Ballito businessman shares his passion
Johnny St Clair Gibson, 50, developed his online businesses www.homeimprovement4u.co.za and www.healthforyou.co.za in collaboration with Australian and South African partners over the past few years.
But last year he sold his shares to focus on Johnny G Marketing, his small business which develops and promotes sports events.
He started his business working alone from home on his laptop in November last year and in little over six months has grown the operation to employ five permanent staff and create a new local sports event, the Midlands Mountain Bike Stage Race in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
But St Clair Gibson is no newcomer to sports marketing. He has worked in key positions in top international firms, focusing on professional golf tournaments in Asia.
St Clair Gibson matriculated at Hilton College and trained as a lithographer while working for his father’s printing firm, Shave and Gibson.
His father sold the business and he then briefly ran his own firm, supplying materials to the printing industry, before travelling to Asia.
A friend working for a sports marketing firm on Asian Golf tours in Singapore convinced him to stay in that country. He landed a job as a gopher, carrying advertising boards for World Sport Group and within a year was made events director.
He was responsible for marketing over 50 Asian Tour and Professional Golf Association European Tour events between 1999 and 2004.
He then joined Parallel Media Group as vice president. The firm held commercial rights for five PGA European Tour and two Ladies’ European Tour events and was the promoter of the Malaysian leg of the A1 Grand Prix.
Other positions he held included senior events director for Asia Pacific for IMG, business development director at Total Sports Asia and vice-president of sales and marketing for the China Ladies’ Professional Golf Association. He has managed more than 120 professional golf tournaments and budgets exceeding $50 million a year.
When St Clair Gibson returned to South Africa in 2013 he collaborated with his partners to establish the home improvement and health websites and opened his sports marketing firm.
But it was only last November that he turned his focus fully to growing the latter. He organised the St Patrick’s Day Craft Beer and Gin Festival in Ballito in March and is working on a mountain biking race.
“I’ve done Sani2C a few times and, because of my sporting background, I can’t go to any sporting event without looking at it commercially,” he said.
“I worked out how successful it was and that sowed a seed in my head. I started to negotiate with my website partners to sell my share and go back into sports,” he said.
His intention was never to compete with big events but rather to target a niche market of riders who were looking for an affordable event.
“I needed to break down barriers to entry for mountain bike stage racing. A lot of people want to experience and enjoy mountain bike stage racing, but they can’t because it costs too much. I went and looked at a venue - Howick High School - where I could use existing infrastructure to save costs,” he said.
St Clair Gibson secured sponsors - Build It, Nashua and Coca-Cola - and reduced the team entry fee to R6 200.
But he also wants the race, which covers 56km, 55km and 50km through the Karkloof Trails, St Ives Trails, private farmland and nature reserves over three days, to be a family event. The race starts and finishes at the school every day.
“Mountain bike stage racing is usually an inherently selfish sport, where two guys go away for a weekend and spend R20000 of the family’s money, but I’m getting families together to come up to the bike race,” St Clair Gibson said.
Gavin Ryan, who is affiliated with Howick Trails, is building the route.
“I am the biggest sports fanatic. I mountain bike, play squash and have run marathons but I also love business and all the challenges sports marketing throws at me. My biggest thrill is when an event comes together,” St Clair Gibson said.
“I want to build my mountain bike race into a successful business entity that is financially independent so it’s a strong business model.”
His advice to young entrepreneurs with a bright idea?
“It’s a cliché, but what I have learnt is to have courage and just start because so many people say ‘I want to do this’ and just sit there.
“But don’t just throw money at something because you are over- excited about it: do your research, find out if it’s viable and think about how you are going to make it work.”