Interviews

The former pro footballer aiming for the back of the net in manufacturing

5 min read

13 April 2016

Former deputy editor

Having played football professionally for 20 years, Kenny Arthur went back into education when he left sports behind. The former goalkeeper spoke with Real Business about taking his passion for the game into the manufacturing industry.

As the man responsible for preventing the opposition from scoring during his years of service for teams including Scottish Premier League club Partick Thistle, as well as Accrington Stanley, Rochdale and Grimsby Town, Arthur now hopes to score a goal of his own with his business GK-UN Limited.

After two decades of playing football professionally, the sportsman completed a Risk Management degree at Glasgow Caledonia University and an MBA at Strathclyde University. It was from there that he decided to launch his business, which pays homage to the game.

“We design and manufacture innovative goalkeeper products to make the life of a goalkeeper easier, as I know first-hand how hard it can be,” he said.

Interestingly, the business has only been trading for three months. That said, the brands that GK-UN owns the IP for, including KA Goalkeeping, have had products on the market for the past three years.

“We set up a new business entity at the end of January allowing us to develop a vision and strategy to scale the business,” explained Arthur.

“Mitigating risk was a primary concern. As such we are a very lean organisation, ensuring that our operational overheads are under control. This philosophy allows us to make sound business decisions regarding our operations and growth strategy.”

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Revenue is generated from design, manufacture, distribution and sale of the own branded goods. The UK is the primary market for the business at present, but international expansion is on the agenda.

Detailing the concept to Real Business, Arthur said: “Not much has changed in goalkeeper products in the last 15 years. Our products are design-led, focusing on functional innovation – the combination of these two aspects are allowing us to develop a forward-thinking reputation in this marketplace.

“Our long-term strategy is to use the reputation developed for goalkeeper-specific products to diversify into other mass market sports.”

The growing business has been expanding with the help of accelerator programme Entrepreneurial Spark (E-Spark), which Arthur summarised with one word – “brilliant”.

“The support in place from enablers is a phenomenal resource and, although challenging, facilitates clarity of thought and clear decision-making,” he said.
“The partners on board are essential to scale the business – RBS and KPMG providing financial and strategic advice and support, with Harper Macleod assisting with all the inevitable legal concerns of a startup.

“The culture within the organisation is empowering, with the go do mindset cascading down through all the chiclets [incubators] that join. This has allowed us to develop a clear vision for the future and put in place strategy to achieve our goals.”

Having learnt from E-Spark, Arthur said his advice to rising entrepreneurs would be to validate any assumptions before pumping capital into a venture.

He said that the biggest setback the company experienced was a batch of stock that was completely damaged. “This almost sunk us,” admitted Arthur.

On a more positive note, he revealed his biggest highlight so far: “Having grown up watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night, it was a somewhat surreal experience to see our gloves worn by a top league goalkeeper on this iconic show.”

As for his hero today, Arthur pointed to James Kerr, author of the book Legacy, which details a behind the scenes experience with the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. To that end, he added his goal within the next five years is to be a good role model to his daughter, with hopes that he’ll remain grounded and happy.

Another great story of growth is that of Darceys Online, a handmade candle business based in Scotland. We heard from founder Jackie Dalziel who told us that a fire burning down the company and all of its products only made it stronger.