'PR's such a flaky industry' - Claire Kent & Bill Byrne, Iffley Road

HOW WE BEAT THE ODDS: Building a luxury running gear brand was harder than this couple expected.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 24 Feb 2015

We've been running all our lives. In fact, that's how we met. Neither of us could find anything we wanted to run in. The clothes that were technical, which ran well, looked like hi-vis vests. We wanted something advanced yet classic and understated.

I worked in the City as a luxury goods analyst, and I was struck by the fact that in this important area of my life, there was nothing luxurious to wear. There wasn't so much a gap in the market as a need for something new. Not every runner would pay for luxury gear, but it's horses for courses. Surely, we thought, if we'd buy something like that, others would, too.

We're entirely self-funded. Bill gave up his job as a maths teacher in 2012, while I continued to do some part-time consultancy work. That was when it felt real, but it was more exciting than nerve-wracking.

It's more than could be said for the launch. We were still waiting for our garments to arrive 48 hours beforehand and when they did they were in the wrong fabric and didn't have pockets. Needless to say, we had to improvise for our photoshoot. We learned the hard way that in the textile industry, no one sticks to deadlines.

The office is our living room in Richmond, south-west London. We're totally hands-on at every stage. We may have a clear idea of what we want, but to deliver that we need designers and fabric-cutters before we can even go to our factory in Portugal. Choosing the right people is crucial. Everyone we work with was recommended to me from my days in the City.

Getting our brand known has been very hard. I spent 22 years telling CEOs how to do it, but I was so naive. I had no idea how tough it is to build brand awareness. We're sold on our site and on mrporter.com at the moment, but without a physical presence, how do people find out about you?

We tried using PR firms, but it's such a flaky industry. It's so hard to measure results, and it just puts up a barrier between us and the customer. Recently, Barneys department store in New York got in touch. One of its executives is a runner who'd heard of us through the grapevine. He tried our kit out and liked it so much it's going to start stocking it.

Our sales were roughly £100,000 last year and we're just about breaking even. The women's line hasn't performed as well as we'd have liked though. If you were being unflattering, you'd say it looked like just a smaller version of the men's, but we're planning to relaunch that next year. Our objective is to make the perfect product. It's all-consuming.

We have three children, who complain it's all we talk about now, so we try not to bring it up at breakfast or supper. We actually get on even better as a couple since we started the business, and of course we still run together. That's when we have all our eureka moments.

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