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The perfect match

The perfect match

COVER STORY

04 Aug, 2017

Take one man’s flair and passion for rugby, add it to his skills in kit design and marketing, and what have you got? A pitch-perfect combination that has seen former Royal Signals SNCO Bob Lovell launch his own bespoke sportswear range – and it’s going from strength to strength

Having served for 25 years in the Royal Corps of Signals, from 1988 to 2013, Bob Lovell is now owner and managing director of GeckoSportswear, launched in early 2014 thanks to a start-up loan facilitated by X-Forces, the MoD’s official training partner for self-employment. Gecko’s goal is to provide bespoke sportswear to both military and civilian teams – and it’s already exceeding all expectations.

Bob’s passion for sports – particularly rugby – had been a constant factor during his Army career, so he was 100% sure that he wanted to pursue a career in this sector when he made the transition to civilian life. Already well established, his business has solid roots in rugby, for which it has designed and produced kit for the Royal Signals RFC, 100 World Rugby Legends team, bespoke military shirts for ShadowShirts and numerous civilian teams, but has also branched out into supplying cycling, triathlon, boxing, netball and rugby supporter apparel too. Gecko’s limited-edition charity shirts alone have raised more than £3,000 for military causes in just two years. ‘We have also,’ Bob tells Quest, ‘secured a partnership deal for military exposure to another ex-Royal Signals company, Company X Consultancy, which was keen to get involved with our ideas and future plans.’

Bob, whose wife Helen also served in the Army within the RADC, continues: ’I’ve had a steep learning curve. I knew what I wanted to achieve, but the civilian world is different. Coming from the military, I had to adapt quickly to business jargon and financial administration, and learn about corporate identities – and that’s where X-Forces was my lifeline. They gave me a simple and easy process for funding, and great support both during the process and afterwards. With them at the end of a phone, I had a sounding board whenever a barrier arose.’

While serving, his extensive military career spanned roles in the UK, Europe and numerous hostile environments. He served with Air Assault Brigades and UKSF Units, Electronic Warfare, the Joint Service Intelligence School and within a UK Training Advisory Team. His operational tours included periods in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and Pakistan. During his time in uniform he racked up a host of qualifications commensurate with that of a SNCO, but few that would have prepared him for civilian life in business.

Bob says that his Forces background did, however, make him ‘an experienced and highly versatile soldier and team leader from a communications background with excellent administrative and leadership skills’ – and now he’s putting those skills to excellent use in his own thriving business.

Before starting up GeckoSportswear, Bob was working freelance in executive close protection and as a maritime security professional. He also spent some time with the Maritime Coastguard Agency as an operator and as a maritime security operator. He worked in various other maritime security and CP roles, and before that as a rugby coach at various levels. From April 2011 to October 2013, he was director of rugby at Pembroke Dock Harlequins RFC and, running almost concurrently with that, head coach for the Royal Signals Rugby Club.

‘As head coach with Royal Signals rugby, I was responsible for the recruitment, development and continuous assessment of new and existing coaching staff, as well as coaching the main team,’ says Bob. It was, he continues, ‘a dual-coded role for rugby league and union, and as such I am knowledgeable in both areas. It seems like an eternity ago,’ he goes on, ‘but fellow rugby league enthusiast, Darren Twigg, and I resurrected the Royal Signals RLFC, establishing unit sides in both the UK and Germany to compete against each other. This enabled us to develop a combined senior XV in both the 9s and 13s games, which has grown with other members of the Corps, taking it to new levels.’ Bob also goes on to praise the current Royal Signals Union team for their successful tour of New Zealand over the British Lions Tour and the Royal Signals Rugby League for winning their first ever Inter Corps Lawson Cup – and ‘seeing the guys in GeckoSportswear kit,’ he says, ‘made it win-win all round’.

In earlier years, he had worked as defence coach for Army rugby union women, assistant coach in Scotland A rugby league and as head coach for the Army’s under-23 rugby league team. Much later, in the summer of 2013, he spent three months as Forces account manager for Samurai Sportswear and quickly learned the pitfalls of the industry. It was this passion for rugby in all its aspects that was eventually to win through and he is now combining his skills, knowledge and love of the game itself with the sportswear expertise he has also acquired. Sounds like the perfect match!

Now that Bob has been owner and managing director of his own company, GeckoSportswear, for more than three years, he tells us, ‘We provide bespoke team wear at a competitive price. We pride ourselves on knowing what our customers want and allowing them to be part of the customer experience, from initial design stage to receiving their bespoke kit, as promised.

‘Having taken three years to get established we are now growing week on week, ensuring that teams that have been let down by our competitors receive the attention to detail in their requirements that they deserve. We provide bespoke design kit across the sports spectrum, and anything from beer mats and beach towels to full tour kits, on and off the field.’

As well as holding design specs for hundreds of different styles of kit and having its own in-factory design teams, Gecko welcomes entirely new concepts, and has a real enthusiasm for ensuring that whatever the customer requires is exactly what the customer gets. ‘We listen to what you want as a club – we don’t palm you off with stock kit,’ says Bob. ‘It’s bespoke to you and our timelines for manufacture are made clear from the start.’

In a recent interview with Scrum magazine (www.scrummagazine.com), Bob explained a bit about the company’s philosophy: ‘When a rugby club or organisation chooses to shop with Gecko, we feel it’s extremely important that the whole process is one that reflects our reputation. Having been involved in rugby within the Armed Forces, at all levels, we know what we would buy and are keen to pass that knowledge on to our customers. If we don’t wear it when we train or play, it won’t have the GeckoSportswear logo on it.

‘With this in mind, from the initial enquiry stage right through until the team members take to the field in their eye-catching apparel, Gecko will be part of the process. Any amendments to what the customer wants, no matter how small, are dealt with in good time and with a smile on our faces!

‘A close-knit family company, we have already worked with teams as far away as Fiji, Spain and Dubai, as well as across the UK, supporting events such as the Newquay 7s, UK Fiji 7s and our largest project, 100 World Rugby Legends, based in Scotland. It has chosen Gecko as its kit supplier for all events, including Dubai, UK and Thailand, which involves 100 test-capped players from all over the world playing to raise money for charity.’

Bob is also thrilled to report that GeckoSportswear has just opened its New Zealand and Spanish offices, also appearing in the magazine A Life in Spain, and is starting up training and match facilities, catering for those interested in all sports to come along, train and play fixtures in the sun. ‘We are involved with one of Spain’s largest tour organisers,’ says Bob, ‘and are excited about the future. With ever-growing numbers of rugby league and union teams blossoming in Spain, the country is keen to host any age, level or ability.

‘Life is good,’ Bob sums up. And who can argue with that? ‘Running GeckoSportswear doesn’t feel like work,’ he concludes. ‘I love every minute of it, and the future looks bright.’

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