Tom Russell: It’s tougher than I expected (pic: Terry Murden)
Interview: Tom Russell, co-founder, Factory Weights
The pounding beat of the rock band Muse was bouncing off the Bible Black walls in this cavernous factory unit just a stone’s throw from the Forge shopping precinct in Glasgow’s east end. It was a suitably energetic soundtrack for the activity being promoted here, a warehouse packed to the rafters with fitness equipment.
There’s 18,000 sq ft of space filled with dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells, plastic and cast iron plates, and they’re mainly destined for home gyms that sprung up during lockdown. It’s noticeable that there are no treadmills or rowing machines.
“Fitness training is moving from cardio exercises – like running – to lifting weights,” says Tom Russell, co-founder of Factory Weights, a fledgling business he set up with his younger cousin Craig Guthrie in response to a changing market.
“It’s now about building body strength, raising metabolism and reducing body fat,” he says. “Celebrities are now into looking stronger rather than leaner.”
Russell’s introduction to this muscular world conceals a gently-spoken and self-confessed computer nerd who enjoys a work-out but confesses that his guilty pleasure is fast food and chocolate.
He and his business partner are now hungry for growth and they’ve made an encouraging start by building a business that is on course to double its £700,000 first year turnover.
Russell had briefly run a computer repair business and later branched out into retailing e-cigarettes, a business he and Guthrie still own. Even from a young age Russell wanted to run a business. “It was either that, or become a spy,” he says, with some conviction.
Neither seemed likely when he drifted into college to study “something about computers”. He was keen on the subject matter, though clearly unimpressed with the course.
Craig Guthrie and Tom Russell co-founded the business (pic: Terry Murden)
“I did some computer repairs while still at school,” he says. “But being trained to work for someone didn’t feel right. I knew I wanted to start my own business.”
He was already opening his first computer repair shop in Partick as he finished his course. Restlessness soon set in.
“It wasn’t making much money and I moved into selling shoes, then set up the e-cigarette business,.” he says.
The onset of lockdown saw the shops forced to close and the home gyms craze take off. Russell and his cousin also noted the move into weight training and saw a new business avenue opening. They took a lease on a factory unit in Parkhead, formerly occupied by the ladder company Clow Group, and have filled it with equipment made in China.
“No one is manufacturing it here. It’s taken two years getting 20 to 30 containers of equipment delivered,” says Russell.
Drawing on their own financial resources they got busy in mid-2020 and there’s now a team of five stocking and selling the gear. A training academy provides instruction to would-be personal trainers and has potential for expansion across the country.
Russell says he’s now fulfilling the ambitions he had as a boy, though he feels a little uncomfortable about titles.
“I suppose I am entrepreneur though I think it’s a term that’s a bit over-used, and it seems a bit odd to think of myself as a CEO when I’m still stacking the shelves and helping to clean up.
“Yes, running a business is a lot tougher than I thought it would be. But I enjoy every day and that’s what matters.”
Occupation: Business co-owner
Job title: Don’t really have one
Education: Glasgow Caledonian University (Something about computers)
Key jobs and employers.
Worked in a few bars and call centres, but ran my own businesses since school, including computer repairs and e-cigarettes
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?
Continued business education, learning from books, people and podcasts
What did you hope to be when you were young?
A business owner or a spy
How do you relax?
TV and gym
Do you carry cash?
Yes, and really don’t like the demise of cash because I think it pulls the ladder up for small/new businesses.
What have you learned about yourself?
Taking responsibility for everything is essential
Optimist or pessimist?
Fast food or chocolate
What do you find frustrating and what annoys you?
Slow moving companies
Do you support a workplace parking levy?
No, and can’t understand why businesses are not treated with respect rather than as a piggy bank.
Do you use public transport?
A few times a year
Do you have any claims to fame?
Demonstrating judo on Gaelic TV age 9
What is your business motto?
Start with a small market
Name three people, living or dead, who would make the perfect dinner party guests.
Elon musk (Tesla and Twitter owner), Satoshi Nakamoto (name used by the presumed person or persons who developed bitcoin) and Jack Ma (Chinese tycoon, founder of Alibaba group of tech companies).