Interviews

Leaving professional rugby behind to tackle the beverage industry with a global brand

7 min read

11 August 2016

Former deputy editor

In the latest of our Business Class profiles, we hear from Gary Lavin, a former professional rugby player who turned his attention towards business after an injury forced him out of action. Now, in ownership of healthy drink brand VitHit, which sells 17 million bottles annually, Lavin paints a picture of the prosperous new life he’s created.

If you’re a fizzy drink addict, you may be unfamiliar with VitHit. However, the low calorie tea-based soft drink is growing rapidly across the UK and overseas, with the Irish firm now exporting to eight countries.

Now selling 17 million bottles each year, the health-centric beverage is outselling rivals in the vitamin water sector. And in one year, VitHit has increased its market share to 17 per cent from 5.8 per cent.

The business was founded by Gary Lavin, a former professional rugby player, who was sick of seeing people complete hard workouts, only to pump themselves full of artificial sugary drinks.

“I created VitHit because I used to see people on treadmills for 30 minutes burning calories then coming off and taking those calories back in with a sports drink,” he recalled.

“Most sports drinks contain 180 calories, sugar and salts, not exactly ideal for weight loss. Our first mission was to make sure our drinks tasted as good or better than their sugary counterparts, then add as much goodness without compromising on taste.”

Flavours include everything from apple & elderflower to coconut & pineapple, and each blend is made to serve a different purpose, whether that’s for a detox of immunity boost. Stockists include the likes of Tesco and Boots, with the latter supplying the drink in 500 stores nationwide.

With such a clear success on his hands, we spoke to the multimillionaire entrepreneur as part of our Business Class section to learn more about his journey and what he does when he’s not working.

(1) Were you born into wealth or has your success been self-made?

I was born into relative wealth, but lost it all by 30, so not sure if that counts! I think being born into wealth can be a hindrance as it doesn’t make you hungry for the curves that life throws you. I am cured of that particular disease now. I work hard and enjoy every penny I make.

(2) How much did your first job pay?

An orange drink and a snack bar! I was 9 and worked in my Dads pub. I think there are child labour laws for that kind of thing now 🙂

(3) You have achieved success as a professional rugby player and now with a beverage business – which area has been the most lucrative for you and why?

Definitely the drinks business. When I played as a pro rugby player, it was when rugby had just gone professional and was finding its feet. I got injured at 24 and it forced me into getting a real job! I was devastated at the time, but it pushed me into making business mistakes a lot earlier than I was prepared to.

Filling Britain's bellies has dished up a £60m payday for this Italian restaurateur

(4) What has business ownership taught you about money management?

It has taught me that if I am no good at money management, get a business partner who is! My now business partner Ian, joined the company about 8 years ago and fixed the ‘unholy mess’ of accounts, that left me to do what I do best, create and sell.

(5) Tell us about your smartest investments

My first house in Dublin. When I sold it 14 years ago, it financed the continuation of VitHit, as we desperately needed money to continue. Every entrepreneur needs to have blind passion and belief for their product and see it as an extension of themselves. 
I felt backing VitHit was backing myself, so why wouldn’t you sell everything you have to back yourself?

Read more on living the Business Class lifestyle:

(6) Do you get more satisfaction from spending or saving your money?

Definitely spending, you can’t take it with you when you are gone!

(7) What’s the most exciting element of running your business?

Finding and opening new markets. We are currently expanding in the US and Scandinavia, I love meeting with new clients and managing new territories.

Creating opulence for royals, celebrities and billionaires with architecture

(8) What are your most expensive hobbies?

Holidays. I work to enjoy myself and I love travelling, so that can become expensive. I don’t travel business class as prices are a total rip off, so I would rather spend that money on a nice hotel when I get there. I like all active destinations and I go snowboarding once a year. When I take a beach holiday I can never sit still, so I might be found jogging, swimming or boating.

(9) Most prized possession?

My car and my wife, I simply can’t decide between the two 🙂

(10) Do you have a favourite luxury brand?

I’m not really into luxury brands, if I like something and I can afford it, I would buy
it. The label doesn’t really concern me.

(11) Where has your most luxurious holiday take you?

My honeymoon last year, we went to Mykonos and stayed in the most incredible hotel. That’s definitely the most incredible place I have stayed in.

(12) Excluding property, what has been your most expensive purchase?

My watch, a Rolex. I saved up for it for a long time gave myself a treat when I reached a certain milestone with the business about seven years ago. I think its important to recognise successes along the road with rewards – it doesn’t have to be as expensive as a watch though!

If you enjoy travelling as much as Lavin, Paris Hilton is opening premium hotels in some of the world’s most high-end cities.