These Merseyside brothers quit their jobs as athletes to launch a premium sportswear brand now boasting British tennis legend Andy Murray as shareholder and partner – selling their products in more than 50 countries worldwide.
It’s been a whirlwind few years for Phil and Tom Beahon from the Wirral , who head up Castore, a brand experiencing increasingly dizzy heights.
Not only have Phil, 27, and Tom, 30, opened their first physical store on London’s fashionable King’s Road, but they’ve also been named in Forbes’ 30 under 30 European, are forecasting to turn over £14m next year – and name the Royal Family among their clients.
But they haven’t always worked in fashion, of course – far from it. As recently as their early 20s, Tom was playing professional football in Spain, while Phil had given up a fledgling cricket career to study law at university.
So how did the sports-obsessed brothers get to this point?
After leaving Wirral Grammar School, Phil went to study law at Newcastle University, while Tom signed a professional contract with the brothers’ boyhood heroes Tranmere Rovers.
Growing up, both Tom and Phil were football mad. And with their granddad being Joseph Beahon, who played for a number of clubs throughout his career including Bolton Wanderers, the sport is very much in the family.
Speaking about his decision to sign a professional contract with the Super Whites on his 17th birthday, Tom told BusinessLive: “You progress through the age ranks, and you start to realise that this could be a bit more than just enjoyment.
“It was a big decision for any young person. My mum’s a teacher, so to forego further education and go into the precarious world of professional sport was quite a big decision.
“With hindsight, despite not ending up playing at the highest level, I would never swap that experience for the world.”
Playing professional football, Tom’s upbringing was vastly different to others in his friendship group including brother Phil.
“It was a shock being thrust into a world where it’s incredibly results driven, incredibly competitive.
“Tranmere were in League One back then, like they are now – and in that league, players aren’t playing to earn £100k a week, they’re playing to pay their mortgage. As a 17-year-old, that’s quite a challenging situation to go into.
“As I look back and think now what we’ve started with Castore, that skillset of being very driven, very motivated, but being used to deal with pressure and in a challenging environment, playing football was a far better training ground for that than going to university.”
Tom stayed at Rovers until he was 20, when he moved to play in Spain at the Glenn Hoddle Academy, going on to play for lower league side Jerez.
Unlike in the Premier League, Spain’s top sides such as Barcelona and Real Madrid play their reserve teams in the lower leagues – meaning Jerez regularly faced many of the European giants’ future prospects.
He said: “I played against those teams and soon realised these guys, these youngsters coming through at Real, Barca and Athletico Madrid were better than me – I just didn’t have the talent to get right to that top level.”
Tom played right up until the age of 24, when he retired from the game after snapping his groin, moving back to the UK shortly after.
“So both myself and Phil had a conversation around that time, and said we could be decent-level athletes – but is that what we want to do, or would we rather go off and try and be really good at something else?
“Obviously there’s no guarantee in either business or sport, but at least having that aspiration to be a top-level business appealed to us versus being mediocre athletes.
“Mine was a combination of injury, but really about being honest about going off and trying to be really good at something.”
So having played football for the majority of his life, does Tom miss it?
“To be honest, no,” he said.
“I am that type of personality that only ever looks forward.
“I would never let myself look back and have wistful thinking over it. It was a phenomenal experience and I do not regret a second of it.
“It instilled character traits in me that are still with me to this day, and traits that stand me in good stead in the world of business – I wouldn’t change it for a second.
“So I don’t miss it but am very grateful for the experience.”
Tom wasn’t the only one obsessed with football – and Rovers – as Phil also played for the Super Whites up until the age of 15.
“Every Sunday we would both be travelling to various parts of the north of england – going to places like Carlisle, Bury and more,” Phil explained.
But Phil wasn’t able to progress and instead moved into cricket, where he was paid to play but could never break into the very top level.
“I just wasn’t good enough. The world of elite sport is very fickle. You can be the flavour of the week one day, and not the next.
“We were both quite aware of that. We had seen people succeed and fail far better than we were. It’s quite an eye opener – It’s a dog-eat-dog world.
“People think the world of elite sport is the best job in the world, when it’s actually quite hard. You can be a failure quite easily.
“Tom was a far better sportsman than me. I was a pretty average cricketer, playing for Cheshire and Lancashire. I was paid to play but never good enough to make it onto the circuit, into the big bucks.”
Phil left cricket before deciding to apply to university.
He explained: “I gave it up at a relatively young age – 17 or 18, making the decision to go on and do something else with my life, rather than giving sport the full-time effort it required.”
Brothers united – in business
Soon after graduating in 2014, Phil joined Deloitte, spending two years as part of the corporate finance team in London, working on the sales of businesses for deals between £5m and £25m.
“For London, that’s relatively small, so it was a nice starting point, giving me a fantastic insight into private equity, and how people look at deals in the market,” Phil said.
At the same time, Tom worked in a leveraged finance team at Lloyds looking at “slightly bigger deals”.
In 2016, with both brothers now based in the UK and no university commitments in the way, they decided to pursue a long-held ambition to start a business together.
“The recurring theme with us was we potentially could have made a living out of what we were doing, but I think the honest answer is we wanted to be really successful at what we did, and not be mediocre.
“Running a business gives you the opportunity to really do that. In the sporting world, you can earn a great living playing in League One or League Two, but equally, it’s a very short career. We thought there were better options out there for us, so we looked to business for that.
“We wanted to see what we could and couldn’t do. We were from a sporting family, had both played sports our whole lives, and so sportswear seemed an obvious one. There was also an obvious gap in the market – particularly at the premium end of the market.
“Both of us were in the retail consumer market. At that time you were seeing [biking clothing and accessory firm] Rapha Cycling’s rapid growth – they came across our desks, and various others who had done incredibly well.
“So sport was our life when we were kids and in our previous careers, but we had grown up and spent our whole lives in rubbish sportswear that would fall apart and smell.
“What we saw when researching for the new business was a real movement in the women’s market. Five to ten years before Castore launched, you had your [ladies’ sportswear brands] Sweaty Betty, Lululemons that were seeing huge growth for female consumers wanting something slightly different to what the mass market brands were offering.
“Those guys did incredible well. Tom and I looked at it, and looked at what they were offering that the male market didn’t. And it was quite clear there was a real gap in that premium price market, and that ability to offer a product that’s better quality.”
Phil explained exactly how the brothers planned on exploiting that gap.
Liverpool City Region Business News
“We were seeing a change in consumer buying habits away from the mass market highstreet, where people would traditionally spend their Saturdays and Sundays out shopping.
“We saw people wanting to spend a bit more money but wanting longevity and quality, but also buying online.
“The businesses that were succeeding were the ones selling online, offering a good customer experience, allowing customers to get their product the next day. It’s about being able to see how good a product is through content – that is something we now pride ourselves on.
“We decided that we were never going to survive in the market unless we had the very best product, and we wanted to show the consumer our product was better than anything else that was out there, and to tell them why they should spend £95 on a gym t-shirt.”
They quickly began market research, which involved visiting potential customers.
“We spent hours stood outside premium gyms in London, speaking to customers in the pouring down rain, hearing what they did and didn’t like about their current New Balance, Nike, Under Armour undergarments, and what their pain points were.
Follow ECHO Business Editor Tom Houghton
Tom is Business Editor for the ECHO, Business Live and the Liverpool City Region Business Post
Here are more of his stories.
Email him on email@example.com
Did you film a great video? Send your footage via WhatsApp: 07831256877
Keep up to date with the latest breaking news from the Liverpool ECHO here
“The same points were coming up consistently – that it smells, it loses its shape after six washes, it doesn’t quite fit right, and I don’t think we would have launched the business unless we’d really seen a gap in the market.
“It also meant various trips out to Portugal, Lithuania, and seeing what we could we do to differentiate Castore.
“The sportswear market is dominated by four key players. So unless you can really offer a point of difference then you are going to struggle.”
Castore is borne
The brothers launched the business in August 2016 with a £25,000 loan from their parents, who both remortgaged their homes.
“It got us off the ground, and that got us through the first six months at which point the business had grown really organically.
“We don’t come from money. In all honesty, we had huge faith that the business would succeed. We’ve always backed it and knew it was going to be successful, while also knowing there might be bumps along the way.
“We also took loans out in our own personal name, and we took a loan from the Virgin StartUp scheme.”
He said such a commitment from their parents meant pressure, but Phil said it’s “pressure you want to grow a business”.
“You can never go into it thinking it’s going to fail. You have to back yourself – as uncomfortable as that often is. I think [our parents] had a lot of faith in us as well. They know that clearly we have a passion for it.”
Like most new businesses, the start was a slog – but it soon reaped its rewards.
“We didn’t have any money for marketing, every penny went on the product and R&D.
Sign up to our BusinessLive emails
BusinessLive is your new home for business news from around the country – and you can stay in touch with all the latest news through our email alerts.
You can sign up to receive daily morning news bulletins from every region we cover and to weekly email bulletins covering key economic sectors from manufacturing to technology and enterprise. And we’ll send out breaking news alerts for any stories we think you can’t miss.
Visit our email preference centre to sign up to all the latest news from BusinessLive.
“It was Tom and I based in our flat, working together to get it off the ground, and we did.
“We got to a stage where the business was exciting enough and we had really good market recognition, that’s when we started to get backers.”
That wasn’t just any old backer – the pair secured a first round of investment of £750,000 from individuals including none other than Tom Singh, the founder of high street chain New Look, as well as Arnaud Massenet, founder of fashion portal Net-a-Porter.
“[Mr Singh] led the investment – he really bought into the idea, and we had a number of other really good investors.
“It gave us that financial firepower to really get going, which was fantastic and we kicked on from there.”
Three rounds of investment have been done since, with the pair raising around £6m to date.
“We keep a very tight investor group – that’s what allows us to do what we do.”
Now an established operation, Castore employs 28 at its Tithebarn Street base in Liverpool, as well as six in London and five in their factory.
The firm, which sells most of its products online, claims to offer something makes like Nike and Adidas don’t – specialist features to help “optimise athletic performance in all conditions”, with high-quality products.
It says it uses advanced engineering and unique technical fabrics to create “the highest quality sportswear in the world for athletes who demand the very best”.
Castore hopes to build the lightest, most durable, highest performing sportswear in the market, with all garments tested by elite athletes “worn for 100 consecutive days before being approved for full production”.
Every garment has a five-year performance guarantee, with Castore products now sold in more than 50 countries.
With the brothers coming from a sporting background but wanting to create high-quality garments with no formal qualifications, textiles was always going to be a challenge, and Phil said that factor was the “hardest thing”.
He explained: “Where do you start to go and find an expert in textiles?
“It’s a well known fact that in Italy, Portugal and Switzerland there are textile experts. But in the early days, lots of them didn’t want to work with us or open their doors.
“There was a lot of knocking down doors with the key people. But we were lucky enough to hire relatively early on a lady who led product design and had a lot of contacts within the world of fabrics – and she used to work at Rapha Cycling.
“It was pure perseverance and that we got incredibly lucky, but the factory we started with and we now make thousands and thousands of units a year with, agreed to do our first range for us.”
Their biggest successes have undoubtedly come over the past year, and started with becoming the official kit sponsor of British tennis star Murray, who is now also a shareholder and board advisor for the business.
Together, the two-time Wimbledon champion and the brothers have launched a collaborative tennis line called AMC, all made from regenerated nylon and recycled yarn, and which Murray has said he will wear exclusively for all on-court activities.
Each of the products is named after a city where Murray has won tournaments – including the Rio Performance t-shirt, and the London Stadium jacket.
“We are British, he’s Britain’s most successful athlete of all time. It’s all focused on technical engineering and creating the very best product, but catering to the amateur tennis market, for people who want to wear the best. It’s a slightly lower price point to open it up to every consumer.”
The products are all being sold, along with the rest of the brand’s lines, at their physical retail store – another of the firm’s success stories this year, which opened in October.
It’s situated on London’s famed King’s Road in Chelsea, a retail centre home to some of the world’s most prestigious brands.
The 1,200 sq ft space carries the brand’s full range of gym, running, tennis and golf wear, as well as a lounge with a golf simulator.
Phil said: “The expansion and the store opening was a major milestone for Castore. The ethos of the store is extremely minimalist and very much designed to accentuate focus on the product themselves which are the heart of the Castore brand.
“We are 99% revenue online, but it’s great to have our own store now.
“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I feel we have bucked the high street trend in the sense that we get fantastic traffic, the average transaction value is far higher in store than online, and we are miles above budget, which is great.
“The retail market is dying, but without sounding too opportunistic, that left a number of opportunities to see what was available.
“We get approached pretty much daily by landlords from around the UK saying we have sites available and their tenant has gone into administration. That leaves really nice deals that are available for people like ourselves who are willing, because it is risky.”
That inevitably leads to risk and challenge however.
“The high street is hard work. You have big fit out costs, big staff costs, but Tom and I took the view that from where the brand is in our life cycle, King’s Road was an obvious choice.
“We have all our online data where our customers are based, and Chelsea is a big customer base. So we moved forward the conversation and got a fantastic deal.
“We hope we are going to invest heavily in events down there. For us, it’s about making an experience for the customer. That whenever they step foot in store, they immediately understand what Castore is all about.”
So just how did the brothers from Bebington manage to land such a global superstar in Andy Murray?
“It began two years ago,” Phil explained.
“We have a number of elite trainers in the market – ambassadors who wear the brand, represent the brand, and believe in what we are doing and where we are going.
“One of those people was Andy’s personal trainer, Matt Little.
“He’s been with Andy since day one, and has risen right through the ranks with him. We got to know Matt really well.
“He was wearing our kit when he was with Andy. It caught Andy’s attention so we got the conversation going.”
Murray was at what Phil described as a “transition period” of his career – his deal with Under Armour coming to an end, and sportswear giants preparing big bids to sign him up.
“There were various other options out there for him with a number of other brands we were bidding against, who were far bigger than us.
“But we felt we offered him something completely different, which he bought into.
“It’s a long-term deal. Andy is looking to what’s next. We all hope he’ll be on the court for another five years, but there’s no guarantee.
“So what we brought to the table was that we are exciting, we are challenging what is the norm. We are offering something that’s very different and I think he bought into that and liked that story.
“He’s also got a close relationship with his brother Jamie, so there was a natural synergy there with Tom and I.
“We signed a deal with him in January and it’s been fantastic for us. He’s a great ambassador and partner for the brand, and he really believes in what we do.”
The brothers try to see Murray once every two months, and said he will join the board once he retires from the professional game.
“Andy’s been fantastic – you hear a lot of stories about athletes that don’t want to have anything to do with the brand. Andy couldn’t have been any more opposite to be honest.
“He’s really involved in the product process. He has ultimate final veto over what he does and doesn’t wear. We want him on the journey, and he’s on board.”
The list of world-famous fans of the brand doesn’t end with the tennis star either – and Phil said the Royal Family are clients – although he was sworn to secrecy over exactly which members.
As well as that, ex-footballer turned pundit Gary Neville is said to be a “big fan” of Castore, with James Bond star Daniel Craig and “various other celebrities” having been seen sporting it too. Scouse boxer Callum Smith wore the brand at his last fight, too.
Phil said: “We dont gift – people buy our kit. That’s the most sustainable way to do it I think. It’s very easy to send kit out to people and they don’t appreciate what it is.”
The future’s bright
In terms of hopes for the future, golf is a market the pair want to exploit, and Phil said they would soon have an exciting announcement to make.
“In the next six months, we are hoping to announce a British, world top 20 golf pro as a client, which is really exciting.
“It’s a very different market to tennis, so it’s one that we have been actively looking at for a long time, but never made a decision.
“We have now made that decision, so we expect to announce that in the New Year.”
Castore announces Windies partnership
Over the Christmas period, Castore announced that it had become the official team kit partner for the West Indies cricket teams – the reigning ICC World Twenty20 champions.
The three-year partnership is the Liverpool firm’s first deal in team sports, and first move into cricket apparel.
Castore will supply kits for Test, T20 Internationals and One-Day International games covering the men’s, women’s and age group teams.
The West Indies will wear Castore-branded kit for the first time against England at Lords in June 2020, for the start of their three-match tour of England.
Castore will provide kit in traditional whites and the West Indies’ trademark maroon, and will supply the West Indies women’s teams as well as all age-group teams from Under-15 level upward.
As part of the deal, Castore will support grass roots cricket in the West Indies through free kit and equipment for local clubs, competitions to train with first team players and training workshops with junior teams.
The three-year deal, for which the value was undisclosed, covers all Windies home and away games from May 2020.
Other exciting expansion plans include in physical retail, with the King’s Road offering to be joined by plenty more stores up and down the country.
In the next year, the firm hopes to have five retail sites – including in Scotland and Merseyside.
Phil said: “We always start with a pop-up shop, to gauge what reaction is like, because you just never know.
“As much as data can tell you, you may have customers in that area but experiencing it first hand is the most important thing. That’s our strategy. To test and then take longer-term leases.”
Tom went one further, describing expansion out of Europe as the “model of the future”.
He added: “We have always believed that physical stores are a key part of any brand’s armoury, and allowing customers to connect with the brand in a physical way that isn’t possible online.
“Having targeted flagship stores in key areas where the brand has a strong presence will be important.
“We have got the store in London, so New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo are all really strong markets for us.
“Having flagship stores in those locations and allowing customers to immerse themselves in the brand and then supporting that with a really strong digital offering is probably the model of the future.”
Tom said it was also vital to stress that despite all the negative press about the high street declining, “there are positive things happening in the retail space”.
He added: “While there are of course high-profile brands having their challenges, there are of course exciting, innovative, dynamic new brands of which Castore is one, that are doing exciting things and leveraging new technologies to serve customers in different ways – it’s important to get that positive message out there.
“Hopefully we are being quite aggressive in how we go after that ambition.
“I know we are not alone in being optimistic for the future, so it’s important that people realise for every challenge that retail faces, there are opportunities too.”
Castore’s biggest obstacles
According to Phil, the two biggest challenges facing the firm, like many in the retail sector, are how the ‘digital versus high street battle’ plays out, and uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
“How we bridge the gap between both digital and physical is going to be really important – and how we continue to innovate and offer the consumer a point of difference.
“If you get online right, you can be really successful, but you need to invest a lot in the backend.
“Our biggest investment goes into our website – making sure it’s running smoothly, it’s giving the best experience it possibly can, and in R&D, constantly investing making our products lighter and stronger.”
“But the biggest worry we have is Brexit. All our manufacturing is done in Europe, and we do not want any taxes coming in – or extra tariffs.
“If all of sudden we are getting taxed 12% on all our imports, it’s going to have a relatively material impact not only on us as a business, but our own consumers, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.
“You want your business to be as certain as possible, and Brexit doesn’t breed certainty. So it’s pretty challenging at the moment, but fingers crossed it’s all sorted.”
With such success and the experience of having lived in the biggest cities both in the UK and further afield, what made Phil and Tom choose to launch their business back home in the Liverpool City Region?
“Obviously one factor was because it’s home,” Phil said.
“There’s also a stigma attached to Liverpool that you cannot get the people you need due to a skills shortage, but we find that to be completely untrue.
“Manchester is a fashion hub for companies like Boohoo and Missguided. But there’s no reason why the people working for those guys can’t be based in Liverpool.
“The quality of work is definitely there, and we’ve found that we have no difficulty hiring amazing people.”
Praising the city’s talent pool, he added: “We have Liverpool Uni that produces amazing graduates every year, Manchester isn’t far away.
“90% of our workforce lives within Liverpool, and we are growing rapidly. We will be employing 50-plus people by the end of next year, and I don’t see why we would need to move anywhere else.
“If anything, by being a fast-growth fashion business, it gives a lot of people a firm they want to work for in this city. Up until now, there’s not been the opportunity to do that. Finding the office space to do it is a different challenge, however.”
So, quite simply, which is better – business or sport?
Phil said: “I do prefer business to sport because you have more control over it, even though that isn’t always the case.
“The business world is obviously incredibly tough, but if you put in the hours and really believe in what you are doing, you really hope you can succeed and make a difference.
“This is a long-term plan – we are not trying to build it as quickly as possible and then have nothing to say for it in the end. We want to build a brand that will truly compete on the world stage.
“There’s no reason why a British brand isn’t competing on a global stage in the sports market.
“You have got your Nike, Umbros and so on, but there’s no one that really represents the UK, so that’s our ultimate goal.”
Phil acknowledged that just like sport, business is another dog-eat-dog environment.
“You are going in every day to problems, particularly where we are based in the market.
“You always have people calling you out – such as if you’re pricing a t-shirt at £75, there are going to be people who don’t like it. We are always trying to bring our products down in price to make them more competitive, but it costs us a lot more than our competitors to make our products.
“Nike will buy a piece of fabric for 20c a metre – but we spend upwards of £12 to £14 pounds a meter on a piece of fabric. The positioning of the market is what it is.”
Despite Castore’s relatively short life and success to date, Tom said they “don’t think of [themselves] as successful”.
“That’s not false modesty,” he said, adding: “The world of entrepreneurism and business isn’t quite as binary as sport.
“If you’re a footballer, you play every Saturday and you either win lose or draw and you know exactly where you are.
“In the world of business, it’s slightly more challenging to judge a result, so externally, people may say ‘you have built a business that gets to x-million pound revenue, that’s fantastic’ – but for us, we don’t ever celebrate any of those things.
“All we do is look forward to what’s next.
“Because no matter what you’ve achieved in business, there’s always someone that’s bigger, better and has grown more quickly, has a stronger brand. So we are only ever looking forward.
“In terms of the time it’s taken, the business has grown quickly, which is fantastic, but we are thinking about what is coming up – and how can we get there.
“I think that’s probably a character trait that most successful entrepreneurs have.”