Business · interviews · Sunday Times

How We Made It: Alan and Juliet Barratt, founders of Grenade

ALAN and Juliet Barratt’s first attempt at a fat-burning formula was so effective that an army friend described the results as explosive. “Like a grenade,” said Alan. “That was the reaction — and the name — we were looking for.”

The couple had grown tired of selling other people’s products, so they decided to make their own versions of the continental and American sports nutrition supplements they distributed in Britain.

“The goods we imported were all packaged in the same white tubs with names customers couldn’t remember,” said Juliet. “We saw an opportunity to create a British product they couldn’t forget.”

The couple trademarked Grenade in 2006 and launched the company four years later when the formula had been perfected. Since then sales of their range, containing ingredients such as algae, green tea and cayenne pepper, have soared to £6.3m. Revenues of £10m and profits of £4m are expected for the year to August. The figures put Grenade into The Sunday Times Fast Track 100 league table of fastest-growing private businesses last year.

The Barratts are now the ones doing the exporting. They sell to continental Europe, Canada, India and Australia from their headquarters in Coventry. The nutritional mix and packaging are adapted. “We use a manufacturer in North America to make the capsules, which are pharmaceutical standard,” said Alan, the chief executive. “Other products are produced locally to the consumer using raw ingredients.”

The Barratts own 72 trademarks, including the tag line “Declare war on fat”. The original capsules, called Thermo Detonator, are sold in containers shaped like hand grenades. The pre-workout energy supplement .50 Calibre, introduced in 2012, comes in replica ammunition boxes.

The couple are comfortable with the branding’s associations with war and violence. “Our marketing has always been light-hearted,” said Juliet, the chief marketing officer. “Even though our containers are hardcore, we have never been aggressive — the tanks we hire for exhibitions draw people to the brand.”

Most of Grenade’s customers are fitness enthusiasts, professional athletes and health clubs, she said, and about 30% are women. Stockists include Amazon, Argos, Tesco and Holland & Barrett. To sweeten their relationship with the high street, the founders decided not to sell direct to customers initially. “Shops hate it if you compete with them online,” said Alan.

A small ecommerce site went live in December 2010. The brand has since expanded into clothing and accessories such as earphones and gym bags.

The love of all things military comes from Alan. As a child, he enjoyed visiting the Royal Marines base at Poole during family caravan holidays in Dorset. His father, a heavy vehicle mechanic, ran his own business and his mother was a school laboratory technician.

“I always wanted to be a marine,” said Alan, who has an older sister and grew up in Birmingham. “Dad’s business didn’t interest me in the slightest, but then he hated me going to the gym.”

He did not join the marines because of poor eyesight, but took a job at Lakeside Fitness Centre after leaving Hall Green School at 17. In 1998 he moved to Future Fitness, a gym in Coventry, where he was promoted to manager. In his spare time he wrote for health and nutrition magazines, which inspired his first business.

Fusion Solihull, a sports nutrition distributor, was launched in 1999 with £500 of savings and a determination to get good financial results. “Mum and dad worked their fingers to the bone for very little,” said Alan. “I promised myself that if I ever worked that hard I would make some money from it.”

Juliet, one of four sisters, attended St Albans Girls’ School in Hertfordshire until 1986 when her family moved to Solihull. Her father owned a flooring business and her mother was a nursery teacher.

Juliet graduated from Greenwich University in 1995 with a degree in geography and completed her teacher training at Exeter University. She taught at Brentwood County High School and Colchester Sixth-Form College, both in Essex, before becoming head of the sixth-form at nearby Hedingham School in 2001.

A year later she left the classroom to be head of education at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). She met Alan at a gym in 2003 and they married the following year. Then, in 2007, she left RoSPA to join him at his first business.

They make a good professional as well personal team. “Grenade would never have worked without the partnership, the trust, and our complementary skill sets, but spending 24/7 together can be hard,” said Alan, who sold Fusion Solihull in 2009 for £400,000.

Last year, the private equity firm Grovepoint Capital bought a majority stake in a deal that valued Grenade at £35m. Bradley Fried, one of Grovepoint’s founders, has come on board as chairman.

Alan, 38, and Juliet, 40, live in Stratford- upon-Avon. Their advice to entrepreneurs is to put the business first: “It’s easier for us because we don’t have children, but we didn’t have a day off for the first four years. You have to be passionate and love what you do — running a business is a lifestyle, not just a job.”

PDF – Alan and Juliet Barratt of Grenade


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