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From banking to sportswear: How these brothers built a global clothing empire

Tom Beahon, Andy Murray and Phil Beahon attend the Castore and Andy Murray Press Conference at The Queen's Club on March 06, 2019 in London, United Kingdom Tom Beahon, Andy Murray and Phil Beahon [Image credit: Darren Gerrish/WireImage]

We spoke to Tom Beahon, Co-Founder of British sportswear brand Castore, about swapping corporate for clothing, innovative ways to grow a brand, the power of having courage in your convictions, and much more.

You went from banking to establishing one of the highest-profile clothing brands in the world – how did you manage this shift and what drew you to make this big leap?

It was all part of the plan. As with any entrepreneurial endeavour, there were bumps along the road, but it’s how you deal with them that is a big part of what defines success or failure.

My brother Phil and I, both played sport at a high level, but we weren’t good enough to go much further. There’s a three-year age gap between us, but we stopped playing sports at a similar time. It was during that period that we decided we were going to start a business, that we were going to be completely dedicated to and willing to make huge sacrifices.

We thought, whatever we do, we’re not going to fail. We’re going to have to live and breathe it, do whatever it takes to be successful. But we didn’t have any money. We don’t come from a privileged background, so we had no money, no experience, and no knowledge. So, we decided the best chance we’re going to give ourselves to actually get this thing off the ground and be successful is if we go and get ‘real jobs’ for a period so that we can earn money to put into the business.

I moved to London to work in banking, and probably lived the most un-London lifestyle that it’s possible to imagine! I wasn’t going out, having fun or going to nice restaurants, because every penny I earned was being stored away, ready to start Castore. My brother did something similar in corporate finance, and these jobs helped build our knowledge of business.

Working in a bank, I would spend all day, every day, speaking to senior C-level people at different businesses, from different corners of the economy, in different sectors and at different stages in their development. You can learn so much if you’re willing and want to learn. I left school at 16, so I wanted to go into banking because it gave me a great opportunity to learn from people who were building businesses.

The whole point of going into banking was to learn and earn money so that we could start Castore. Our hearts were set on starting the business, working in banking was just a stage of the journey to help us get that business off the ground.

You have some big-name shareholders. How did you manage to get them involved in the business?

When you don’t have the business connections immediately, you’re forced to be creative. I’ve learned that passion is contagious, and if you’re genuinely passionate about what you do, and you’re resilient, and you persevere, and you put yourself out there and you give positivity to the world, at some point, and it doesn’t always happen as quickly as you might like, but at some point, the world will give you positivity back.

Andy Murray was our first major partnership. Castore was maybe two years old, and the business was pretty successful. We were profitable and things were going quite well, but Phil and I knew that if we were going to dedicate our lives to something, it had to be worthwhile. We never wanted a lifestyle business, our goal was always to build a global brand, a British sportswear brand that competes on the global stage. In the beginning, there was no guarantee that Castore was going to be successful, but that was our founding vision.

When we’d been doing it for a couple of years, we started challenging ourselves on how to get to the next level and what’s going to give us more brand awareness. We started thinking about athlete partnerships. Unfortunately, we didn’t have anywhere near enough money to partner with someone like Andy Murray, so we would gift kits to all of the people around elite athletes – their personal trainers, their coaches, and their agents, basically hoping that these guys and girls would wear the kits and that the athlete would just keep seeing it.

And as luck would have it, Andy was coming to the end of his partnership with his previous kit sponsor and was ready for a change. He said to his team, I keep seeing these nice kits and the fabrics are quite cool. What’s the story? And that evolved into me having a meeting with Andy where I told him about my vision for the brand and what we wanted to do. He was keen to explore a partnership, but we didn’t have near enough money to pay the market rates for a sponsorship fee.

We looked at how much Andy was worth and we looked at how much money we had. There was a big gap between those two numbers. The way that we bridged that gap was by giving Andy the chance to invest in Castore at a discounted valuation. That discount is effectively the money that you’re not gonna get paid upfront because we can’t afford to pay you, but if this goes well, down the line, you will do really well out of it.

At a time when consumer spending is decreasing, Castore has increased its sales forecast for 2023 by 30% to $250m. How has the company achieved this?

It’s undoubtedly a very difficult time out there and the cost of living is incredibly difficult for everyone. I think there are a couple of reasons, and the biggest one is if you can create a brand that has a genuine desire, and has a positive impact on lives, that is not something that goes out of fashion or something that people want to give up.

We pride ourselves on being a premium sportswear brand, we want to inspire athletes to be the best that they can be, and inspire people to live healthier lives. If you’re a person who has that mindset, if you want to get up and go to the gym or get a personal trainer, that isn’t something you want to give up. We can tangibly prove to customers that Castore is great quality sportswear.

If we can prove this to the public, then people are more willing to spend money if there is evidence there for them to do that. A lot of consumer brands rely on marketing, but if you can prove to customers that your products are better than anything else on the market, then people will continue spending.

How have you secured close partnerships with the likes of Feyenoord Rotterdam FC, Athletic Club Bilbao, and the Football Association of Ireland?

Football, rugby, cricket, and Formula One partnerships have really helped us grow globally. Formula One is watched all over the world, and there are Irish ex-pats in all corners of the globe, so our brand has grown through partnerships like the Irish football team. These partnerships have been a fantastic tool for us to connect with new audiences. We are growing faster than we would have been able to on our own. It has worked incredibly well with Andy and it’s since worked incredibly well with the teams that we work with.

When you’re an entrepreneur, maybe your brain is wired slightly differently to other people. I’m not saying you’re necessarily more intelligent, because I don’t think you are, but I do think your brain is wired differently. So, when the vast majority of people see huge global brands and very well-known sportswear brands from Germany and the USA, they may step back, but I had a slightly different view.

I thought there were so many sports teams, they cannot possibly do a good job for all of them, so they’re going to focus their resources on the very, very top teams. This gives Castore a great opportunity to partner with the more ambitious, aspirational challenger clubs, and really prioritise those.

It was an entrepreneur’s instinct that there has to be a market opportunity here. Once we made up our minds that we wanted to go into that market, we were just relentless. I genuinely believe passion is contagious. and if you can show someone that you really believe in this, it might not be the first meeting or the second meeting or the third, but if you’re passionate, relentless, and keep going, eventually people will say, this person clearly believes in it.

We did a partnership with Rangers that got us off the ground, and since then, once we proved ourselves and showed that we could do a good job for these teams, Castore has grown really quickly. Ireland is our first international football partnership, so we’re really proud of and incredibly excited about that as well, especially with the women’s team playing in Australia this summer.

Your sales forecast has been boosted by famous faces like Joe Joyce, Gavin Green, and Andy Murray. How have you attracted such big names?

To begin with, it was sheer bloody-mindedness. That is a big part of it, being really passionate about what it is that you do because people can see through you if you’re trying to sell something, whereas if you’re authentic, I think they’re far more likely to be drawn to you. Once you get over that initial hurdle, your reputation will start to speak for itself.

So, if you partner with someone like Andy Murray, or a major football team, and you do a good job, you gain a reputation and you’ve got some credibility. Then it’s a case of making sure that you’re being the best partner that you can be, and things evolve quickly from there.

How has the close relationship of those at the top aided the rapid growth of the business?

To have that implicit trust at the heart of our relationship, feeling no matter how good or bad things go, on Sunday, we’re both going on to Mum’s for a roast, is priceless. If you’re talking about work too much or if you’re in a bad mood because something’s gone wrong in the business, at that point, you stopped being business partners, and you’re just brothers. So to have that core family relationship at the heart of everything that you do, to know that whatever happens good, bad, anything in between, we’re still going to be brothers, I think it just gives us that level of trust that has allowed us to take more risks faster than I think other people would have.

What’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t work out, we’re still going to be brothers. That isn’t going to change. It does give us a different mindset and a different outlook on things.

After an explosive start to 2023, where do you see Castore in 12 months?

Well, it’s a great question. I find it hard to look to the end of the week. The high-level big picture is that Castore wants to be the British sportswear brand competing on the global stage. I don’t know if that means we’ll be bigger than some of those big guys that are on that global stage, but we want to compete on the global stage. There should be a British brand that competes with those guys and there is a space in the market for someone to be the number one premium sportswear brand on that global stage. So certainly long term, the goal is continuing to grow to continue to globalise.

There are a lot of exciting things we can do with our new product launches, and there’s a lot we can do to continue to expand which is exciting. So the goal is all about Castore becoming a globally recognised and respected round.

This is another benefit of being founders and brothers; we don’t have to think in quarterly terms. So for us, we’ve got the privilege of thinking, whether it takes us 15 years to achieve our goals or 16 or 17 or 20, it doesn’t really make a difference to us because we’re the founders and we’re super passionate about this and we want to be doing this hopefully for the next 35 years. Having that luxury of thinking long-term, I think is something that we really appreciate.

In January, Castore increased the size of its debt facility to £75m after agreeing to a new deal with HSBC, BNP Paribas, and Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). How will the collapse of SVB affect your funding?

The most important thing in business is relationships. When the issues were going on with Silicon Valley Bank, we have got a relationship director based in Manchester who was in constant communication the whole time. Whilst a lot of people externally seemed to be panicking about that, we were relatively calm because we had this open dialogue and line of communication about what was going on and what was likely to happen.

HSBC is definitely a positive for UK PLC, I think Silicon Valley Bank, do some fantastic work supporting fast growth and digital entrepreneurial businesses, which often don’t fit into the usual categories of traditional bank funding. So it would have been a huge shame if they weren’t able to keep operating in the UK. I think that going back is definitely a positive thing for UK PLC and medium term for us. There are no immediate plans to do anything, but of course, assessing our banking facilities, our partnership, and our banking partners is something that we do on an ongoing basis.

What’s your advice to would-be entrepreneurs?

There are so many opportunities, you just need to have the confidence, the grit, and determination to get up and go after them. Whether that’s someone that’s thinking about starting a business, I can say from personal experience, there’s no right time to start a business, they’ll never be a good moment to do it.

My advice would be to just crack on with it because taking that first step is the biggest and most difficult one. There’ll be even more challenges along the journey, but once you’ve got going, you will build momentum, and you will build self-confidence and conviction in what you do.

There are challenges, but there are also so many opportunities. And if you look back over the history of time, often the best, most innovative businesses are formed in periods after a crisis or a very difficult movement. It comes back to what I said earlier about almost forced innovation, when you have scarce resources, and things are difficult, you’re forced to be creative and innovative.

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