Pentland Brands has welcomed cycling apparel brand Endura into the family – so we caught up with founder and director Jim McFarlane to find out more about its roots, how the business became the success story it is today and why they decided the time was right to join us…
Endura is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. What led you to set the company up back in 1993?
‘The kernel of an idea came to me when I was living in Sydney, working for a management consultancy firm. I’d always been a keen cyclist – as a kid I lived in the middle of nowhere in Scotland so my bike was my transport to meet up with friends and get to school, and as a teenager I joined a cycling club – it was a big part of my life.
‘One Saturday morning I was doing the cycle leg of a team triathlon when all my kit got stolen. I had to rebuy it all and it was a really disappointing experience in terms of what was on offer and how much it cost. Not long after that, I decided to go back to Scotland. I had nothing lined up for work and still had that thought in my mind – it was definitely a head and heart thing so I decided to go for it.’
Why was that important to you?
‘I think it’s important to have the heart part there – the passion – when you’re developing a product. The head part came because at the time, cycling was very niche. It wasn’t gel bars and Strava, it was a cook-up at the side of the road and fairly traditional!
‘Cycling was a long way off from the profile it has now, but I thought there were opportunities for long-term investment. I recently found my pitch to the bank on why they should lend me the money to start the business – with all the positive attributes to cycling and what I thought would happen with infrastructure and trends – and pretty much it’s all happened!
How did you go about launching the business – what was your first product?
‘At the time, the big wave was in mountain biking. No-one had reappraised clothing for that market, and Mike Sweatman, founder of Edinburgh Bicycle kindly gave me his time. He told me what they were constantly asked for was a tough pair of shorts. Everyone falls off their bikes, tears their shorts and rebuys them – so that was our opportunity.
‘I made our first pair of shorts in a one-bedroom flat in Edinburgh by unpicking rival brands’ shorts and then stitching up my own ones – it started the learning process quickly! That became our MT500 shorts, which had 500% of the tear strength of a regular pair of shorts. We still sell the range today.’
After a few years of success, you then left the day-to-day running of Endura to launch new businesses – what drew you back?
‘The big wave of change with the first dotcom boom had come along, which had huge potential. Endura was plateauing as a million-pound turnover business because we were manufacturing everything in Scotland. There was a crisis point, it so I was parachuted back in late 2004.
‘Fortunately, the dotcom business was up and running fine without me, so it was a great opportunity to come back with a fresh perspective. From then on the progress Endura shot up.’
How did you go about growing?
‘Coming back into the business, I was able to see the big picture without having been immersed in the day-to-day, which was a really powerful thing. You could see what the problems were – we needed to break the log jam and the circular arguments that were holding us back.
‘So we started working with supply factories, hired sales and marketing people and sorted out the manufacturing scaleability by working with partner factories. That then released growth and then we had more resource to be more ambitious, particularly in product development. We also benefited from the boom in road cycling, and the success of the Olympics, which fuelled more appetite for the sport.
‘Bringing in people like Pam (Barclay, pictured) was also a big part of our growth, and it’s been about bringing in good people ever since.’
How would you define your brand values to people at Pentland?
‘Our philosophy is ‘renegade process’. It’s about not being trapped by convention in the way we do things – we’re not followers. It’s based on how we started in the first place – we didn’t care what everyone else was doing, but had the self-confidence to go off and do our own thing. We’re always probing, and are inquisitive and progressive. That’s a precious part of our culture and we live that each day.
‘Our name Endura, is central to our values too – it represents endurance, reliability, which are the key things you want from our products. We want customers to have trust in the brand so they’ll go back to us because it’s been a great experience.’
You’re now embarking on a new chapter as part of the Pentland Brands family. What was it about Pentland that made you want to join us?
‘We recognised a like-minded organisation. We get approaches every month and have done for years, and have never been tempted to sell until now.
‘At Pentland, it’s the high standard of ethics, and long-term ambitions that appealed to us. It’s been a really consistent experience that clearly demonstrates there’s a common understanding of what Pentland is about by its people and there’s an honourable, ethical, supportive atmosphere that’s been built up for decades. So we were really comfortable – our values and culture are very clearly aligned.’
How do you feel about the future?
‘It’s very exciting. It feels like we’re about to open up new opportunities we haven’t had before, and have new levers to pull. So, disruptive in a good way!’