While other entrepreneurs may have spent Christmas winding down in Dubai or skiing in Canada, Tom Beahon was in the Lake District with his 5am morning alarm firmly switched off.
Spending time in the picturesque countryside is a festive family tradition for the close-knit Beahons, and a welcome break after a “hectic” end to 2023 for his premium sportswear brand Castore.
“Although it may not be quite as glamorous as Dubai or the Caribbean, I absolutely love it. It’s my idea of heaven. Waking up without an alarm on is all it takes to keep me happy, to be honest,” he tells Prolific North.
Missing weddings, milestone moments and major family events since co-founding Castore alongside his younger brother Phil at the end of 2016, the day job rarely stops now for the duo who have had to make “huge sacrifices” to build the brand over the years.
Scoring high-profile kit sponsorship deals with some of the biggest names in sport including the England cricket team, Red Bull Racing, and Rangers FC, Castore also collaborates on collections with fashion brands such as Reiss.
But with that success comes its challenges. Complaints over the quality of some of the brand’s products hit the headlines last year, with Aston Villa ditching its deal with Castore for one with rival Adidas, after players complained about the ‘wet-look’ kits.
At the time, Castore said it moved swifty to fix any issues. Facing those issues is all part of the journey as a challenger brand competing against global rivals Adidas and Nike, he explains.
“Both have almost identical challenges to us, we’re no different in that sense. What is different is that when you’re a challenger, you get judged by a different standard.
“The reality is, if you’re innovative and disruptive, you will face challenges. You can’t let that dissuade you from what you’re doing. It’s part of the journey, you learn from the experience, and you improve from the experience.
“You need to face any issues and try your best to rectify them, which we always do. Equally, setbacks don’t put us off the the overarching mission, which is to try and build a British sportswear brand that competes on a global stage.”
That mission is what gets him out of bed every morning at 5am, and why around 400 staff keep coming back into the office every day.
“We’re building a British sportswear brand challenging the global elites. That isn’t something that happens very often, there’s very few people that have that dream or ambition in the first place and there’s even fewer who have the ability to bring that vision and ambition to life.
“When there’s a challenge or a setback – and this is my personal feeling – it’s just an opportunity to get better.
“We’ve been incredibly fortunate at Castore to have had so many amazing successes, and hopefully still a lot more to come. We still think that we’re just getting started. You learn more from those difficult moments than you do when people are showering you with praise.
“Success is never linear – ever – in life, it’s inevitable that you have those setbacks.”
Castore was valued at almost £1bn at the end of 2023, following a cash injection of £150m raised through The Raine Group, Felix Capital and Hanaco Ventures. Now touted as a ‘tech unicorn’ – companies with a valuation of over £1bn – according to Pitchbook, he brushes off the phrase.
“That’s what people tell me,” he laughs. “I’ll be very honest, I don’t get myself too excited or pent up by valuations because they go up, down, sideways, often for reasons that are completely out of your control as the founder.
“Maybe it sound very old fashioned, but my view has always been if you build a great business, create products that people want to buy and enjoy using, and inspire people – in our case, to be the best athlete that they can be – if you do all of those things well, the evaluation and the other stuff will look after itself.
“It’s certainly been an exciting journey.”
“I don’t hide away from failure”
Like many young boys growing up in Merseyside, the brothers both harboured ambitions to become professional athletes.
Realising they were good, but not quite good enough to make it to the top, Tom ditched his professional football dreams and Phil, cricket. Still “obsessive” about sport, they had a vision to set up Castore as an alternative in the premium sportswear market.
“Whenever I think about what led us to starting Castore, I think it was that initial experience of – and I call it – failure. A lot of people don’t like using the word failure. But for me, it was a failure. I don’t hide away from that.”
“I worked incredibly hard, I made huge sacrifices, and I failed. Yes, it’s painful, yes, it’s difficult, but you realise that the sun still rises the next day, and you still have to make a decision to make – whether you want to get up and make the best of it or feel sorry for yourself.”
At the time, many people thought they were “crazy” to try and rival mega brands Adidas and Nike. As Tom was working at a bank while Phil was at a corporate finance firm, momentum for Castore was starting to build as they spent their holidays flying to Europe to meet factories or fabric mills. But they faced numerous issues, and angel investors weren’t convinced.
“At that time, we didn’t have any money, experience, market knowledge or network, but we did have a huge amount of passion and desire and drive to be successful.”
“Everyone said there is no way you can compete with those mega brands, they’re so big they’ll wipe you off the map.”
His mum and dad – who “didn’t have very much money at all” – stepped in, offering to remortgage their house to help the duo get the business off the ground.
“It puts a feeling inside you that I don’t think has ever left us. We didn’t know how big the business would become, or how successful it would be, but it lit a fire inside us to make it successful enough that we could repay that money to mum and dad.”
They wouldn’t take no for an answer and “hustled” their foot in the door. Castore now counts billionaire brothers Mohsin Issa and Zuber Issa, and tennis champ Andy Murray, among their high-profile backers.
“Often in the UK, and the North of England in particular, we often talk ourselves down and it’s quite pessimistic. The North is an amazing place to start a business and that community was so supportive, even if someone couldn’t help you directly they would introduce you to someone else.
“Both the Issa brothers, as well as Murray, were examples of exactly that. If you’re truly passionate about what you do, people can see that. They become so much more than investors, they’re mentors to me.
“They’ve been there, seen it done it, and got the t-shirt. Any situation, inevitably they will have been it through it before.”
“We identified a big opportunity”
Initially partnering with gyms and personal trainers to build brand awareness, “drive, passion and determination” helped to lift the business off the ground. But what’s been the key to growing Castore into what it is today?
“We recognised Nike and Adidas focus all of their resources on a very small number of teams at the very top of the market – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, etc.
“We felt they didn’t do a great job for the teams outside of that. We identified a big opportunity to partner with those teams that the big brands don’t really focus on and do a better job, provide a better product, a better digital experience, and a greater focus on helping them grow and better connect with their fans.
“And we’ve been able to do a really good job of doing that. In the process, those team partners provide amazing brand visibility.”
Whether it’s the England cricket team playing in Australia, Ben Stokes hitting a winning run during an Ashes series, or Lando Norris appearing on the podium after an F1 race, there’s a “huge number of eyeballs” on that event globally.
“By wearing our product, that event and moment is better than almost anything else so those partnerships, both with athletes and teams, are fantastic.
“It also provides a level of brand authenticity, authority, desirability that traditional forms of media – print adverts or billboards – can’t replicate,” he adds.
The key to success is not just about partnerships though, it’s also about the ability to tell a compelling brand story.
“In our case, it’s about having a big ambition, being disruptive, being innovative, challenging the big guys, challenging the status quo, but doing that through a deep focus on product excellence – what we call a commitment to marginal gains.”
Manchester’s “great foundation to build a global brand” and plans for the year ahead
Although the duo are proud to have established a Liverpool-founded business which now has a European hub based in Rotterdam, they officially moved Castore’s UK HQ to Manchester three years ago to tap into its access to talent and rich heritage within the fashion and sportswear sector.
Whether it’s JD Sports, Adidas, Puma or Umbro with UK offices in and around the city, or ecommerce group THG headquartered close by, there’s a “real ecosystem of sportswear, digital or ecommerce-led businesses”.
“As you scale, you’re looking to bring in the best people that you can. It was the right decision for us. Manchester has that deep network and depth of talent, which gives us a great foundation to build a global brand.”
He says Castore now sells into over 100 countries around the world, with revenue already into the £100s of millions. But his ambitions don’t end there.
Part of building a global brand includes hiring the right people. Stuart Puddy, JD Sport’s former head of mergers and acquisitions, recently joined as investment director, while Pete Fox joins as chief financial officer.
“JD is an amazing business, so to have people that have been part of building JD into the juggernaut that it is today and had the amazing success that its had to date, is a real privilege for us. Both Stuart and Pete will undoubtedly make us stronger.”
As for the year ahead, the entereprenurial spirit of the Beahon brothers continues with a “huge focus” on accelerating international growth.
“We’ve grown incredibly quickly, obviously we completed the fundraise last year. Bringing in a significant amount of capital, we’ll be investing that in our infrastructure, our technology platform, our supply chain, but it’s all built around the ambition of further international growth.
“We’re growing incredibly quickly in the Middle East, in the Far East, and Australasia, there’s some really interesting opportunities for us in South America.
“We’ll see more physical stores, both in the UK and overseas. We’ll be launching international websites in new markets, we’re investing in distribution centers, in new markets internationally.
“We’re always on the lookout for partnerships that help us further elevate and expand the brand. There’s a lot of plans for the year ahead…”
Just a quiet 2024, then? “Always,” teases Beahon. “More grey hairs on the head!”