Picture: Warrington Guardian
SME Magazine catches up with husband-and-wife team James and Michelle Laithwaite, founders of Fuel Hub, a sustainable online healthy meal delivery business. Here, they tell their story.
Tell us about Fuel Hub. When did you set the company up and what was the thinking behind it?
James: We knew there was an opportunity to provide athletes with highly nutritious meals to keep them at the peak of their fitness throughout their competitive season. As a professional rugby player, I had insight into how athletes and teams without big food budgets were unable to access healthily prepared meals – not all high performing individuals and organisations have the resources to have an in-house canteen or personal chefs.
Michelle: With James having to end his career prematurely due to injury, we embarked on a journey to fulfil this gap in the market by launching Fuel Hub in 2019. Initially, our focus was on B2C sales but we have identified a niche market in the B2B sector, which will be our primary focus going forward.
Who are the people behind the venture? What were you doing before you set up the company?
Michelle: The company was founded by my husband James and me. Before launching Fuel Hub, I enjoyed a successful career in the fashion industry, leading in senior positions across multiple award-winning fashion companies. I worked internationally, managing teams in Milan, Paris and even New York. I oversaw budgets and even founded my own wholesale fashion agency in the UK working with the likes of ASOS and Urban Outfitters.
James: Before Fuel Hub, my entire life was dedicated to rugby. I’ve played professionally for Warrington Wolves and overseas with the Toronto Wolfpack. As an athlete, our desire is to play at the highest level for as long as possible. Due to a series of injury, which included breaking the same leg four times as well as breaking my neck, I had to hang up my boots early. I’ve always been frustrated by the often inadequate meals we’ve had to accept over the years, and that’s why I knew I needed to do something about it.
How have you grown since your launch?
James: Transitioning from a professional athlete into a businessman has been really challenging but rewarding as well. I’ve learnt and grown so much since starting Fuel Hub – even with simple tasks like writing an email! With no experience in the business world, I’ve had to learn on the job as well as look after our two children. My relationship with Michelle has definitely grown over the last three years, and we’ve become an even stronger team than ever before.
Michelle: Going from the red carpet in Milan to scrubbing dishes (thankfully not any more!) was certainly a challenge but we knew that our vision for Fuel Hub was one full of success. We remained steadfast that it would be a game-changer in the meal-preparation market. I’ve had to become even more organised than normal, and resolute as well. Although we’ve hit every one of our targets in our journey so far, I’ve become more adaptive and strategic to the unknown.
You have recently secured some more funding. Tell us about that and how it will help the business develop.
Michelle: We knew that we needed a significant amount of funding to take Fuel Hub to the next stage in its growth journey. Our priority was to move into a new facility that would enable us to boost our meal production numbers and also big enough to install refrigeration units that could extend the life of our products and meals. After discussions with lots of investors, we secured £1.2m of funding from AJ Bell founder Andy Bell to help achieve these goals.
James: A large part of our motivation for securing this round of investment was that we noticed that partnering with big clubs and sports teams guaranteed a large chunk of revenue which made our planning and forecasting processes even more efficient than ever. In order to actually secure these partnerships and meet the orders, we needed a bigger facility and bigger team, which is why the investment was so important. We’re excited to be working with Andy and Fergus and use their insight to improve the business even more.
James, you are a former professional rugby league player. How has that experience helped to develop Fuel Hub?
James: Being a professional athlete gives you many attributes that you can implement into business life too, such as determination and working hard. You are faced with many challenges on a day-to-day basis in business and sometimes things happen that you haven’t planned for. This is quite similar to my rugby career. I’d suffered four bad injuries to my legs as well as a broken neck by the age of 27. This taught me how to deal with setbacks and how to bounce back from them. Nutrition and taking care of your mental health played a massive part in this and has played a big role in our Fuel Hub journey so far.
Where do you hope the business will be in five or ten years’ time?
Michelle: Our aim is to become the number one nutrition provider for sports teams and athletes up and down the country. Whether this be on training days, match days, at home or on the road. Having healthy, delicious meals shouldn’t be hard to find and we want to be the ones who deliver this directly to you wherever you are. To perform at your best, you have to put the right fuel into your body, whether this be in sport, business or your day-to-day life. The impact nutrition has on your mind and body is crucial to the way you feel and perform.