All posts by Thomas Farrell

I run this website as a hobby, but feel free to contactontact me for research and copywriting services.

Aberlour 12 year old single malt

Tried Aberlour 12 year old single malt Scotch whisky last night for the first time.

Tasting notes: Sweet, mellow. Raisins and green apples on the nose. Also some oak and some bourbon.

Analysis: Not bad. It’s very drinkable as it’s very mellow. I knew to expect quite a bland whisky as it’s a Speyside. The bland sweetness of a Speyside has never really appealed to me. What’s the point of drinking something that tastes like bourbon, yet is more expensive? I like to drink a Scotch that you know is a Scotch and could never be anything else. The smoky, peaty Islay malts are my favourite, and my favourite Islay is Laphroaig.

What do you get from your buck then? Okay, I’ll admit, it’s smoother and less rough around the edges than Jack Daniel’s Black Label (the original version of Jack Daniel’s). With the raisin and apple notes, it’s similar to Famous Grouse. At the end of the day though, a good bourbon offers better value for money, and isn’t noticeably worse. To be honest, I think Aberlour is better suited as a component of a blended Scotch.

Bouncing back: Dunlop Slazenger

The Dunlop and Slazenger brands remain prominent in sporting goods, especially in racket sports such as tennis, squash, golf, badminton, hockey and cricket. It remains the largest British-owned sporting business.

Dunlop was established as a rubber goods company in 1889. In 1909, it moved into sporting goods when it began to manufacture twelve dozen golf balls a day at Manor Mill in Birmingham. In their first year, Dunlop balls won five of the major British golf tournaments.

From 1924 the company branched out into tennis balls, and from 1925, tennis rackets. The decade saw Dunlop established as a leading sporting goods supplier due to a mechanised production line, which reduced costs, as well as a strong commitment to research and development. It was considered the foremost manufacturer of golf balls.

Production of the golf balls was temporarily discontinued in 1941 due to war work and a lack of rubber supply. After the war, Dunlop transferred production to Speke, Liverpool, where it had leased a former aircraft factory.

Dunlop’s Fort Maxply tennis rackets were used by more than half of the competitors at Wimbledon in 1952.

In 1959, Slazenger, a major English sporting goods rival, was acquired. In 1960, exports by Dunlop Sport totalled £1.6 million.

In 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard used a Dunlop 65 ball when he played golf on the moon.

Production of rackets at Waltham Abbey in Essex fell prey to cheaper imports produced overseas, and the factory was closed in 1979, with production concentrated on the Slazenger site at Horbury in West Yorkshire.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the company was slow to see that wooden rackets were going the way of the dinosaur. Eventually, it started manufacturing the new lightweight graphite rackets, and wooden racket production ended in 1984.

From 1981 to 1988, Dunlop Sports sponsored John McEnroe in the most expensive tennis sponsorship deal in the world, worth $500,000 annually, plus commissions on McEnroe branded rackets.

More tennis Grand Slams have been won with Dunlop rackets than any other brand.

By 1982 Dunlop Slazenger had annual sales of £100 million, but it was struggling to remain profitable. In 1983 the company lost £6 million. Alan Finden-Crofts was appointed chief executive, and identified the company weaknesses as a local (as opposed to international) outlook, weak marketing and a lack of a global strategy. By 1986 he had turned around the company to make an annual profit of £16 million.

The Slazenger factory at Horbury, Yorkshire was closed in the late 1980s.

During the breakup of the Dunlop empire between 1996 and 1998, Dunlop Slazenger was sold to its management, backed by the private equity firm Cinven, for £330 million. Cinven sold Dunlop’s rights to the Puma sports brand in the UK back to its German parent. Cinven invested heavily into the business to make it profitable.

A large tennis ball manufacturing plant in Barnsley, Yorkshire was closed in 2002, and the machinery was shipped to a facility outside Manila in the Philippines. Token production in Germany and South Africa also ended, and the Philippine plant became the sole supplier of Dunlop Slazenger tennis balls. Due to Dunlop Slazenger’s high market share, the company estimated that 60 percent of the world’s tennis balls and 90 percent of squash balls were manufactured at the site.

Dunlop was producing around 250,000 golf balls every day by 2003.

Cinven sold the company to Sports Direct International for £40 million in 2004.

Sports Direct sold Dunlop Sport to Sumitomo Rubber Industries of Japan for £112 million in 2017. Sports Direct retained control of Slazenger, thus reversing the effects of the Dunlop Slazenger merger in 1959.

Guinness and the Sapeurs campaign

Image

The Sapeurs are incredibly interesting. It it the collective name for men in the African Congo who, amid all the dust and slums, spend all their spare cash on dressing like 19th century bohemian flaneurs. They are the Oscar Wildes of the Congo.

The men are courteous and civil gentlemen. What they do is essentially street theatre. The men light up people’s day when they see them. The Sapeurs claim that it is a form of escapism for a region that has been devastated by civil war. They aspire towards a better existence for their community.

The Sapeurs made me think about the importance of aesthetics, as a source of both escapism and aspiration. Some people say that Oscar Wilde was an elitist. I don’t think he was any more of an elitist than the Sapeurs.

Guinness have recently made a short documentary about the Sapeurs which I thought was really interesting.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CScqFDtelrQ&w=560&h=315]

Guinness are good at creating incredibly interesting advertisements. I have enjoyed the global; focus of their recent efforts. Recent ads have told interesting stories loaded with pathos in a subtle way so as not to make them cheesy, exploitative or overbearing. Here is the Guinness Sapeurs ad:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-3sVWOxuXc&w=560&h=315]

A history of Donnay Sports

Donnay is best known today as a cheap clothing brand available from Sports Direct stores.

Donnay_Logo_1

Founded in Belgium in 1913, Donnay became involved in sporting goods in 1934 when they began to manufacture wooden tennis rackets. Throughout the 1970s, Donnay was the world’s largest producer of tennis rackets.

From 1979 to 1983 Donnay was buoyed by its sponsorship of Bjorn Borg, the superstar tennis player of the era. As the company did not have a marketing manager until 1987, the company image during that era was very closely tied to Borg.

Donnay first ran into trouble in 1973 when Wilson Sporting Goods dropped the company as its contract tennis racket manufacturer in favour of cheaper production in Taiwan. The Wilson contract had accounted for 1.3 million rackets out of a total production figure of 2 million.

Donnay was also slow to make the switch from the increasingly obsolete wooden rackets to the lightweight graphite models. The company manufactured just 3,000 graphite rackets in 1980, against 1.8 million wooden rackets.

When Bjorn Borg retired from tennis in 1983, it was the final nail in the coffin for Donnay. The company had tied its fortunes too closely to a single figure, and had maintained production in Belgium whilst competitors moved production to the Far East. Its production line was ten times longer than rival manufacturers.

The company lost money every year after Borg’s retirement, until it declared bankruptcy in 1988. It was purchased by Bernard Tapie, a French singer turned businessman, who later acquired Adidas.

Tapie had a major success when he signed an 18 year old Andre Agassi between 1989 and 1992. Despite this, the company struggled to maintain profitability. The local government in Belgium acquired it to save it from bankruptcy in 1993. The factory in Belgium was closed down, and a company that had employed 600 people now employed 25 at a distribution centre. In 1996, Mike Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct, acquired the global rights to the brand for $3.9 million.

Ashley originally supported the brand as a leading tennis company. However in 2004, he acquired Dunlop Slazenger. Dunlop-Slazenger became the prestige tennis brand, and Donnay became the marque for cheap rackets and clothing.

Note: if it seems as if I just mined this from Wikipedia, I was myself largely responsible for writing the Wikipedia page as of 2014. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donnay_Sports)

A history of TGI Friday’s in the UK

TGI Friday’s was the world’s first international casual dining chain.

Whitbread was a large British brewer. The company had established the Beefeater restaurant chain in 1974. Eager to replicate this success, Whitbread experimented with a number of new restaurant concepts in the 1980s. A 50 percent stake in the British franchise for Pizza Hut from 1982 was to prove highly successful. The British franchise for Quick, a Belgian fast food chain, was acquired, but the concept quickly failed.

Whitbread opened the first TGI Friday’s in Britain in Birmingham in 1986. A former Wendy’s in Covent Garden, London was converted in 1987. The site enjoyed a £1 million makeover, and was an exact replica of the American model. Outlets were soon added in Fareham, Reading and Cardiff.292px-TGI_Fridays_logo.svg

TGI Friday’s was established as a singles bar on the east side of Manhattan by Alan Stillman, a young perfume salesman, in 1965. At the time, New York pubs and bars were aimed at men. Stillman redecorated the bar to make it brighter, cleaner and more domestic, in order to make it more attractive to women. Daniel R. Scoggin was a customer who recognised the franchising potential of the restaurant, and instigated the roll-out of the chain across the US.

TGI Friday’s was the first chain of themed casual dining restaurants. The flamboyant bartenders were the direct inspiration for the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail (1988), which was filmed in the original Friday’s. The restaurant claims to have invented loaded potato skins in 1974, and helped to popularise nachos. After a few years, the chain began to attract families, particularly during the daytime.

The chain was an instant success in Britain. Whitbread had insight into the mindset of the British public, and knew the local property market. The Covent Garden site was the busiest TGI Friday’s in the world by 1992, and reputedly the busiest restaurant in Europe. In one week, its 260 seats yielded a turnover of £180,000.

There were 12 sites in Britain by 1993, and the average annual turnover was £2.5 million. According to Sally Dibb and Lyndon Simkin, Friday’s altered the UK dining scene “beyond recognition” due to its vitality, enthusiasm and tight quality control standards. The company hired staff with extrovert personalities, and the restaurants provided a theatrical experience. From the beginning, TGI Friday’s was an early example of a company that tried to be “nice”, to treat its employees fairly and to be a good corporate citizen.

The chain grew to 41 outlets by 2004. At this time, Whitbread indicated that it would divest the chain if profits failed to improve. Sales remained disappointing throughout 2005. Whitbread sold the chain to the American parent company, Carlson, for £70.4 million in 2007. Whitbread felt that it had grown the chain as much as it could.

Wendy’s Hamburgers in the UK

Wendy’s is the third largest burger chain in the world, although the majority of its restaurants are in the US. It positions itself upmarket from McDonald’s and Burger King.

The first British outlet opened in London in 1980. For trademark reasons it was called Wendy, not Wendy’s. The operation was a joint venture between Wendy’s International and Grand Metropolitan, a large British hotels and brewing concern. An experienced local operator, Grand Met had already enjoyed great success with the Berni Inn casual dining chain in Britain. A flagship Wendy outlet was opened on Oxford Street. The idea was to target the over-25s market.

Grand Met exited the joint venture just a year after it entered it,  and Wendy’s International assumed full control of the British operations.

Wendy expanded to 16 restaurants. However, soaring rents at its central London sites left the company struggling to make a profit. The sites, all of which were located in London and the South East, were sold to Whitbread for £6.8 million in 1986. The majority of Wendy sites were converted to Quick, the Belgian fast food retailer.

Wendy’s returned for a second attempt at the UK market in 1992, with outlets at Shaftesbury Avenue and Oxford Street. Outlets were now known as “Wendy’s”, and featured salad bars. The company announced plans to expand to 70 sites across Britain. The initial expansion concentrated on London and West Yorkshire.

There were twelve restaurants by 1996, including eight company owned and four franchised. Wendy’s retreated from the British market for the second time in 2000. Some of its most prominent sites were taken over by McDonald’s, including Oxford Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, York Way near King’s Cross and Briggate in Leeds. Wendy’s blamed high property and operating costs for its failure in the British market.

The Fatty Arbuckle’s restaurant chain

Fatty Arbuckle’s was one of the largest casual dining chains in Britain during the 1990s.

The first Fatty Arbuckle’s was opened in Plymouth in 1983. The restaurant was co-owned by Liverpool-born friends Pete Shotton (1941 – 2017) and Bill Turner. Shotton had been a member of the Quarrymen alongside John Lennon (1940 – 1980).

The restaurant was modelled on American diners, and had a retro Hollywood theme. It was named after Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, one of America’s most successful silent film actors in the 1910s. There was a focus on large portions served on 13-inch plates.

A second restaurant was opened in Bournemouth in 1985. After Shotton and Turner met Adrian Lee and his wife, they offered them the job of running the Bournemouth outlet. Within three years, Lee was managing director of Arbuckle’s.

Each new Arbuckle’s outlet proved an immediate success. Franchise outlets were opened from 1991, which allowed the chain to rapidly expand to 22 restaurants by 1995. Arbuckle’s was the largest American-style restaurant chain in the UK by 1997, with 42 outlets.

Arbuckle’s, with its focus on beefburgers and steaks, was hit hard when a BSE-epidemic struck Britain in 1996. 70 percent of its sales had been burgers. Pete Shotton sold his majority stake in the business to the turnaround experts, Alchemy Partners, for £5 million.

Arbuckle’s peaked with 58 restaurants by 1999. “Fatty” was dropped from the name in 2000-2001 in order to appeal to health-conscious diners.

After making heavy losses, the company entered receivership with debts of £6.8 million in July 2000. A majority of the outlets had been heavily loss-making, and were immediately closed down.

The brand and ten outlets were acquired by the Noble House Group, headed by investor Robert Breare (1953 – 2013), for a rumoured £1 million. Breare was charismatic; a shambolic, hyperactive and disorganised man, who enjoyed living the good life. He was skilled at acquiring companies, but not so good at managing them.

The ten outlets were closed down in 2006. Two former managers acquired the rights to the name and opened a revamped Arbuckle’s at Downham Market in Norfolk in 2008.

I visited the Fatty Arbuckle’s at Teesside Park around 1998. The restaurant was fairly tacky and greasy. I had a burger and the food was good enough, if unsophisticated. It was fairly pricey for what it was, but the portions were ridiculously generous.

This sort of thing.

The American style restaurant is still represented in Britain by TGI Friday’s, Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito (Tex-Mex), but other American-style restaurant chains such as Henry J Bean’s and Old Orleans have closed down.

Central London rentals

Okay, so visited London for about a week. One thing really jumped out at me. In the provinces, Costa Coffee is by far the largest coffee shop chain, especially outside of the large cities. In London, I was astounded by the number of Starbucks in prime real estate locations. Costa takes smaller premises than Starbucks, on less prime real estate. And with the recent tax avoidance scandal that Starbucks UK was involved in, I can really believe that they don’t make any profit in the UK. I predicted that this was due to the high rentals that they were paying in central London. Turns out, I was right. I later found this from their website:

during our rapid expansion phase we positioned a high proportion of our efforts on prime, high street locations, and in particular in Central London where the cost of leasing is the highest in the UK. The result has been a group of stores that do not make money.

Yes, Starbucks are often full, but many of its customers seem to buy a £1.55 filter coffee and linger there half the day using the free WiFi to work. Costa avoided paying silly money for these sites because they are owned by Whitbread, masters of the UK property market. Whitbread’s knowledge of the market stems from decades of owning pubs, hotels and restaurants in the UK.

Recently, Starbucks has been closing down some of these unprofitable London sites, including three on Oxford Street. A recent report stated that the company was looking to close down 16 central London sites.

A company that avoided paying silly prices for central London sites was bakery chain Greggs. They have a mere handful of sites in the area. And it’s not as if they’re under-represented in outer London. Upmarket Wimbledon high street has two Greggs for example.

I find the Starbucks unprofitability case interesting, because I think people assume that when a brand is brash, bold, highly visible and obviously splashing the cash around, that it is successful. Another instance of this is the many incarnations of the Virgin brand: yes, there are some successful Virgin brands, but look at the high profile failures like Virgin Cola, Brides and Vodka.

The rise of J D Wetherspoon

JD Wetherspoon logo

J D Wetherspoon is a company that has been consistently innovative throughout its history. It has demonstrated a tendency to follow its own path, and has been willing to take innovative risks.

Tim Martin (born 1955), was born in Norwich, the son of an executive for Guinness.

Martin was a qualified barrister with no desire to practise. He had wanted to be a squash professional but that didn’t work out either.

Martin enjoyed a drink at Marler’s Bar in Muswell Hill, London. It was one of relatively few free houses in London at the time.

The proprietor, Andrew Marler (born 1953), had acquired the lease when it was a betting shop, and converted it into a bar. Martin entered into the lease with Marler from 1979.

The pub was renamed Wetherspoon’s from 1980, after a teacher of Martin’s who struggled to control his class. Sales were brisk, largely due to the fact the the pub was free to sell beers of its own choosing. Martin realised there was untapped demand for free houses.

Martin expanded his business by taking on debt. He opened his second pub in a converted car showroom at Crouch End in 1981.

J D Wetherspoon was incorporated in 1983. Martin was keen to expand the company, but was hampered by the lack of pubs on the property market at the time. As a result, he instead converted unconventional premises such as former banks, supermarkets, churches and cinemas. The company quickly gained expertise in securing drinks licenses for new premises and gaining planning permission.

The company grew with its standard offering of low prices, cask ale, and no music. Comparisons began to be made between the chain’s values and the ideal English pub as described by George Orwell. Whilst the similarities were initially coincidental, Martin consequently adopted Orwell’s template, and a number of outlets are named after Orwell’s essay title, The Moon Under Water.

J D Wetherspoon was floated on the stock exchange in 1992. By this time there were 44 pubs, all situated in London.

In 1993 the chain introduced its all day food menu, and dedicated one third of its pubs as smoke-free areas. Its new pubs were double the normal pub size, and had almost double the average turnover, although margins were lower.

In 1994, the Financial Times reported that the chain was selling Guinness stout at lower prices than the two major supermarkets, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

The chain had grown to 300 outlets by 1999. An advantage of converting former banks and supermarkets was that the company was able to significantly reduce its tax bill due to benefits from capital allowances. Its rate of corporation tax was three percent in 1998, and five percent in 1999. Therefore, Wetherspoon had a significant reason to expand its number of outlets, and it helps explain how and why the company expanded so quickly. The loophole was closed in 2001.

The company experienced its first major misstep in 2000, when it entered the Northern Ireland market for the first time. It was a serious instance of misjudgement of a local market. As Wetherspoon sells its beer so cheaply, it normally requests a discount from breweries. However, Guinness refused to discount their beer in the country, claiming that the Northern Ireland market had increased marketing, staff training and quality control costs. Therefore Wetherspoon did not stock Guinness, and as a result, nobody came to their pubs. The company then had to accept Guinness’ terms, or else risk utter failure in Northern Ireland.

By 2001, outlet sales were four times that of the average pub. That year, Wetherspoons began to wholeheartedly push its food offering, taking on the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s with its own range of coffees and burgers. Breakfasts were introduced, and the company became noted for its notably clean toilets.

In 2002, the company rolled out a second brand that it had acquired from Wolverhampton & Dudley. Called Lloyds No 1, it functioned as a Wetherspoons by day, but as a nightclub in the evening.

In 2005, the company banned smoking in all of its pubs, ahead of the smoking ban. In 2006, 9am openings and TVs (on silent) were rolled out across the chain. The company claimed that its coffee sales matched those of Caffe Nero, the coffee shop chain. By 2007, 50 percent of all sales were food related, influenced in part by the smoking ban.

In January 2009, in a notorious move, Wetherspoons introduced the recession-busting 99p pint. The beer offered was Greene King IPA. The brewer baulked at their main product being sold so cheaply, and the offer was switched to their lower profile Ruddles Best brand.

From April 2010, all pubs opened at 7am for the breakfast market.This was not altogether successful, and opening times have since largely been scaled back to 8am. Nevertheless, the company was second only to McDonald’s in the breakfast market.

In 2013, the company entered the Republic of Ireland. In the future, Martin remains keen to open outlets in France, having explored potential sites in Paris, Calais and Lille.

The rise of Jack Daniel’s

JackDanielsLogo

Jack Daniel’s was a small American regional brand through the 1950s and much of the 1960s. But it landed on the radar of Hollywood stars, including Humphrey Bogart’s Rat Pack. The famous, simple monochrome adverts were first introduced in 1954.

By 1980, 3 million cases were shipped. “Jack” has always been marketed as a premium product. Marketers remind us that the product is not bourbon, but “Tennessee whisky” that is filtered through maple charcoal.

Originally, there were two main Jack Daniel labels: black (the famous one) and green. Although both whiskies were aged for at least four years, Black Label had a higher ABV content of 45% versus Green Label’s 40%. Black Label was reduced to 43% in 1988. Green Label was later delisted, and Black Label was further reduced to 40% ABV. So Black Label essentially became Green Label, but with no corresponding price reduction!