Welcome to our founder lessons series.
This week, Leigh Gray, Director and founder of BOFI Racing ( the home of performance and tuning parts for the Mazda MX-5) shares their success story and lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Tell us about BOFI Racing
Having officially only launched in 2018 – starting as a hobby between myself and two friends – BOFI Racing is now Europe’s largest supplier of performance parts for Mazda MX-5 cars. We are a ‘one stop shop’ to source all of the performance and tuning parts people might need for their Mazda MX-5 – from turbos and superchargers to rollbars and bucket seats. We hold 85 per cent of the items we sell in stock – but there are still specialist products we have to order in for people. We now process around 800 to 1,000 orders a month.
Why and how did you start your company
The seeds for the company were planted when in 2016 myself and two friends set up a blog around club level motorsports, with the aim of encouraging more people into the sport. Whilst it was just a hobby, we started selling t-shirts and stickers to help fund the running of the site. It was during this time that we spotted a gap in the market to become a ‘one stop shop’ for Maxda MX-5 parts – prompted mainly by our own frustrations trying to get hold of things! The existing purchasing process was really disjointed.
With my background in marketing, and Dan and James’ backgrounds in sales/project management and IT development, we had the complementary skills needed to cover off much of the creation of the initial business. At the time, we were set up to fulfil orders using dropshipping. Items were purchased from third parties and shipped directly to customers from the original source.
As business boomed and turnover reached £20,000 a month, in 2018 I took the plunge to become the company’s first full time employee, running things from my sofa. Dan followed in early 2019 and James in mid-2019. The company took its first office in Barnsley, which was quickly followed by a second premises as we started to hold stock for more popular items rather than dropshipping everything. In late 2019, BOFI relocated to Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, letting a 2,500 sq ft warehouse and office unit combined on an industrial unit.
What have been your biggest success factors
We found a niche which we knew would be successful and then we were lucky that between us we had very complementary skills to get the business up and running. At first we were able to do that alongside ‘day-jobs’ which gave us that reassurance of money coming in – but it was quickly obvious that wasn’t sustainable.
Once we gain a customer, we tend to keep them, we have a very loyal customer base, which is helpful. Customer service is of course key there. Over the last year we have made a significant investment into our warehouse, trying to stock as many items as possible and increasing warehouse staffing levels so items can be shipped quickly.
Extra customer service personnel have also been recruited. A bespoke order tracking system is currently being tested so customers can get real time updates on their orders, developed by my joint founder James. We want the experience to be as stress free for consumers as possible.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced launching and running the company
Covid came along of course – but actually, thankfully, it’s not been a huge problem. Many people turned to hobbies at home during the pandemic and some had more spare cash than before, which worked in our favour. But Brexit has caused significant problems for us in shipping parts to European customers.
Whereas before Britain left the EU 38 per cent of customers were from outside the UK, this has now dropped to 18 per cent. It is a really key market for us, so leaving the EU has hit us hard as a business. Our priority going forward is to solve the challenge that has given us and we’re having to look at all kinds of options. We’re lucky that despite Brexit and then Covid also causing supply chain issues, the last 18 months has seen the turnover grow dramatically.
Which do you think is most important: the right market, the right product, or the right team?
Is it a cop out to say all three have to be there? But particularly the right team and the right product. Owning a niche helps make marketing so much easier. But you’re never going to get anywhere without a team with the right skills to bring it to market. And it’s vital that team can communicate well with each other – particularly in a start up where there might only be a couple of you to bounce ideas around. We were lucky we found it easy to be very honest with each other, having been friends for a long time.
Final words for those chasing the startup dream
The idea for our company came from problems we experienced as consumers and as such it’s always something we’ve felt confident in and passionate about. Every penny we make is re-invested back into stock as our community demands quick access to the products they want – which as enthusiasts ourselves we completely understand.
People can tell this isn’t just a business to us and we still continue to share how to guides and our own experiences on the website – we’re real people to our customers, not just a company. People can see this is something we’re truly passionate about. We still find products which are new to us and sharing those with our customers gives us a real buzz.