Running supplier Runderwear hit an abrupt wall as lockdown descended. But the business used the pause to discover new routes to growth.
The pandemic hit at a critical time for running supplier Runderwear. On the back of the Dorset company’s partnership deal as official supplier to England Athletics, turnover had been accelerating towards the £2m mark. Suddenly, orders came to a standstill.
More significantly, lockdown coincided with the major springtime marathon events in the UK and abroad that would normally be big sales drivers for the business, explains Runderwear co-founder and CEO, Richard Edmonds.
“We’re predominantly an online business, but we take stands at marathon events such as those in London, Brighton, Edinburgh and Manchester, as well as Boston in the US,” Richard explains. “Suddenly we lost that face-to-face contact with our customers and ambassadors.”
The loss went beyond sales revenue. The company had already paid to hire space at the events, a huge investment for a small business: “From a cash flow point of view, it was really difficult – we had to focus hard on that as our projections changed wildly.”
From a cash flow point of view, it was really difficult – we had to focus hard on that as our projections changed wildly.
Reaching out to runners
A bounce back loan secured from HSBC helped to steady the company’s position. Meanwhile Runderwear sought to find ways to reach the running community and find an outlet for the stock laid in for the events season.
One breakthrough was the launch of a ‘60-day challenge’ via social media, helping new and existing runners to limber up. As a former personal trainer, Richard led the sessions from his living-room, with his wife and two young children joining in enthusiastically.
“The initial idea was to put something together to keep the Runderwear team active while working from home,” he says. “But then we decided to make it available to people who follow the brand.
“In the end we had thousands following the live feeds on Facebook and Instagram, and catching up with them later on YouTube. We also began to work with partners, such as race event organisers, to offer them content with running advice.”
Relationships pay off
Coupled with the surge of interest in running during lockdown, this boosted Runderwear’s sales from a standing start in April to a buoyant May and June. And sourcing fresh stock was not an issue as the company’s suppliers – in China, Taiwan, Portugal, Turkey and Italy – gradually emerged from lockdown. Richard’s co-founder, Jamie Smalley, is responsible for sourcing specialist producers of seamless underwear in high-performance material.
“Our products are quite technical and producers with the right machinery are hard to find in Europe,” Richard says. “Jamie had only recently found an Italian factory as a new European supply option – with hindsight, that was a smarter move even than we realised at the time.
“Jamie has always forged fantastic relationships with our suppliers. So when the going was tough and they had decisions to make about priorities, they delivered for us.”
As lockdown progressed, Runderwear took the chance to step back and review its operations. The firm’s leaders had long wanted to run its own UK fulfilment process, which was outsourced.
“As a predominantly direct-to-consumer business, we want to control that narrative, not only making the best products but delivering the best service,” Richard explains.
“The pandemic brought it home to us that if the government protocols had meant the shutdown of our third-party fulfilment centre, it would have been a disaster for us. Lockdown gave us the opportunity to take fulfilment in-house.”
As a young CEO in a young business, I couldn’t have asked for much more learning over a short period than in the past few months.
New hires, new HQ
That meant recruiting two new employees – via Zoom – bringing the Runderwear complement to a dozen. It would also require a move from the company’s small offices in Poole.
“We began to visit potential spaces in the area, wearing masks and gloves,” Richard says. “We settled on premises that offered offices upstairs and a warehouse on the ground floor, which will offer a good base for us to scale from.”
The move, set for September, will see Runderwear emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position than before. This was partly thanks to the input of a new non-executive director, Robert Perkins, who helped Richard and Jamie cast a critical eye over the business during lockdown.
“It’s been helpful for me to have someone else to bounce ideas off at a very challenging time,” Richard concludes.
“Facing this has really brought the team together and I think we’re stronger for it. As a young CEO in a young business, I couldn’t have asked for much more learning over a short period than in the past few months.”