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Founders Diaries: Triathlete-turned-entrepreneur James Lock shares the secret to Zone3’s sportswear success

Former triathlete James Lock shares his biggest life lessons running his performance sportswear brand Zone3, from spending quality time with family to using sports as an outlet for wellbeing.
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Sports enthusiasts may remember James Lock as an elite triathlete. He made headlines as a national-level swimmer and runner growing up, and at the age of 19, he ventured into the world of business when he started designing and creating swimming accessories he’d sell to his teammates in his swimming and triathlon clubs. Tapping into his alma mater Loughborough University’s strengths as a breeding ground for UK’s top athlete, along with his engineering degree, Lock built two businesses as a student entrepreneur.

Now, at the helm of a rapidly growing sportswear brand, Lock speaks to Real Business on the ups and downs of life as an entrepreneur. 

Founder: James Lock, Zone3
Website: www.Zone3.com
In a sentence: Performance sportswear brands
Turnover: £5m

Your legacy

I want to be remembered for producing the highest rated products within the triathlon industry and significantly supporting the grassroots of the sport.

Your business model

Everything starts with research and developing the very best products possible. Once the design process is complete we actively sell and market our branded product range through distributors, retailers and directly through events and web store.

How do you measure success?

We have received 9 years of award winning product reviews in the industry media. In 2018 we will receive a Queens Award for Enterprise due to the significant growth achieved in international trade. We are financially a very stable business thanks to organic growth without any external investment.

Growth plans this year

We are looking to invest more in key territories such as the US, Asia, Germany and France. We are also launching our compression and fitness collection this Autumn which gives us the opportunity to target a larger customer base so they too can benefit from our innovative and performance focused designs.

How did you fund your business

I started running my own business during University and started Zone3 and Sports-Instinct after I had graduated with around £40,000 in savings. Over the last 12 years I have reinvested profits each year to fund further growth which in recent years has given us the opportunity to purchase more stock and invest more in building a team of staff and marketing activities. There are no other shareholders, directors, investors or bank loans.

In five years

We expect to be the number one triathlon brand in the world within five years and also have a strong presence within the swimming and running markets.

Your highest point…

Being invited to Buckingham Palace for a Royal reception in recognition of our Queens Award is very hard to top!

Your lowest point…

Our very first batch of wetsuits we ever produced had a quality issue during manufacturer. This was a sharp learning lesson to make sure that every product is always produced to the highest quality possible.

What would tell your younger self

Try not to get too stressed on a day to day basis. Take more time to step back and appreciate what has been done and how much success has already been achieved. I still need to tell myself this every week. I’m always looking ahead and trying to reach the next milestone. This adds extra pressure which isn’t necessarily always needed.

Your policy wish list

Ideally a stronger GBP is always going to be good for us and certainly a hassle-free customs policy which isn’t going to alienate or add extra costs or complications to international trade.

Your biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs

Get the product 100% correct before ramping up any sales or marketing activity. Start in small circles and do lots of testing before scaling. Be ready to work harder than you ever have done before.

Guilty pleasure

Switching off from the business is so good for my wellbeing so swimming, cycling or running is perfect for this! Also, squeezing in some time away every chance possible.

What would make you a better leader?

Getting less involved in the day to day activities of the business would certainly free me up to focus more time on leadership.

The one app you use the most

Xero

A day in your life

Mostly working in the office mixed with some sport, love all sport. Spending as much time with the family as possible.

On your reading list right now

We’ve set up an internal Agile Marketing process over the last three months which has proven to be very successful so I would certainly recommend some reading around this subject and ‘Scaling Up’.

On your watch list right now

Billions on Sky Atlantic, love it.

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About Author

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Real Business, and its sister publication for micro businesses, Business Advice. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to write about management strategies, entrepreneurs, growth companies, and diversity and inclusion.

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