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Behind the brand: The GB water polo player who moved into construction

The stories you don't know about some of the world's best and little-known brands

Watch: Meet the GB water polo player building construction growth

As a GB men’s water polo goalkeeper, Elliot McHugh knows all about strength, perseverance and holding fort in his position. McHugh also stands at 6ft 5in and now, alongside his pool exploits, he wants to scale new heights in the construction space.

It was while helping his father’s metal roofing business just before COVID and learning web design, that the Durham University graduate noted a gap in the e-commerce space, with one of their competitors turning over £150m.

From metal guttering, Trade Warehouse UK has now evolved from supplying construction materials to the trade, to providing regular consumers with their home and garden needs, and now has over 5,000 online products including cladding, fencing and decking.

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Trade Warehouse has managed to scale to over £1 million in turnover in just over a year, and McHugh has ambitions to turn the ecommerce brand into a multi-million pound business.

“I could see that people were moving away from buying in bricks-and-mortar stores and towards buying online,” he says. “So I set up Trade Warehouse UK and that built a number of relationships with suppliers across the UK as well as a customer base.”

Elliot McHugh focuses on another save with GB men's water polo. Photo: Supplied
Elliot McHugh focuses on another save with GB men's water polo. Photo: Supplied

“Repeat business and customer retention is important and building relationships is key for us to become a sole supplier of materials. The construction sector has been slightly slower to move online than, say, fashion and retail and that’s why I particularly like the niche.”

Water polo is also seen as a niche sport in the UK, while McHugh says that there are positives to be had playing elite sport and running his own business.

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“There's a lot of aggression in the sport and it's physically challenging,” says the 22-year-old. “Goalkeeping is all about high intensity in short durations. You need to be mentally strong, it’s psychologically tough and there are lots of goals.

“I can draw on that, and transfer that strength to business. In the game you have to persevere, be hard-working and I do like that. It’s a great release. At the end of the day I can be around my team-mates, do a hard session and maybe compete at the weekend or go abroad with GB at tournaments.”

Elliot McHugh trains seven days a week alongside his day job growing his construction ecommerce brand. Photo: Trade Warehouse UK
Elliot McHugh trains seven days a week alongside his day job growing his construction ecommerce brand. Photo: Trade Warehouse UK

McHugh started the sport aged 15 and has dealt with plenty of rejection in his bid to make the national team. He plays for the West London Penguins, one of the best clubs in the UK, trains at the Aquatics Centre in Stratford and tries to get into the water seven days a week.

The self-motivated McHugh is also an athlete who has to self-fund his way, while the sport has been boosted this month by GB women’s participation in a first world championships for more than a decade.

“There's a lot of parallels between sport and business and I try to bring these elements to business," he says, "so when I'm meeting a supplier or a customer, I will apply those leadership lessons on hard work and persistence.

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“Our mission is to be the go-to brand for construction materials in the UK. And so whether you're a homeowner, architect, developer, if you're in the market for building materials, we want to be that company to provide you with them. I really want to grow it into a 10, 20, £30m business.”

Behind the brand: Elliot McHugh on…

Entrepreneur resilience

“I think it's important to recognise that there are a lot of challenges that come with being an entrepreneur and doing your own thing. You know, I think these days with social media, we see this kind of ideal life online. You see influencers portray that life, but it's not all pretty like that. You know, I've had many failures and difficult moments along the way of growing the business.

Elliot McHugh first started the sport aged 15 and has experienced multiple rejection to realise his dream. Photo: Supplied
Elliot McHugh first started the sport aged 15 and overcame rejections to realise his dream.

You know, I remember the website went down and I was out. We lost about £7,000 in revenue in a day and it was really stressful. We also had one where a bot attacked the site and brought it down and I had to get like a cyber expert in and it's just those kind of stressful moments. And at the time I saw them as unfixable.

I think that the flexibility that an entrepreneurial life can offer you is really great. And it's given me so much and is transferable in a lot of what I do, particularly water polo. You know, I've represented Great Britain and England.”

Customer service

“It is a massive part of our business and I've really made that the core ethos of who we are. Customer service is just so hard to come by these days and we've got teams working overseas and also some customer service reps here in the UK. We're 100% transparent - if there is an issue with any order, we will always work to solve that problem.”

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