Anyone who recalls Andy Hazell from his playing days at Gloucester Rugby will know he never did anything by halves; it was all in – an approach that won him more caps than any other player who wore the cherry and white jersey, plus England appearances.
While plenty of former players use their celebrity to forge post-playing careers, Hazell, whose name was probably worth its weight in gold on his retirement in 2014 after 268 first XV games, did the exact opposite and started another brand entirely – his home entertainment business Smart Home Sounds.
Attractive coaching jobs in rugby did beckon, but he was committed to his a new challenge – and it is now looking like that brave move was a very, very good decision indeed.
Another trait familiar to those who followed his days at Kingsholm is Hazell's unflinching honesty, which has also made its way into the DNA of Smart Home Sounds, which is also a sponsor of the SoGlos Gloucestershire Lifestyle Awards 2023.
'I was never in Waitrose in Cheltenham on a Sunday hiding, like some of the players,’ he said, with a mischievous grin. ‘I was in Tesco in Gloucester and if I met any fans and we had had a bad game, they could see I felt it too and I wanted to be able to hold my head up.’
Today Hazell, now 44 years old, is still facing the music, albeit through the very best tech you can buy - and the business he founded after spotting the then little-understood potential for multi-room smart speakers (in particular the Sonos brand) can’t seem to stop growing.
‘We were turning over about £1 million a year until I went full-time, then about £3 million for a couple of years, then £4 million and in 2021 we reached £5 million, which for us was massive.
‘This year we predict £10 million,' said Hazell.
Aladdin’s Cave of tech, which is housed inside a £1 million showroom at Triangle Park on Metz Way, includes everything for the ‘audiophiles’ who follow the firm; from Sony
televisions to die-for to surround sound speakers, sound bars, turn tables,
home cinema kit, and gaming merchandise primarily for fans of the PS5, PS4,
Nintendo Switch, Xbox.
There's also an extensive choice of gaming merchandise primarily for fans of the PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox.
One other focus he has brought with him from his sporting days - and that he seems most proud of - is his team, of which Emily Phillips is perhaps the most front-facing, not least because of her appearances on the company’s hugely successful YouTube channel.
A graduate of the University of Birmingham who started helping out when the business was in its infancy, Phillips now helps shape key decisions as Smart Home Sounds' head of marketing.
Just as he spotted the potential of Bluetooth technology, Hazell was also ahead of his time in seeing the potential of social media video channel YouTube as a shop window, before the approach became commonplace. From those experimental early days, his channel is now a slick operation with skilled, knowledgeable presenters that has cultivated a passionate and engaged audience of around 84,000 followers.
It is a major sales driver, but in typical fashion, Hazell remains open, honest and also modest about a journey he could easily dress up as a very well-thought-out plan.
‘A lot of the time we have just run at things again and again, trying everything until it works and then honing that. Some of our early videos really weren’t that good,' he said.
The company now has a purpose-built studio, a regular posting schedule and a valuable database through which it keeps members up to date with offers and Black Friday prices ahead of the rest.
Beside a home entertainment racing game in the corner of the office and showroom stands a scoreboard of the fastest laps which the astute will spot as the only link to his former career. It features other ex-Gloucester Rugby stars like Mike Tindall, who remains good friends of the former flanker.
If the company's previous performance and future potential is anything to go by, Hazell's illustrious sporting career may only have been the first half, as Smart Home Sounds continues to go from strength to strength.