'We're not here to take part; we're here to take over...'
Dublin man Adrian Errity is a natural entrepreneur with a passion for the fight business and experience working with Ireland's top MMA fighters
Adrian Errity's Twitter bio ends with the following three words: "diversify or die". And it's a common business adage, signalling the peril of standing still in an ever changing market.
It is clear that this is a motto that the 28-year-old Dublin entrepreneur not only agrees with, but actively applies throughout his business endeavours on a daily basis.
From humble beginnings as the main supplier of specialist Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight gear and equipment to a number of gyms - including Conor McGregor's home stomping ground Straight Blast Gym (SBG) - Adrian has managed to ride the wave of MMA popularity, which has engulfed Ireland over the last five years.
After founding his own MMA gear brand SPARTATEN in 2012, Adrian initially began trading as online MMA gear store Shoptagon. A little over two years ago, however, Adrian was invited by SBG owner John Kavanagh to set up a shop premises in his new 10,000sqft facility on the Naas Road near Bluebell in Dublin. SBG's new location saw members quadruple within the first six months of opening - and led to SBG Dublin becoming widely recognised as the top MMA training facility in Europe.
"When you get an opportunity like that you just go with it," Adrian says. "I supplied the small shop SBG had in their office at the old gym on the Long Mile Road. So when they were moving I mentioned that I would be happy to supply them there as well - and John Kavanagh told me: 'You can have an actual shop in it.'
"I never had any plans to have the shop, it just happened to come up at the right time in the best place and I went with it."
The Shoptagon, which is located inside the SBG headquarters in Dublin is now Ireland's number one store for MMA gear, built inside a 20 foot MMA octagon and selling supplies for MMA, Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai enthusiasts. And Adrian has plans for further stores throughout Ireland in the not too distant future.
"Having the online shop made it a pretty natural step," Adrian explains of the move from the virtual marketplace into the physical world of trading. "All of my market research was done well ahead of time. So when I started up the shop in SBG there were no questions; I knew exactly what stock I needed and what we would need to cover one month's worth of trading - the knowledge was all there.
"I knew what would sell, so we could hit the ground running. Very quickly it went from being just a website I ran, to a proper business that pays me well and allows me to employ people - so it really is a good example of the speed and power of the MMA market over the last few years."
Adrian's interest in martial arts began when he got a job in a more traditional martial arts gear shop in Dublin city after finishing secondary school. A natural entrepreneur, Adrian sensed that the MMA market was about to kick into overdrive - and he wanted in on the action.
Over the last 20 years, MMA has gone from a sport, which few brands wanted to be associated with - such was the initial controversy surrounding the 'no rules' style violence and a peripheral, albeit dedicated group of followers - to a highly regulated and hugely popular, mainstream contest, thanks in no small part to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world's premiere mixed martial arts promotion company.
The UFC, which is based in Las Vegas, had been on the brink of bankruptcy before it was bought in January 2001 by Lorenzo Fertittas for $2m, who alongside his brother, Frank Fertitta III and UFC president Dana White, transformed the UFC from a business once labelled by US Senator John McCain as "human cockfighting", into not just a billion-dollar company, but a highly lucrative global sports and entertainment empire.
"I definitely had a headstart in the MMA business, well before it became as popular as it is now," Adrian says. "At the very beginning I didn't even like MMA, particularly the Jiu Jitsu, I only liked the boxing - but about 2010 a guy who I was working with started doing MMA and he got me into it then as well.
"Now I do Jiu Jitsu myself and I really love it. I may only do it on a low level, but it gives me a great insight into what products my customers need and what is good and what is bad because I try them out myself."
Adrian sources the majority of his products in Sialkot in Pakistan, a city famous for its manufacturing of sports products and the place where every MMA and boxing glove in the world originates from.
"At the very start, when I set up my own brand I went back and forth over samples with the factories until we had something really good," Adrian explains. "I got a small loan from my dad at that point to start up and I'm pretty sure he thought he was just giving that money away because he had no idea what was to come. Now everyone knows how big the MMA market is - both in Ireland and around the world - but the entire business was funded by that small loan from my dad, and then it quickly started paying for itself.
"I never went to college, I just finished school and started working in this martial arts shop in town, but I've always had a business mind. It's an instinct I think, and I've always had that. Even when I was a kid and I could see that MMA was going to be big," Adrian adds.
"I've always had an eye for business; when I was about 17, myself and another friend started up a business where we would buy old samurai swords that were made in China. We'd buy in a load of them and they would be in bits, so we'd do them up and sell them. That's how I first started making proper money - but that was back when you could buy them. They're actually illegal now, so that put an end to all of that."
However, from this point on Adrian became hooked on negotiating and making savvy business deals.
"I have an entrepreneurial spirit I suppose. I love it - it's not even about just making money to me, it's about making the deal happen," Adrian says. "It's not the actual amount of money you get, it's the fact that you can make that deal, get the money and move on to the next challenge. That's what I love."
Speaking of his next challenge, Adrian recently founded Silverback Sports Management, which represents a number of top MMA fighters including some of Ireland's most exciting up and coming fighters - Dylan 'The Nuke' Tuke, who competes in the featherweight division for the BAMMA promotion, and Irish UFC Flyweight Paddy 'The Hooligan' Holohan.
"My instinct has taken me from that shop I started working in, to starting my own brand, to my own shop and now into managing," Adrian explains. "Silverback Sports Management is a management company for MMA and boxing and it's come about again very naturally.
"When I began supplying SBG I became friends with Paddy Holohan and it just happened that for his first fight in UFC Dublin he had nobody to help him with the paperwork and sponsors and all of that stuff - and there is a lot that goes into a UFC fight behind the scenes - so I offered to help, and the management business just grew from there.
"We have four fighters already on the books, and this week alone we are looking at adding two more people," says Adrian, who has recently taken on a marketing officer for the company.
"This is the year that we will really expand Silverback Sports Management and Shoptagon too, everything has just aligned itself now perfectly; we are in a great position. The guys are my products with regards to the management side of things, and because MMA is so popular now they are not a hard sell. I know the industry really well too from all angles, which is a great advantage for them."
Adrian is keen to point out the integral role which Irish man Conor McGregor's success has played in creating a growing MMA industry - both here at home and internationally for Irish MMA-related businesses.
"Conor McGregor has created jobs for many people," Adrian says. "His impact really has been that great."
And with the UFC World Champion's last fight at UFC 194 in December enjoying a cool $10,100,000 gate - a record-breaking sum for a mixed martial arts event in the United States - the ripple effects certainly look set to continue.
Sunday Indo Business