Profile: Brett Bannister

Brett Bannister
Brett Bannister
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Sales are booming at online retailer Managing director Brett Bannister tells Lizzie Murphy why.

Brett Bannister was taught the importance of being the best from a young age.

His father is the former striker Bruce Bannister who played in over 500 Football League games, scored over 200 goals and was part of the famous ‘Smash and Grab’ partnership with Alan Warboys at Bristol Rovers in the early 1970s.

But when it came to having a kickaround in the garden with his son, he was equally competitive.

“Most dads usually let their son beat them at football – mine used to beat me 10-0,” says Bannister. “He always set very high standards, so I am quite competitive. Knowing he has achieved a lot has made me very determined. I won’t be able to surpass his achievements on the football pitch but I would like to take his business forward.”

Bannister took over as managing director of SportsShoes Unlimited, the sports retailer his father founded in Bradford, six years ago.

Bruce set up the company, following his retirement from football in 1982, with the aim of providing sports footwear and clothing for people who were passionate about sport.

In 1985, SportsShoes launched its mail order service and later became one of the first retailers to launch an e-commerce website and began trading online.

Brett has grown the retailer to a £24m turnover company and 104 staff at its Shipley head office and distribution centre, which houses 5,000 products.

But, he says, it was not inevitable that he would join the business, even though it was all-consuming for the whole family.

“I was eight years old when it started,” he says. “I was brought up playing with my Star Wars figures in the back of the shop because mum and dad worked on a Saturday. It was all-consuming for the family because it was a new business.”

He adds: “It was a new concept to have a sports shop which was so specific to sports and so big.”

Bannister and his sister, Victoria, worked in the shop as teenagers – Bannister stringing tennis racquets and Victoria on the till.

He attended Bradford Grammar School and went on to study psychology and sociology at Nottingham University. But he says he had no intention of entering the family business.

“I went through a rebellious phase,” he says. “Instead, I moved into advertising and direct/digital marketing.”

He worked for a number of agencies in Manchester and London and was working in digital marketing during the boom. “Digital marketing was like direct marketing on steroids. It was so powerful and very alluring and interesting,” he says.

Meanwhile, Victoria had taken over the day-to-day running of SportsShoes and needed help with the website. “Initially, I was looking to set up my own e-commerce business,” says Bannister. “But then I was asked to help out with the SportsShoes website and I got more and more sucked into it.”

Bannister joined the business in 2004 and when Victoria left to have a family in 2007, Bannister took the top job.

Their father is still involved in the company as chairman. “He doesn’t have any operational responsibility but he casts his eye over the company,” Bannister says. “It’s hopefully a sign he likes what he sees.”

One of the first things Bannister did was change the retailer’s name to The company is now purely an online and mail order operation based in the company’s Shipley headquarters.

The original Bradford store closed last year after the company failed to agree terms on a new lease. “The proposition wasn’t commercially viable,” says Bannister. “But the big thing for us was losing local business. Not being able to serve loyal customers who had been shopping there for years was hard but we have taken some of them with us to shop online.”

Bannister is now focused on expanding the online and mail order operations through which it sells goods to customers in 100 countries.

“We are working hard to attract new customers and we are working hard to keep the customers we have got,” he says. “The businesses that will thrive in the future are the ones that are best at keeping their customers.”

This year, the company expects to process 750,000 orders in the UK and abroad. “The international side is significant and growing but the UK is our main focus,” he says.

The company sells shoes and clothing for a wide range of sports including squash, football, cycling, rugby, football golf and netball. However, its main focus now is on running and fitness.

Bannister says: “The aim of the company is to try to help our customers live a healthier and more positive life through sport.”

It has continued to see growth in turnover and profit in recent years. Turnover for the year ended February 28, 2013, was £24m up – from £17.6m the previous year.

“We have enjoyed a period of sustained growth,” he says. “There are more people out there being active than ever before, our range of products is very strong and our pricing is very competitive. We have also worked hard on our customer service.”

Bannister says there was a spike last August as the company benefitted from the excitement surrounding the London Olympics.

“Traditionally, August isn’t a busy month for us because people are on holiday, but last August was very good and there was a spike from the Olympics,” he says. “For anyone who is into sport it was a very exciting time.”

Bannister’s aim is for to become the number one running and fitness retailer in the country. “One of the things that has always fascinated me about the internet is that we can give people access to things to help them improve their lives,” he says. “That makes me happy. It’s a tangible way we can help people.”

He says the website tries to give customers enough information about the fit and style of the shoes and clothes for them to be able to make the right decision about what to buy. “You can do so much research about buying a product online now,” he adds.

Unsurprisingly, Bannister describes himself as “sports mad”. He played tennis when he was younger but now says he is “golf mad”.

He supports Liverpool and Bradford City, the team his father played for between 1965 and 1971. He still attends games with his father and has just started taking his two young sons, Stan and Raff.

He tests quite a lot of the company’s new products himself but says he doesn’t have racks of trainers at home. “I tend to try quite a lot out,” he says. “If a new technology or brand releases something innovative I try it out because I like to know what is going on in the market.

“I have a pair of running trainers but I don’t hang on to them forever, my wife wouldn’t let me.”

Brett Bannister Factfile

Title: Managing director

Date of birth: February 26, 1974

Education: Bradford Grammar School and psychology and sociology degree at Nottingham University

First job: Advertising executive

Favourite holiday location: Anywhere hot

Favourite film: The Usual Suspects

Favourite song: This Is the One, by The Stone Roses

Last book read: The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy

Car driven: Porsche 911

What is the thing you are most proud of? Easy – Stan and Raff, my boys