He started making shorts on the kitchen table, his suppliers used to manufacture his products inside out; but he’s just recruited double world champion, ‘Big Bob’ Hayles to ride for and manage his UCI Continental team – things have come a long way for Jim McFarlane!
It’s November, and even though they’ve had plenty of wins this season, Jim’s Scottish-based Endura Racing team is putting this year behind them, and making plans for next term. We thought it was about time that we found out a bit more about the team plans, and it’s title sponsor.
We met Jim at the Endura headquarters in Livingston, a 3000 square metre facility just 30 minutes west of Edinburgh, and began by asking him his thoughts on the ’09 season for Endura Racing;
“Well, I think it’s fair to say we expected a bit more than we got, but there are several reasons for that. We’ve been relatively unlucky this season, where the season before [when Endura was a secondary sponsor to the PedalPower team] we were relatively lucky.
“We’ve had three key riders suffer broken collarbones, but nonetheless we’ve had some pretty good results.”
It’s not been a bad year, then?
“It’s true – we’ve done well in the Scottish Super Six series, and other domestic races, and Evan and Ross have brought some needed strength and breadth to the team with several brilliant rides further afield, but we’ve had a few unpleasant surprises too.”
Like the Tour Series?
“Yes, in the first two races we came dead last – that was a bit of a shock, and it certainly motivated us to lift ourselves off the bottom. By the time the Tour series was here, we were lacking a bit of strength, with riders leaving the team to go to university or getting a job outside of cycling. That’s why we got Ross and Evan on board, to give us that extra dimension.
“But we’re not about just hiring riders through offers – I believe that if you live by the chequebook you die by the chequebook. The riders need to be compatible with each other, with the team ethos, and be capable of providing us with the feedback that we require, so we’ve been employing a gentler, broader approach.”
Why have the UCI Continental Licence, and all the hassle and expense it takes?
“Well, we’re certainly going to make the most of it next season – and right now it’s all about next year, we’re aiming to be one of the top four teams in the UK.
“Our goal is to secure an invitation to the Tour of Britain, following a good showing in the Tour Series. Officially, only Premier Calendar races count towards ToB entry though, so we’ll be racing beyond the Scottish border much more frequently.
“We’re proud of our Scottishness, but we don’t want to limit ourselves to being ‘just a Scottish team’ – we’re a Scottish company after all, but we’re selling our products globally, Endura is the largest brand of cycle clothing in the UK now, and we have established – or are nearly ready with – distributors all around Europe, Russia, Australia, Scandinavia, South Africa, the USA, Canada, and the Far East.
“So, in order to be able to do what we plan, our financial commitment to the team will be far greater next year, around eight times what it was this year and into six figures, and we’re going to have a women’s team as well.”
Have there been lessons learned this year?
“Absolutely. One of the key areas has been in management and direction. Endura came a little late to the team, and we were a bit green really – we should have started getting involved much earlier, for example the rider roster was already a ‘done-deal’.
“Another example; we were planning on riding the FBD Insurance RÃS in Ireland, but when it came down to it, we didn’t have the money left to even send a team, so we’ve maybe had some lessons in budgeting too.”
One of the race team’s purposes is to help with product development?
“Yes, the guys will prove our products in their racing – that’s really the reason for us getting involved in racing in the first place. We have some new products coming out soon, most noteably the Equipe clothing range, and the team will be central to developing and testing that range, as well as publicising it.
“This year they’ve provided great feedback on different ideas and technologies we’ve tried out, and they have really become involved in the detail. There’s a lot of crossover these days with road and mountainbike clothing technologies, and the differences in the two scenes are becoming more and more blurred.”
Are you constantly researching and developing new products?
“All the time. We’re building a new facility here to free up some print-production equipment and do even more on-site, we’re manufacturing more than ever here, in-house, and it’s going really well. In fact, we can’t keep up with the growth.
“We are keen to do as much here as possible, so that we can keep everything to the right quality. We invest heavily in Quality Control, and operate to military-standards of QC, ensuring that our products are to standard by lots and lots of testing we check and double check, all the time.
“We’re using the same Italian mills as the more ‘luxury’ brand names for our textiles, and now we are there at the right level with the quality of our products too.
“We’re starting to find our own niche areas too, for example with our BaaBaa Merino wool base layers and technical nylons, which wash down like cotton. We’ve got some really great, technical road products now to match our mountainbike range.
“Incidentally, it’s not just the racing team that field-tests our products – pretty much everyone who works at Endura rides a bike, from myself and the other Directors Kevin and Pamela, through to the designers and marketing guys.”
You used to be involved in rugby and other sports too.
“That’s right, we made a brief foray into other areas, such as rugby, and snowboarding. We got involved in rugby because we were the first company in Scotland to be able to offer sublimation printing, and at that time it was a good fit for us. It’s a very difficult process and we had an opportunity to build some market share in the rugby market after we were an early adopter of digital sublimation print technology, but we never really had a passion for rugby product.
“These days though, we know our mission, Endura is all about cycling, and only cycling – delivering consistent quality and performance with our products.”
What about your custom clothing side? I remember you used to supply my club, the City of Edinburgh Racing Club?
“That was when the club clothing part of the company was called TAL. The kit has come on tons since then.
“We brought the custom side of our operation into the Endura brand last year, because the patterns and quality hadn’t really moved in line with our other products, delivery times weren’t superb, and to be honest the brand had become a little bit tired. It’s a small part of our business, but it took a little while to change around – like a tanker changing direction.
“By May this year though, we had brought the quality of the custom clothing up to the same standard as our other products – and sales are up by two-and-a-half times since May ’08!”
Do you outsource at all?
“Yes, we do some outsourcing. We’re not geared up for certain garments, for example; gloves and socks, so they are made elsewhere.
“It didn’t help that in the mid-1990’s most textile production in Scotland was shutting down, so we had to look further afield, such as to Tunisia and the Far East.
“We do take great effort to ensure that the outsourced products are manufactured to the same quality standards as we use here; one of our directors visits outsourced plants on a regular basis.
“We’re long-termist, we’re building up a business for the future, and we have a strong ethical stance, we won’t have anything to do with sweatshops.”
The whole operation is very high-tec these days?
“We’re dealing mostly with very technical companies, sending CAD files back and forward, and so on.”
“But it wasn’t always like that! I remember when I cut the first pair of shorts in 1991, in my flat in Frederick Street in Edinburgh, with a pair of kitchen scissors. We started selling shorts and jerseys the following year, and then began to make tights and other items.
“We used to make garments for various brands including Speedo, Tinley, Townsend Group and Ron Hill, but eventually the frustration of dealing with customers that continually wanted to de-spec product to cut cost drove us to form our own brand, and that was the start of TAL Partnership, which became Endura in 1996.
“Very soon we had lots of orders on the books, and so we decided to outsource the manufacture of my Roubaix tights to a place in Kilwinning [on the west coast of Scotland, south of Glasgow].
“Now the thing about the Roubaix material is that it has a fleecy lining, but when we got the tights back, manufactured with the fleece fabric, inside-out, we realised that if we wanted things done right, we were going to have to do it ourselves!”
That’s true – there’s no better way to be involved in a racing team than having your own one! With thanks to Jim for his generous time, and wishing the business and the team every success.