The Business Owner: Charlie Turner and Lee Forster, Neat Nutrition

The former GB swimmers talk about only working with premium fitness studios, their Neat 'family', and opening up a café on Regent Street

The Business Owner: Charlie Turner and Lee Forster, Neat Nutrition

Founders: Charlie Turner and Lee Forster 
Company:
Neat Nutrition
Location:
London
Proposition
: Neat Nutrition is a premium protein and supplements brand and London small business set up by two friends Charlie Turner (32) and Lee Forster (33). Within a year of trading Neat has an exclusive range with Net-A-Porter and Mr Porter, and has just opened its first café on Regent Street
Website:
 www.neat-nutrition.com

Describe your business model:

Our business model is primarily an ecommerce retail platform, selling product on our own website and on Net-A-Porter and Mr Porter. We knew we wanted to avoid stocking Neat in large ‘bricks-and-mortar’ retailers and positioning our products alongside mass market, generic brands. Instead, we have chosen to work with premium fitness studios like Third Space and Core Collective who offer healthy food and smoothies made with Neat Nutrition protein.

We have also recently launched our own Neat Nutrition cafe within the Lululemon store on Regent Street. That will become another arm for the business and gives us a great opportunity to have a physical location and expand how we’re offering our products.

How is your business different from what’s already out there?

Neat challenges the traditional, over-complex market with a lot of jargon and buzzwords, and the association of the term “health food” with athletes and bodybuilders. Our key objectives are showing provenance, removing ambiguity, embracing simplicity and helping to educate consumers.

The culmination of this was creating a product that was well sourced, cleanly produced and tasted great. We want to help customers reach their goals whatever they may be, from increasing vitality, losing weight or competing at the Olympic Games.

How did you finance your business?

This whole process has been an interesting ride, self-funding to get the business off the ground. We most definitely bootstrapped it all the way! Seriously though, we both worked very hard, from retiring from swimming and starting the business.

What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?

There are lots of obvious metrics that people focus on with regards to accounting and finance which are all valid and important. However, we strongly believe that staff are a company’s biggest asset and as such tracking their career development and happiness is vital.

If we hadn’t had the Neat ‘family’ around us then nothing we’ve achieved would have been possible. Everyone has an important job to do and enjoying that job and being engaged is vital.

What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?

The unknown. We are fortunate in that we never know what opportunity is round the corner and staying flexible and being able to action quickly is a huge asset that allows us to really enjoy that challenge.

Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?

Our background in both professional sport and business has given us an amazing ability to travel throughout our careers, and this allows you to see the opportunity that export presents for any business. As we are an ecommerce-led business, this opens up global markets much more easily than many traditional businesses.

It also allows you to refine your proposition for many different consumer types. While we see huge opportunity in export it has always been our focus to really embed in our local communities first; getting this right gives you a much better platform when looking to export.

What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?

That’s a tough one! We use Shopify as our web platform so that has to be the number one. However, across our teams we use Asana to keep track of all projects and allocations of work and deadlines which is the best optimisation tool that we have and is free. It comes highly recommended!

Describe your company’s culture in three words:

Varied. Inclusive. Challenging.

What would you like the government to do for small business?

Better broadband – many entrepreneurs simply can’t survive if their internet connection is poor or continually breaks. That, and answers on how Brexit will affect small businesses, and what support will be made available for businesses who trade in the EU once Article 50 is triggered.

Small business owners would also welcome getting rid of unnecessary regulations and paperwork – it’s costs time and money and prevents them employing people and investing.

Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?

We have always looked to where we want to be which has probably led us to look to emulate people who would sit more in what would be classed as a large enterprise. For example, Lee has always admired companies and people who have a relentless desire for quality – Harry’s, Everlane, Apple, Virgin to name but a few.

Where do you want the business to be in three years?

We’d love to be the go-to brand for good quality protein powders and supplements with the knowledge and support for anyone interested in health and wellness, whatever their goals. If we keep to the principles we know and love, then we’ve got no limit to potential expansion in terms of markets around the world – and launching on Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter has already opened us up from Hong Kong to Italy and Russia to Canada.

We hope the next three years is full of surprises – if you told us on our first day of trading that we’d be opening a store in Regent Street in 20 months’ time, we wouldn’t believe it!

What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?

There are many opportunities to take the easy option rather than striving for the best alternative. Often the best option is the most difficult but if you want to stay lean you should be finding solutions to how things can be done, rather than worrying about how hard it might be to do them.

We pride ourselves on always be willing to work harder, go further and dig deeper than anyone else and it has stood us in good stead. No one else will do it for you when you are starting a business, so it’s all down to how far you are prepared to go.

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