were to make Castore a success.
On creative solutions…..
We didn’t have enough money at that stage to pay the market rate for an athlete like Andy, so to make up the difference we offered him the chance to invest in Castore at a discounted rate. It was a good deal for him, he would get to participate in the growth of the brand and it would be a far longer and deeper relationship than the traditional transactional relationship which athlete partnerships normally are.
Our partnership with Andy is an example of how we tried to be innovative to find solutions to difficult problems, and how we had to be creative to find a moment of opportunity rather than waiting for it to come to us. And the prime time global TV coverage Andy provides us with whenever he’s on court is absolutely fantastic.
On giving up equity…..
Equity-based celebrity deals, like those Therabody are known for, are becoming more common. However, I don’t think they’ll ever be the dominant type of deal because there’s only a small number of athletes or celebrities that warrant the opportunity to invest in your businesses.
You need to be certain you can work with them for the next 10-20 years. And they need to be able to take your business to the next level. The last thing you want is to sign off on an equity deal with a celebrity that’s super popular at one moment in time and six months later they’re not. If that happens, that equity in your business is gone forever.
On global ambition…..
We want to be the number one premium sportswear brand in the global marketplace. We don’t want to compete head-to-head with Nike, Adidas or Puma. They’re very established and good at what they do in the mass market. But I believe there is a gap in the global sportswear market for a premium and aspirational alternative to those brands.
If you compare it with the automotive market, brands like BMW, Mercedes and Audi have cars from fairly entry-level up to very premium models, the equivalent of Nike in sportswear. You also have space for Ferraris, Bentleys and Aston Martins. There aren’t those options in sportswear.
We think Castore needs to fill that gap – and we want to do it globally. We want Castore and our wings logo to be recognised and respected all over the world.
On the right time to raise money…..
The more ambitious you get, the more you need to bring in external partners. That applies from investment right through to your staff, your suppliers, your distribution partners. When the Issa brothers invested they truly believed in our ambition and they have the financial resources to help us achieve that goal. They share the view with Phil and I that you need to take risks and be bold if you want to be successful.
I’m always asking is there merit in bringing in new partners, looking at new financing opportunities? Is that going to the public market, to private equity, venture capital? All these options are available. It’s about making the right decision. It’s easy to complicate business. You need to make more right decisions than wrong ones, and there’s not many more important than who you choose to back you, because they are long term relationships.
We’re fortunate that we don’t need to rush into anything because we are growing quickly and we are profitable, but it’s something we always keep half an eye on. As the adage goes, the best time to raise money is when you least need it.
On doing the little things well…..
In many ways, ignorance is bliss. Growing a business is so difficult. There are challenges, setbacks, hardships every day. If I had known what it would take to get us here back then, I probably would have scared myself off.
My best piece of advice for those starting out is just do the small things well every single day. It requires relentlessness, consistency, the ability to not get disheartened when you have setbacks. Just stay committed to your original vision and don’t lose heart when the inevitable hardships come.
The second best piece of advice? If opportunities present themselves and you’re not sure if you’re capable of taking them, take them and worry about how you’ll deal with them later.