CONCERNED that his single-minded focus on cracking it as a professional rugby player was turning him into a one-dimensional character, Marshall Sykes decided during lockdown that it was time to diversify, so he made the first steps to becoming Edinburgh’s answer to Willie Wonka. 

The 21-year-old second-row has, along with his girlfriend Lucy Fruin, set up a sweet supply business called ‘The Treat Plug’, which involves purchasing delicious sugary snacks wholesale and then making up packs to sell on to online customers. It is early days, but the enterprise if going well, and Sykes is hopeful that it could transform from side-line to career path when his playing days finally come to an end. 

“We were scheming how to get rich quick, so we thought we’d start punting some sweets,” he explains. “We’d been on Tik-Tok and seen that there are hundreds of these sweet companies, we knew someone whos had started one and been really successful with it, and we realised that there wasn’t really one in Edinburgh, so we thought why not give it a crack.  

“We put a pretty small initial investment into it and said: let’s see how this goes? We brought in all these sweets for the lads – a couple of kilos – and that went down a treat. The boys dropped it into their stories, it went really well, the food bloggers got hold of it, and it just kicked on from there.  

“We’ve gone from having around 50 kilos of sweets to 200 or 300 kilos in stock. It’s quite dangerous. We’re going to have to put a lock and key on it in the flat.  

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“We’ve got a website and you can either choose a pack that we’ve pre-made or assemble your own – like a selection box – which we’ll make up and mail out to you.  

“We’ve started trying to work with local rugby clubs as well, so Murrayfield Wanderers have just done a pack – we’ve got them picking up 22 bags of sweets tonight – and I’m going to contact a few more clubs. If anyone wants to punt some sweets to their rugby club then please get in touch.” 

He is one of a growing band of entrepreneurs in the Edinburgh squad. Pierre Schoeman is importing and supplying meat (sausage and biltong) through his ‘Proper Pioneer’ business, George Taylor’s ‘Up North Biltong’ enterprise is now in its fourth year and going strong, Hamish Watson has his ‘Rex Club’ headwear thing going on, while Damien Hoyland and Stuart McInally own ‘Ruck Coffee’. 

“Those guys have been really good,” Sykes continues. “I can just ask them questions about running a business. They are a bit older and wiser than me so that’s really helpful. And we’ve done a couple of little backhanders as well, swapping sweets for sausage. 

“It has given me the chance to be something more than just ‘Marshall the rugby player’. I’d been feeling quite guilty about that the last couple of years – rugby has been so consuming that I wasn’t very interesting to speak to – but now this has given me that extra thing. I’m ‘Marshall the rugby player’ and ‘Marshall the guy who punts sweets’. 

“It has been a real eye-opener. We’ve just moved flats and at the start we were quite slow at it, which meant we were up late trying to get everything done. So, we realised we had to get more efficient, and we’ve pumped quite a lot of money back into the business to get to the point now where we are now pretty efficient.  

“It’s taught me a lot already and we’re still just at the baby-steps stage. If it is something I could scale up and do it on a larger scale around Scotland or the UK, that’s not bad as a back-up plan.” 

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While the business has been a helpful diversion for Sykes it doesn’t seem to have impinged on his rugby development. Having transferred from an academy contract at Glasgow Warriors to a full-time deal with Edinburgh last summer, the former Scotland Under-20s star had to bide his time this season before finally getting a run of games during this Rainbow Cup campaign, but he has not looked out of place during the three starts and one bench appearance he has had during the capital club’s last four outings. 

“It’s been a step up but the bit I’m happy with is the fact I’m starting to see improvements in myself,” he says. “It’s a bit of a bummer that it’s coming to an end when I’m playing more but it gives me time to get refreshed and get myself in check in pre-season.”