It’s been said many times that I am a “lifer to all things sport”.
I would agree with this. Being born into a sport environment, albeit the son of a grounds-keeper, this was the foundation for the direction I took to make a career that now spans over quarter of a century.
My breakthrough in sport came as a 17-year-old mountain bike racer competing for Great Britain at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Durango, Colorado, in 1990.
I was the first Brit to win a UCI mountain bike championship medal, taking a silver at these championships. This then gave me the chance to turn professional.
Subsequently, I went on to race the World Cup mountain bike circuit and many more World Championships. My ethos as a pro, was to always be available to my sponsors, not only to race, but to get involved with the brand, to really embody the brand and demonstrate why I was sponsored by them.
My racing success and actions as brand representative, of course, greatly contributed to their sales and market share, which in turn, earned me further sponsorship contracts.
In addition, a lot of my time was also spent on working with the sporting press to gain exposure for my own profile, and hence I featured on numerous front covers of magazines and in a number of feature articles and book publishings.
A magazine giant has since said that I was a pioneer for what we call the modern “Brand Ambassador” and its shaped how most brands sponsor athletes now.
I enjoyed many more great results in my career as a pro, but one thing was clear to me from the beginning – that this dream could not last for ever.
So, as a young athlete, I also made it my focus to make sure I fully understood the cycling industry and how it worked. I educated myself in all aspects of product development, sales and marketing, taking the time to ask questions, some of them being obvious to me now, but as a young sportsman with a finite career, learning about the industry and forming relationships with the key players was absolutely key to my future career.
Now, over 25 years on, my knowledge and experience has allowed me to share valuable insight into the sports brand industry. To this day, I will still ask questions in a crowded room that have many thinking ‘Why are you asking that?”.
However, there will be many in the room wishing they had the courage to ask the same thing, but didn’t out of fear. Another lesson I learnt as a professional: when you are in the limelight and successful in the sport, people look at you, look up to you and yes, it’s fantastically flattering but I am human, just like you, and I need to ask questions as I want to learn. Learning is like training, keep doing it and one day you will succeed – both in sport and in business.
My sporting career was ended abruptly when I crashed doing a demonstration in 1999 and broke my back. Thankfully, I was lucky not to have caused any lifechanging injuries, nonetheless, it was a reality check and time to think about changing how I made my income.
I soon after began to work for my current sponsors, in sales and technical product development, training on suspension theory etc.
It naturally gave me the chance to carve out how to work with people at a business level. At the time, the sport was still in huge growth and with technology changing so fast, it was key to perform product training.
This is how I learnt how to perform oral presentations in front of large audiences; a very valuable lesson.
The key to my success in the industry I would say is my passion.
It is my passion for the sport that has helped me also succeed in the sporting business.
Since 1999 I have worked for many great brands in the cycling industry; in sales, marketing and product development.
In recent years, I have become a specialist in the sports clothing sector with roles like Commercial Manager for Rapha, where I led on the Team Sky project, through to being Head of Sales at Vulpine, and now my role of UK Country Manager for X-Bionic and working across 12 different sports.
My ethos to business and the customer journey is based on differentiation. I thrive on working for brands that are different to those whose focus is massproduced, generic products.
Brands that offer something special, that “unique selling proposition”, authentic patents and award-winning technologies are a green light for me, and for business success. Brands whose products make a difference to the experience of that sport, and for the consumer, be that the recreational sports enthusiast or budding world-class athlete, also inspire me.
This differentiation, is the key to a successful business. It makes for better engagement with retailers in a very cluttered and competitive market-place.
But fundamentally, I remember the basics of commerce as well; manufacture, supply and demand.
My strategy is very simple. Combining the uniqueness of a brand or product, market research and understanding the theory of supply and demand, is the very basic principle of a successful and prosperous sales business.
Time and time again I have proven that less is more; going back to basics and understanding the principles of commerce, stripping away all the gimmicks and focussing on building a business that has sustainable growth, based on the basics of brand awareness, marketshare and effective sales and operational strategies. This is based on decades of experience, insights on national market perspective and experience of achieving results: “Numbers are king”.