In conversation with... Rich Energy CEO William Storey
The Haas Formula 1 team sprung a surprise last week by announcing British energy drink company Rich Energy as a title partner for the 2019 season. It is the first time that the team has taken on a title partner, marking a deviation from its previous strategy, while it confirmed the involvement in Formula 1 of a company that had previously attempted to acquire Force India and had been spotted in negotiations with other teams.
Rich Energy’s actual product has been shrouded in a degree of mystery, with the can rarely – if ever – spotted in public, and the small nature of the company leading to questions over its viability as a Formula 1 title sponsor. But as CEO William Storey explained in an interview with Motorsport Week, Rich Energy’s desire to break into Formula 1 is about giving it the platform to grow brand awareness.
“The first point obviously is we are a British premium competitor to Red Bull and therefore our whole brand ethos is around premium British performance,” Storey explained.
“Obviously from a marketing perspective we’re very pleased, we’ve got a wonderful product and a wonderful brand, but you need more than that, you really need to become a household name if you’re going to compete in terms of sales volumes with the big corporates.
“From a marketing activation perspective we’ve spent the last three years doing lots of stuff in boxing, we’ve done some stuff in motorcycling, various extreme sports, we’ve had quite a few World Champion ambassadors. All sorts of different activations building the brand. We’ve had some degree of success, our volumes are on a very, very strong upwards curve, but to take it to the next level to seriously compete with Red Bull and Monster on an international basis we need to do something that gets us to that household name status.
“There are a variety of options on that. For example we could be on the shirts of a Premier League (football) club, we could do stuff in other sports, but we think given that we’re about premium performance, there’s nothing better that fits our brand than motorsport, and there’s nothing better in motorsport than Formula 1. It is the pinnacle. If we’re going to be a serious player then we have to be competing at that top level.”
Storey, whose Rich Energy company is named after the West London district of Richmond, with the horned logos a nod to the deer that roam nearby parks, was initially seen striving to take on a major role with the Force India team. The squad’s perilous financial position left it hanging on the edge prior to Formula 1’s summer break. It tactically entered administration and was acquired by the Racing Point group led by Lawrence Stroll, enabling it to continue competing in the sport, though the convoluted nature of the takeover meant it arrived in Belgium as a late new entry. Storey’s group was one of the interested parties whose attempt ultimately proved fruitless.
“We were actively looking to buy Force India and that’s something we were working on for seven or eight months, at least, and we came extremely close,” explains Storey. “We actually went to sign the contract to buy the team with Vijay Mallya. That was the night before the day it went into administration. And what was interesting was actually Mallya’s lawyers told him not to sign! There’s an awful lot of stuff that went on around that that we weren’t delighted about but it is what it is. I think what I can safely say without being controversial is once it went into administration we’d lost. To put it in those terms. Up until then we really felt we were front-runners to get it.”
Rather than become dissuaded, Storey remained determined to get his brand involved in Formula 1.
“We spoke to a number of different teams, all of whom were extremely professional and extremely impressive in their own way,” he comments. “And obviously gave us various different ideas, all of which were extremely good, and we felt for a variety of different reasons when we analysed it Haas were number one. To start [with] they’re a similar age to us, they’ve only been in Formula 1 three years, we’re a young company. We feel there’s a lot of synergy between our organisations, they’ve got a very similar approach to business, they're very efficient, very hardworking, have smart people there, and they’re taking on the big brands in Formula 1. We got on extremely well with all the main protagonist and characters at Haas, we were very impressed with them. We felt the deal with them was superior by pretty much every metric to the alternatives. Obviously we’ve given it a great deal of thought, but we’re very, very happy to be working with Haas, they’re a fantastic team that’s only going one way.”
When pressed on those negotiations with other squads, a coy Storey explains that “all the deals were very attractive and every team that we spoke to put together a compelling proposition. It was really picking something that was better than a lot of good options, if that makes sense.”
One over-riding question on social media has been where the product can actually be purchased, with many pointing out that they had never seen it anywhere they had been. What does Storey have to say? “We’re currently available in 30 countries, so we have distributors in 30 countries, including Australia, the US, Scandinavia, Ireland, also small markets like Malta or Gibraltar, where we’re rapidly becoming number one.
“In the UK at the moment there’s about 4,000 outlets.
“Those include hotels, bars, pubs, casinos, petrol stations, wine shops, and obviously you can buy us online on Amazon and on our website. Our distribution is increasing very, very significantly.
“One of the things that’s interesting is people have said ‘well how can a company that’s only three years old be in this sort of position?’ And obviously we’re a little bit unorthodox, but we’re very, very innovative.
“It’s the perfect timing for us to get into F1. In the UK [we have] 4,000 outlets, which is growing rapidly and we’re just about to announce significant partnerships with some of the biggest names in the high street.”