We caught up with Simon Gray, founder and managing director of Leeds based Boost Drinks Ltd to talk about challenging one of the biggest brands names in the industry.

Tell us how you got where you are today

I graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University; my degree was in business – that was definitely my passion – but I didn’t have a firm idea about the career path I would follow. It’s not the same as studying to be say, a lawyer or a doctor. I started working in a food and drink warehouse business and I learnt a lot in a very short space of time. After a year or so, the business went bust. Looking back that experience proved to be valuable. I witnessed early on what can happen if you take your eye off the ball – even for a short period of time – and I’ve taken many lessons from then forward into how we do things here today. Around the same time, there was a new product on the market – Red Bull – and it was making a huge impact. As a consumer I loved it, there was simply nothing else like it out there, but as much as I liked it, it was quite expensive. That was the spark that I needed and Boost was established to see if a similar, more affordable option could be created.

What has been the biggest challenge?

When we started out we were up against two massive brands – amongst the biggest in the country – in Red Bull and Lucozade. Whilst these were pretty fearsome competition because of their size and huge popularity, there were actually very few alternatives to these so we felt that we actually had a real opportunity to challenge the market. Now, with far more products available, the challenge is a different one. We are conscious that we need to keep moving forward and looking at how our business and product range can continue to innovate and grow – it keeps us fresh.

It’s often the goal to get a new product picked up by one of the major supermarkets. But from the outset, we were clear that this would not be our intention and instead focused our efforts upon supplying smaller retailers and convenience stores. What we had to offer was more of an impulse purchase, something to be consumed on the move, and so was more closely aligned to independent outlets. Long term relationships are important; in the early days we utilised existing contacts and have built from there – many of the people we still work with now were with us when we started out.

Has there been a key turning point?

2012 was a pivotal time for us. We won a Federation of Wholesale Distributor award – it was great to have the efforts of everyone involved with Boost recognised. But it was a bit of a double edged sword – the awards that year included major national brand names such as Walkers and Heinz –putting us amongst that sort of company meant that we could no longer fly under the radar. The industry now had expectations about what we would do next but it gave us the catalyst to put in place the infrastructure to move forward and grow the brand further.

What do you look for in people?

You have to look beyond the CV. Whilst it can give you confidence that someone has the skills and experience to do the job, to understand their behaviours and attitude – what makes a person tick – can only come from sitting in front of them and considering ‘can I work with this person?’. The dynamic has to be right. Will they be able to do something in a better way than we are doing it? Do they have skills that we don’t currently have? These people can make an impact as soon as they come into the business and, in doing so, the positive affect that they have on others is huge.