Simon Stevens

Job title Owner (fitness industry)

Employer EQ Nutrition

Go your own way, and be an entrepreneur in the sports industry

With industries developing at an incredibly fast pace, it leaves the door wide open for new businesses to form and flourish.

Simon Stevens is one person who saw a gap in the market and seized his opportunity. Simon is the entrepreneur behind EQ Nutrition, a fitness-focused food brand, that has products in many well-known supermarkets. Here’s what he had to say about his career and how he became a successful business owner:

“Make our own product” 

What is EQ Nutrition and how did it come about?

EQ stands for Excellence and Equality. Myself and my co-founder were both in a journey competing to be natural bodybuilders. When you start that journey, you start focusing on your diet and supplements; it is quite an extreme sport, very diet focused. We started to understand that the protein market is not a very good market and that lots of people were just trying to produce the cheapest quality protein they can. Between us, we suffer from Crohns and Colitis, which are two bowel diseases and they’re getting more and more common these days. So, we were really struggling with what was on the market. We found the best way to get around that was taking the opportunity to make our own product.

The business is five years old at this point, but because of how we’d made the products they’ve only started being used by high-level athletes. The Wasps rugby team are a big partnership of ours and now the Welsh rugby team. We’ve made products for many athletes including Jonny Peacock who is the face of the Paralympics. So, some really nice relationships have come off the back of just the right intake and people liking the brand.

The second part is showing up to Tesco’s with an iPad presentation. I told them what our plan was – this was quite early on – and they gave us a 70-store trial. It was good timing too, just after the horse meat saga. So, to suddenly have this brand that was testing their products and could guarantee that what they had was good quality was appealing to them. The other side is – I used to be a graphic designer about 18/20 years ago. So, I retrained myself as a designer and did all the packaging. And we decided to keep the main product names very simple. If you look on the website you’ll see it’s very simple. Our pre-workout is called pre-workout plus and our all-in-one product is called All in One. The consumer can walk into a store and know what our product is without being too confused.
Now, in Tesco, we’ve got 12 products in 429 stores.

“We’ve done quite a lot in a very short period of time.”

Would you say that was your breakthrough into the industry then?

Yes. On the back of that we recently went to Holland and Barrett and we’re at over 150 of their stores. And that’s looking to increase over the next 12-18 months. We’ve done quite a lot in a very short period of time.

There is a lot to learn from interviews with those at the very top of businesses, especially new ones. New businesses are fresh and looking for new talent, they employ to improve rather than for the sake of employing. They look for desire, enthusiasm and a level of employability. We recently spoke exclusively with Professor John Brewer who has specialist knowledge about improving employability, here’s what he said here.

“I got depressed doing a job I didn’t enjoy”

Was having a career in fitness, something that you’re passionate about, always the plan?

Absolutely and that was the plan. I had a business previously and to be fair I did really well and employed over 20 people, although it failed eventually… probably because I just didn’t enjoy what I was doing. I got depressed doing a job I didn’t enjoy and my aim was to create a business that I was passionate about. And that’s what I did; if you can make a living off something you enjoy then you never feel like you’re working.

Steve Howarth EQ Nutrition

Steve Howarth EQ Nutrition

“We’ll get up early in the morning and we’ll just crack on with what needs to be done, even if we don’t know how”

Talk us through some of the things you may get up to as a founder of a company…

Between myself and Steve, we’ve done everything from scratch. For me, being a graphic designer was a big one. Being able to design the packaging and the website, that goes a long way. Packaging is a huge one. And in my previous business, I used to sell office equipment, so I have a sales background as well. Talking to retailers and corporates is something I’ve done for years and that knowledge has also helped. All the skills you’ve built up over the years can help. So, the sales side of it – being able to talk to companies like Tesco – I didn’t have a problem with. Telling a story in a professional way. The fact that we have a very integral story is really honest and we try and do everything right. I always wanted to try being the knight of sports nutrition, and now I want to be the best sports nutrition brand in the world. Not the richest, but the best. And I think we’ll be around forever if we continue to focus that way. One of the more recent things worth mentioning is that we’re just recently launched into 61 countries now from our online platform. Which is quite nice.
Steve has worked for us as a commercial collector; he’s good at juggling budgets and running large projects and he’s also created workflows where we can seamlessly run things without needing too many bodies involved. So, our workflow process is between how our products are manufactured in Brussels, how it’s then shipped to the warehouse, and then how the warehouse sends it out. Most of it now is done digitally. Steve’s done a great job of setting everything up that way too. Plus, he’s a world champion natural bodybuilder. We’ve both educated ourselves with the products to know what we should and shouldn’t be taking. We know the diet of an athlete really well, so we can support the athletes and other people around us. It all just falls together.
The biggest thing though for us is passion. We’ll get up early in the morning and we’ll just crack on with what needs to be done, even if we don’t know how – we’ll find a way.

“It’s a tough industry to break into”

What do you believe you need to start a business? Is it true that in order to be successful you need investment and a degree?

I’ve experienced different kinds of businesses and I’ve employed a lot of people and it’s gone wrong before, but we’ve kind of done this with no budget. Ironically, when pitching to Tesco we didn’t even have the product ready at that point. It was actually at the point of them saying ‘Yes’, that we had to try and raise some money to produce the product. When we got the first proper listing with Tesco we borrowed £100,000 from the bank under guarantees, but we paid that back in a year. I think that’s a nice story from a business perspective.

“We just focused on being the best that we could be.”

The industry you’re in is crowded and congested. Have you found that challenging?

Stats show that 2 per cent of the businesses in the industry didn’t make it in the first year, so it was high risk. That was an eye opener for us because we hadn’t really thought about that and obviously a lot of brands come and go. In the marketplace, a lot of brands have been bought up by big corporates with a lot of money and there are well-established brands. We hadn’t thought of this. We’d thought about constantly being the best but we didn’t think about competing with everybody else, we just focused on being the best that we could be.

“Stand out on the shelf.”

Is it tough to stand out from the crowd when you’re relatively new?

It is. Being passionate about the business and being a graphic designer, I’ve been able to do the best that I could possibly do to produce packaging that could stand out on the shelf. And make it easy for the consumer to understand what the product was. I think that’s one of the main things we’ve got going for us.

“The older you get, the wiser you get”

Would you say to anyone looking to set up their own business in the fitness industry that any experience you’ve got in anything is going to come in handy down the line?

All these years later you realise that, the more you fail and the older you get, the wiser you get and the more knowledge you build. You’ve got a better chance of being successful. Me and Steve are 50 and 40 now, and we just crack on and improve every day. You’ll utilise the skills you have every day.

Businesses can grow from the smallest of ideas, that’s why it is important that if you are entrepreneurial to keep notes, sketches and plans on paper and in an organised fashion. Here’s a few articles we wrote for those looking to start up, this one is about noticing gaps in the market, and this one is about how to be a strong leader