While on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Toby Cart kept his spirits up by reading books on how to start a business and challenging himself in the army’s CrossFit gym, a branded gym programme dedicated to high intensity strength and conditioning exercise.
Toby knew he didn’t want to be a soldier forever and from a young age he had dreamed of owning his own company. He didn’t think it was possible that he would be able to combine this dream with his passion for fitness.
During his visits to various army gyms while stationed in the UK and overseas, Toby noticed that he only ever saw two brands of CrossFit equipment and one brand was considerably higher quality than the other. He began to research the market and realised that there was a huge price difference between the two brands and no products available in-between.
Toby began drawing up a business plan to fill the gap for quality CrossFit equipment at a more reasonable price point. He contacted a number of factories in China and once he had found the right manufacturer, he developed a series of prototypes.
Despite having just committed to a mortgage, and with the business still very much in the ideation phase, Toby took the plunge and left the army. During his first year of operation, he worked two jobs to keep financing his new company, which he named UK Supreme Fitness.
On his first day of business, Toby posted a promotional link to his website on the CrossFit Facebook page and within a few hours the South West’s largest CrossFit gym, spanning 7,000 square foot, had been in touch as they were planning a re-fit. A few days later, Toby received his first order. UK Supreme Fitness was up and running!
Toby’s first client proved to be an incredible showcase for the brand’s products and soon referrals were pouring in. Toby also hit the road and attended as many CrossFit Games and events as possible in the UK to make contacts and generate word of mouth support.
“I left my career in the army at a time when I’d just taken on a mortgage so I had no choice but to make my business work. The army teaches you discipline and resilience and these are great traits for starting a business,” said Toby.
Muscling in on France
Not before long, Toby received his first enquiry from France where CrossFit is gaining in popularity. Feeling daunted by the export process, Toby got in touch with DIT to enlist their support.
Toby secured the order and with the help of DIT, also worked up a strategy on how to capitalise on the first order and further build the business in France.
“UK Supreme Fitness has been working through DIT’s first time exporter scheme to get it in the best possible shape to export its products internationally. This includes a detailed assessment on readiness to export, development of an action plan, participation in workshops and training courses as well as a great deal of market research including market visits, networking and attendance at tradeshows,” said Hilary Charman, International Trade Advisor.
DIT’s language and culture service have also been supporting UK Supreme Fitness with advice and support where needed.
Punching Above Its Weight
Toby is very ambitious about the future for UK Supreme Fitness and is currently working with his International Trade Adviser to identify which countries to target next.
Now the brand has secured a solid customer base, it’s also researching product ideas in other areas of fitness, including the popular sports of cycling and running, to identify potential opportunities for growth.
During Toby’s research, he also established the need for an equipment supplier that could custom make products for gyms with an a-typical layout. Looking a bit closer to home, Toby found a UK based supplier that could help meet this need and is currently working on a number of projects with this brief.
The business, which has just entered its third year of operation, has increased its profit five-fold every year. In fact, by February 2016 it had already surpassed last year’s turnover, so the outlook for 2016 is very healthy. To support this growth, Toby has doubled his staff headcount.
“It’s really helpful to have an International Trade Advisor at the end of the phone. We know our sector well but we don’t know much about other markets. Working with DIT has made us think much more strategically about the growth of our business and that has to have a positive effect on the bottom line”, commented Toby.
“UK Supreme Fitness is a great example of turning a passion into a business. Toby has self-taught himself business through books and a commitment to trial and error. That ‘go-getting’ attitude is serving him well with export. We will continue to support Toby’s endeavours as he moves into new markets and new areas of fitness,” said Hilary Charman, International Trade Adviser.