Snood move sees Sunday-league footballer Thorogood turn into a £1m player

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When Carlos Tevez and his Manchester City team-mates started wearing the neck garment in 2010, Thorogood — a keen Sunday-league footballer — decided he wanted his own but drew a blank in both JD Sports and  Sports Direct.

“I couldn’t buy them, and realised there was going to be a load of people like me who can’t get hold of one,” he says. “So it was my chance to sell something and make some money.”

Having always wanted to start his own company — “The one thing I’ve always known about myself my whole life is that I love business and selling” — and despite being only 21 and newly graduated from university, Thorogood took £300 of his savings, airfreighted in a batch of snoods from China and started selling them online.

When the first lot sold out, he got more in. But he quickly realised he would have to do more than just snoods — which ended up being outlawed from the professional game in 2011 — if the business was going to grow.

Within six months, he was on to base layers — for the uninitiated, clothing designed to be worn under your sports kit — which remain a core part of Thorogood Sports. Again, it was something he stumbled across while watching football as more and more players started to wear them.

“I knew that if footballers are doing it then eventually the amateur players — the customers of the world — are going to want to wear that as well,”  he says. While at the time little-known on this side of the Pond, base layers were already big business in the States, so it wasn’t hard to find a supplier.

As the orders started growing, he borrowed £5000 off his mother for stock, but managed to pay it back within months.

Thorogood may not have been in debt to his mum for long, but he was  still running the business out of her house in Hackney where he was living — one Christmas there was so  much stock in her living room they  had to cover it with sheets to make it presentable.

He eventually moved both the business and himself out of his mum’s, and now shares an office near the Barbican. It’s extremely modest — he only has a few desks, and holds meetings at the coffee shop across the road — and Thorogood sounds uncomfortable at the prospect of being lumped in with the flashier Silicon Roundabout start-ups a mile or so down the road.

“I’ve always been very cautious about it, and I’ve never tried to boast about it,” he says. “It makes me cringe when people boast about being a businessperson or entrepreneur.”

Thorogood certainly rejects the idea that you have to be gung-ho in order to become a success: “A lot of people who start a small business and grow it are constantly insecure about it. I think you have to be because if you’re not, there’s threats coming at you always.”

As well as base layers, Thorogood now sells a number of other garments through the website as well as through Amazon and eBay, and revenues were around £1 million in the last financial year.

The key to the success of the business, he says, is that it provides garments as good as the sportswear giants but at a much lower price: “What you’re paying is half or a third for a brand that you know about, but you’ll receive the same product, in our opinion.”

The business is growing so fast that he says he will be disappointed  if annual turnover doesn’t hit £10 million within five years. So is he looking to sell out?

“You generally either do sell your business or float it on the stock market if you want to make a huge cash windfall — which we all do,” he says, laughing. “I wouldn’t be so confident to believe someone would want to buy the business in its current state, for as much as I think it’s worth anyway.”

Despite such success at a young age, he doesn’t feel particularly youthful: “To be honest I feel like everyone’s younger than me now.”

One place that he did feel his age, however, was China, where he often travels to meet suppliers.

“I used to lie when I went to China and say I was the son of the owner, because otherwise they don’t respect you,” he says. “I don’t say that any more.”


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December 8, 2014 |
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