Category Archives: Leisure

Pitch perfect: a history of Mitre

Mitre is one of the largest football manufacturers in the world.

Early history
Benjamin Crook (1764 – 1834) traded as a currier, a worker in the leather industry who applies the finishing techniques to tans, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Crook established his own tannery in Huddersfield from 1817.

His son, Benjamin Crook Jr (1809 – 1883), was a currier at Bradleys Buildings, Huddersfield by 1841. Benjamin Crook Jr relocated his currying business to Fitzwilliam Street and employed three men by 1851. Footballs were produced from 1862.

Benjamin Crook Jr died in 1883, and the business was continued by his sons, George Henry Crook (1842 – 1901), and Frederick Crook (1852 – 1912).

Following the death of Frederick Crook in 1912 it appears that William Clifford Crook (1884 – 1959), the son of George Henry Crook, took control of the business.

Mass production
During the First World War Benjamin Crook & Sons produced leather ammunition pouches for the British army, and haversacks for the French army.

Benjamin Crook & Sons held perhaps ten to 20 percent of the British football market by 1922. One of its major competitors was Sykes of Horbury.

Benjamin Crook & Sons had become a limited company by 1926. About 140 people were employed at the factory. Tens of thousands of footballs were produced every year, and three footballs a minute were produced during the working day.

Demand boomed during the post-war period. The Mitre brand was introduced for footballs from 1949.

William Clifford Crook died in 1959.

Sale of the company
Grampian Holdings, a Glasgow-based conglomerate, acquired Benjamin Crook & Sons for nearly £195,000 in 1962.

Mitre provided the official ball for the England national team from 1962.

Mitre entered the football boot market from 1966.

Mitre relocated to the Bay Hall Works in Birkby, Huddersfield from the late 1960s.

Mitre became the official football of the English Football League from the 1970s.

Mitre enters the United States market and is acquired by Genesco
Mitre began to develop the United States market from 1975.

Genesco, a Tennessee-based manufacturer of footwear and clothing, acquired the licence to sell Mitre clothing and equipment throughout North America from 1981.

Mitre closed two factories due to economic recession in 1981, one in Northampton with 80 employees, and one in Kettering with 38 workers. A reduction of orders saw the Huddersfield site staff downsized from 300 to 213.

United States sales of Mitre products increased from $1 million to $25 million between 1984 and 1989. Mitre became the leading supplier of football boots in the United States, with a 35 percent market share in 1989.

Genesco acquired Mitre for £17 million in 1992. Genesco hoped to capitalise on the increasing popularity of football in America during the 1994 World Cup.

Mitre was one of the leading suppliers of footballs and football boots in the world by 1995, and the leading football and football boot supplier in the UK. Mitre was also a leading supplier of rugby and cricket footwear.

The Sunday Times reported in May 1995 that Mitre footballs were being stitched by children as young as six in Pakistan, at a rate of 10p per hour. The newspaper described the work as “a modern form of slave labour”.

Duncan Bembridge of Mitre responded swiftly:

Mitre Sports International do not condone in any form the use of child labour. Agreements with our factories in Pakistan clearly state our policy and we have written assurances that child labour is not being used to stitch Mitre balls.

As a father, and a director of a highly principled international company, I am totally committed to stamping out child slavery.

Acquisition by Pentland Group
Genesco entered into financial difficulty, and sold Mitre Sports to Pentland Group for $11.4 million (£7.2 million) in 1995. Pentland announced plans to increase marketing spend behind the brand and improve international distribution.

Mitre lost the prestigious contract to supply the Premier League football to Nike in 2000.

After 44 years, the England football team switched from Mitre to Umbro footballs from 2006.

Mitre has continuously provided the official match balls for the English Football League since 1962. Its is currently contracted to continue to do so until at least 2019.

Mitre ranked among the largest football manufacturers in the world as of 2019. Its major rivals in this field are Adidas, Nike, Puma, Asics, Mizuno and Umbro.

Taking umbrage: a stripped down history of Umbro

Umbro became the leading soccer brand in the world.

The Humphreys brothers establish the Umbro brand
Harold Charles Humphreys (1902 – 1974) was born at Mobberley in Cheshire, the son of a house painter. He found work as a salesman for Bukta, a football kit manufacturer.

Predicting that football kit sales would continue to grow, Humphreys entered into the sportswear retail business for himself from 1920. He was joined by his brother, Wallace James Humphreys (1900 -1950), and the firm traded as Humphreys Brothers.

Harold Humphreys (1902 – 1974). Image courtesy of Umbro

Harold Humphreys initially operated the business from rooms above a pub that his parents managed in Mobberley.

The Umbro brand was introduced from 1924, with the name derived from a portmanteau of Humphreys Brothers. Clothing manufacture was originally subcontracted, but growing sales saw an Umbro factory established from 1930.

Wallace Humphreys (1900 – 1950). Image courtesy of Umbro

Umbro kits were worn by both teams at the Wembley finals in 1934.

Umbro manufactured military uniforms and Lancaster Bomber aircraft interiors during the Second World War.

Umbro manufactured the England international kit from 1952.

Roger Bannister (1929 – 2018) wore Umbro clothing when he ran the first ever sub-four minute mile in 1954.

Umbro began to outfit overseas international teams from 1958. When Brazil won the World Cup that year, they were kitted out in Umbro clothing.

The second generation takeover the business
Umbro was being managed by the two sons of Harold Humphreys by the early 1960s: John Humphreys (1929 – 1979) and Stuart Humphreys (1931 – 2005). John Humphreys took the managerial lead at the business.

Umbro won a 25-year contract as sole distributor of Adidas products in Britain in 1961. Adidas was the largest manufacturer of soccer boots in the world, but this was its only manufacture, so there was no conflict of interest.

Umbro entered its peak in 1966, when it kitted out 15 out of 16 teams in the World Cup Finals.

A factory had been established at Wilmslow, Cheshire, by 1967.

Distribution of Adidas footwear and clothing had become the largest source of income for Umbro by the early 1970s.

Umbro supplied the football kits to all 16 teams in the World Cup Finals in 1974.

The England international football team switched their kit manufacturer to Admiral, who had made a superior cash offer, in 1974.

John Humphreys died in 1979. His unexpected death affected corporate development. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy, with short-time working, redundancies and factory closures.

Arnold Copley, a former partner at Price Waterhouse, the accountancy firm, was appointed chief executive of Umbro from 1982. He initiated a corporate revival by entering the leisurewear market and boosting the marketing budget.

A new factory was established at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, in 1984.

Umbro regained sponsorship of the England international football team kit from 1984.

Copley retired in 1985.

Meanwhile, Adidas had entered the leisurewear market, which resulted in increasing conflicts of interest with Umbro, so the distribution contract was ended in 1986. The termination of the contract gave Umbro free reign to enter into the footwear market.

Umbro employed 650 people at factories in Macclesfield, Ellesmere Port and Wilmslow by 1985. Umbro was the largest sportswear manufacturer in Britain.

Umbro was the market leader in football kits in the United States by 1990.

Umbro produced kits for half of the Premier League teams by 1992.

Umbro is acquired by Stone Manufacturing
Umbro was acquired by Stone Manufacturing, its United States franchise holder, for £2.9 million in 1992. The increasing cost of club sponsorship saw Umbro abandon its interests in squash and rugby in order to focus solely on football.

A slump in sales saw Umbro enter into cash flow problems. It sold its factories at Macclesfield and Stockport, with the loss of 146 jobs, in 1992.

Umbro employed nearly 700 people across two factories in South Carolina by 1994.

The death of Eugene Stone in 1997 left the remaining family members conflicted regarding the future direction for Umbro. Phenomenal growth left capital stretched.

Several cost-saving measures were introduced in order to stave off bankruptcy in 1998. Most of the United States workforce were made redundant. The remaining English factories at Wythenshawe, Ellesmere Port and Biddulph were closed, with production relocated to the Far East and Europe. Headquarters were relocated to Cheadle in Greater Manchester.

Subsequent ownership
Umbro was sold to Doughty Hanson, a private equity group, for £90 million in 1999.

Under new ownership, Umbro underwent a remarkable turnaround. The Wythenshawe factory was closed in 1999, and manufacturing was outsourced to China and Hong Kong. The Umbro brand was repositioned to focus solely on football.

Umbro was acquired by Nike for a generous £285 million in 2008 in order to build its presence in the football market. At the time Umbro was the leading supplier of soccer clothing in the world, and the third largest supplier of branded athletic apparel in the United Kingdom.

Nike unsuccessfully attempted to impose its own manufacturing and sales logistics onto Umbro. Nike executives struggled to understand the niche company, and the business was sold to Iconix Brand Group for £137 million in 2012.

England football kit sponsorship was switched to Nike from 2013.

Running the show: Reebok

J W Foster & Sons produced some of the most highly-regarded running shoes in the world in the 1920s. Rebranded as Reebok, its fashion shoes became highly successful in the 1980s.

J W Foster & Sons
Joseph William Foster (1881 – 1933) was a cobbler and keen amateur runner. He developed a spiked running shoe in 1895.

Foster began to manufacture shoes for other runners, and established a shoe manufacturing business at 57 Deane Road, Bolton from 1900.

The business was trading as J W Foster & Sons by 1910. This was presumably an attempt to make the firm seem larger or longer-established than it really was, as his sons at the time were eight and four years old.

Production switched to army boots during the First World War.

Foster’s running shoes were the elite athletic item of their era. A large number of professional athletes used his shoes.

J W Foster & Sons advertised that 90 percent of English and Scottish football league clubs used their shoes by 1922. The firm also supplied the 1924 British Olympic track team.

J W Foster & Sons advertised itself as the oldest manufacturer of entirely handmade running shoes in the world by 1926.

C Ellis broke the one mile running record wearing Foster’s shoes in 1928. Percy Williams (1908 – 1982) used Foster’s shoes to win the 100m and 200m races at the 1928 Olympic games.

Joseph William Foster died in 1933 and left an estate valued at £5,598. His two sons, John William Foster (1902 – 1960) and James William Foster (1906 – 1976) took over the business.

Army boots were produced during the Second World War.

Reebok is established; expansion in North America
German rivals Adidas and Puma began to entered the athletic shoe market from the post-war period, with lower-cost and more effective models.

The founder’s grandsons, Joseph William Foster (born 1935) and Jeffrey William Foster (1933 – 1980), entered into the business during this period.

After returning from national service, the two brothers became frustrated at their fathers’ lack of vision. The business was not adapting to their rivals, and did not pursue sales or overseas markets.

The two brothers broke free from their fathers, and established Reebok at Bury in 1958 in order to manufacture their own athletic shoes. Joseph William Foster was the chairman and managing director.

The Reebok brand was well known throughout the North West of England by the 1970s.

Following the death of James W Foster in 1976, J W Foster & Sons was absorbed into Reebok.

A new footwear range was introduced in 1978: the Aztec trainer, the Midas racing shoe and the Inca spiked track shoe. All three products received a five-star review in Runner’s World, an influential American magazine.

Joseph Foster sold the American sales rights for Reebok to Paul Fireman (born 1944), an affable and easygoing outdoor equipment marketer, for $65,000 in 1979.

Assembly of Reebok shoes was transferred to South Korea, where production costs were lower, from 1980. Shoe components continued to be manufactured in the original factory in Bury.

Reebok registered United States sales of around $300,000 in 1980.

High demand saw Reebok USA suffer from cash flow problems. Stephen Rubin (born 1937) acquired 55 percent of Reebok USA for $77,500 in August 1981. Rubin contributed knowledge of the sports shoe market, and experience with Asian outsourcing.

Reebok identified the growing market for aerobics, and launched two shoes, Freestyle and Energizer, in 1982. Total US sales had climbed to $12.9 million by the end of 1983. Meanwhile, Nike was suffering a downturn, which allowed Reebok to flourish.

A 1985 advertisement for the Reebok Freestyle

Reebok International and Reebok USA merged in April 1984. Stephen Rubin maintained his 55 percent stake and was named chairman of Reebok International. Paul Fireman was named President and CEO of Reebok International, and held the remaining 45 percent share.

Reebok headquarters were relocated from Bolton, England to Avon, Massachusetts. The site had 52 employees. The relocation was based on the fact that most Reebok sales were in the US.

Warehouse and office facilities were maintained in Bolton, and Joseph Foster remained President of Reebok International.

In 1984 all the lasts, dies and markings were made in England. Research and development took place in England and South Korea.

Reebok becomes a public company; acquisition by Adidas
Stephen Rubin took Reebok International public in 1985. Sales for that year totalled over $300 million.

Reebok overtook Nike as the largest athletic shoe manufacturer in the United States in 1986. Growing sales saw the head office relocated from Avon to Canton.

The British factory was relocated from Bury to Bolton in 1986.

Rockport was acquired for $118.5 million in cash in 1986.

Nike reclaimed its position as the largest athletic shoe manufacturer in the United States from 1988.

Reebok International was the most profitable company in the United States, based on return on equity, by the late 1980s.

Joseph Foster retired as President of Reebok International in 1990, but remained in a consultancy position.

The cost-conscious Rubin clashed with Fireman, who argued for lavish marketing campaigns. Rubin sold his stake in Reebok for $770 million in 1991.

Reebok controlled around one fifth of the worldwide athletic shoe market in the first half of the 1990s.

Reebok International registered sales of $3 billion in 1996. Its products were sold across 170 different countries.

Reebok was acquired by Adidas for £2.1 billion (US$3.8 billion) in 2005.

Adidas closed down the Reebok head office in Bolton in 2009, ending the brand’s association with its home town.

Joseph Foster stepped down from his consultancy position in 2015.

Adidas underinvested in the Reebok brand. Joseph Foster remarked:

there is no doubt that Adidas knew exactly what it needed to do to grow Reebok, but doing so would have affected their own brand. I can’t say it is wrong when a company that pays $3.8 billion makes those decisions. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune.

Adidas sold Reebok to Authentic Brands for $2.5 billion in 2021. Reebok controlled less than two percent of the global athletic shoe market.

Holding court: Slazenger

This is the story of how Slazenger became the largest manufacturer of tennis balls in the world.

Ralph Slazenger (1844 – 1910) was born in Warrington to a family of German Jewish origin. He attended Manchester Grammar School and Forster’s College in Cheetham before joining the family firm of tailors in Manchester.

The Slazenger & Sons name was introduced from 1876. Athletic clothing was produced from 1877.

Ralph Slazenger relocated with his brother Albert Slazenger (1857 – 1940) to 56 Cannon Street, London from 1879. The firm began to produce sporting equipment from around this time.

Following the move to London, Ralph Slazenger renounced his Judaism and converted to the Anglican faith.

Slazenger tennis balls were used at the largest tournaments in England and Scotland by 1888.

British businesses controlled practically all of the European tennis equipment market by 1889.

Ralph Slazenger retired in 1901, leaving sole control of the firm with his brother Albert.

The Slazenger lawn tennis ball became the official ball of the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament from 1902. The association continues to this day, and is the longest continually-running sporting sponsorship in the world.

Archdale Palmer (1865 – 1950), secretary of the All England Club, Wimbledon, was appointed general manager of Slazenger from 1905.

The Wimbledon tennis tournament was won with Slazenger rackets 16 times between 1890 and 1910.

Ralph Slazenger was an extremely popular and likeable man. He was a keen contributor to many charitable organisations. He died in 1910, and his gross estate was valued at £56,137.

Slazenger & Sons was registered as a public company, Slazengers Limited, with a capital of £265,000 in 1911. It was the largest manufacturer of lawn tennis balls in the world.

A factory was established in Australia in 1922. A factory was established in Toronto, Canada in 1924.

Dunlop Rubber, another large manufacturer of sporting goods, discussed a possible takeover of Slazenger in 1927, but ultimately nothing came of it.

The acquisition of H Gradidge & Sons of Woolwich in 1931 gave Slazenger entry to the cricket bat and golf club markets.

Fred Perry (1909 – 1995) exclusively used Slazenger rackets throughout his career, and was sponsored by the company from 1935.

A factory had been established in France by 1935.

The Slazenger factory at Woolwich was the largest tennis ball producer in the world by 1936. Slazenger was the leading tennis racket manufacturer in the world by 1937.

Slazenger established a factory at Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex in 1939.

Albert Slazenger died in 1940. His estate was valued at £444,263, and the bulk of it went to his son, Ralph Chivas Gully Slazenger (1914 – 2006). Archdale Palmer succeeded him as company chairman.

During the Second World War almost all production was dedicated towards producing goods for the war effort. However much of the London production facilities were destroyed during the Blitz. Alternative factories had to be found quickly to fulfil existing war contracts.

To gain factories quickly, Slazenger acquired William Sykes Ltd, a cricket bat manufacturer with a site at Horbury near Wakefield, and a controlling interest in Ayres Sports Goods, with expertise in badminton, in 1942.

A former war factory at Barnsley was also acquired in 1945, to establish a manufacturing centre for tennis balls.

After the war the Horbury site was modernised and extended. Slazenger closed its London factories in 1946 and concentrated production at Horbury, with 700 employees, and Barnsley, with a workforce of 200. As Barnsley had not yet reached full production, it was announced that a further 600 people would be employed. W S Dunning, the managing director of Slazengers, proclaimed that, “Yorkshire will soon be producing the bulk of the world’s sports equipment in the world’s most up-to-date plant”.

A significant proportion of production was exported by the 1950s.

Slazenger was acquired by Dunlop Rubber in an exchange of shares which valued the company at over £1.35 million in 1959.

Carlton Sports of Saffron Walden, Essex was acquired in the 1960s.

The Slazenger panther motif was introduced from 1963.

The footballs for the World Cup finals in 1966 were made by Slazenger at Horbury. The Slazenger ball was chosen amidst competition from eight other manufacturers.

The Slazenger football for the 1966 World Cup

Horbury was the largest factory of its type in Europe by 1983. However, manufacturing at Horbury ended in the late 1980s.

Dunlop Slazenger was sold to its management for £300 million in 1996. It was the leading producer of tennis balls in the world, and employed 3,000 people.

The Dunlop Slazenger golf division factory at Normanton, near Wakefield, was closed in 2000 with the loss of 69 jobs. Production was relocated to the United States.

The Barnsley factory was closed in 2002 with the loss of 134 jobs. Production was relocated to Bataan in the Philippines, with a location closer to the source of rubber, and also lower labour costs. The felt coating for the balls is produced in Stroud, Gloucestershire, using imported New Zealand wool.

Sports Direct acquired Dunlop Slazenger for £35-40 million in 2004.

A history of Thomas Cook & Son (1841 – 1972)

Thomas Cook & Son pioneered popular tourism, and has ranked among the largest travel agencies in the world for much of its history.

Thomas Cook
Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was born in modest circumstances in Melbourne, Derbyshire. He was raised as a New Connexion Baptist. Thomas Cook was just four years old when his father died.

Cook went to work as a gardener in Melbourne from the age of ten. His employer was a heavy drinker, and Cook noticed the detrimental effect this had on his business.

Cook was apprenticed to a wood turner in Market Harborough, Leicestershire from the age of 14. He would sometimes begin work at two or three o’clock in the morning so that he could finish work early and indulge in his passion of angle fishing in the River Trent.

Cook did not complete his apprenticeship, and instead went to work for a printer and publisher in Loughborough. His employer was a keen Baptist. Cook was engaged as a Baptist preacher from 1828.

Cook entered into business for himself from 1832, as a wood turner and cabinet market in Market Harborough. Cook became closely associated with the temperance movement from this time.

Cook organised an excursion from Leicester to Loughborough for 570 temperance supporters in 1841. It was the first time a British train had been chartered by a member of the public.

Cook relocated to Leicester later in 1841, where he worked as a printer and publisher.

Meanwhile, his travel agency business continued to grow. 300 people were taken to Scotland in 1846.

Statue of Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) in Leicester

The growth of the railways had made travel more affordable, and Thomas Cook was quick to identify and exploit this potential market.

The Great Exhibition was held in London in 1851, and Cook arranged for 165,000 people to visit the capital. Profits were such that Cook was able to abandon the printing trade at this stage in order to devote himself to his travel agency business.

John Mason Cook
John Mason Cook (1834 – 1899), son of Thomas Cook, was appointed head of a new office at Fleet Street, London from 1865. An energetic man, he made an immediate impact, and the subsequent growth of the business was due as much to the son as the father.

John Mason Cook entered into full partnership with his father from 1871, and the firm became known as Thomas Cook & Son, with an invested capital of over £250,000.

Formerly the Thomas Cook head office in Leicester
The former Thomas Cook head office in Leicester

Business saw J M Cook travel an average of 50,000 miles a year between 1855 and 1873.

Thomas Cook retired in 1878, and John Mason Cook took full control of the firm.

Under the leadership of John Mason Cook, the business continued to expand until it had 84 offices and 2,962 staff (978 of them in Egypt) by 1891.

J M Cook died in 1899, and the gross value of his estate was assessed at £390,000. He was succeeded in business by his three sons; Frank Henry Cook (1862 – 1931), Ernest Edward Cook (1866 – 1955) and Thomas Albert Cook (1867 – 1914).

Conversion into a private limited company and successive owners
Thomas Cook & Son became a private limited company with a capital of £800,000 from 1924.

The head office was relocated to larger premises at Berkeley Street, Piccadilly, from 1926.

Thomas Cook & Son was sold to the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits of Belgium, operators of the Orient Express, for £3.5 million in 1927. The merger created the largest travel agency in the world, and it was believed that considerable cost-savings would be made.

The sale of the business allowed Frank Henry Cook to retire as chairman in 1929. He died in 1932, with a gross estate valued at £1,054,769.

Thomas Cook & Son had operations in 300 locations, and employed over 4,000 people by 1939. The head office at Berkeley Street employed 1,500 people at peak periods.

Wagons-Lits came under German control during the Second World War, and Thomas Cook & Son assets were seized by the British government and handed to the four major railway companies.

The British railways, and Thomas Cook & Son with it, were nationalised in 1948.

Thomas Cook & Son claimed to be the largest travel company in the world in 1971. 10,000 people were employed across 420 offices.

The British government sold Thomas Cook & Son to a consortium of businesses headed by Midland Bank for £22.5 million in 1972.

Business Cycles: a history of Raleigh

Raleigh was the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the world throughout much of its history.

Frank Bowden establishes the business
Frank Bowden (1848 – 1921) was the son of a Bristol manufacturer. He trained as a lawyer, and went to Hong Kong to make his fortune.

Bowden was successful, but the Asian climate had destroyed his health by 1886. His doctor suggested he take up cycling as a remedy. After six months spent cycling on a Raleigh bike in the South of France, his health was much improved, and his commercial interest was roused.

Bowden entered into partnership with the Raleigh manufacturers, who manufactured two to three bikes a week from a small shop in Nottingham, in 1888.

The Raleigh Cycle Co was registered with a capital of £200,000 in 1896. By this time the business was the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world.

Frank Bowden went overseas to promote export sales. Whilst he was away the company floundered. Bowden returned to England and retrieved his son,  Harold Bowden (1880 – 1960), from university to help him reorganise and manage the business.

Frank Bowden acquired full control of the business from 1908.

1,700 workers produced over 60,000 cycles every year by 1913. Harold Bowden was responsible for day-to-day management of the business by this time.

During the First World War the company voluntarily offered its factories to the government to manufacture munitions. Frank Bowden was made a baronet in 1915 in recognition of his service during the war.

Raleigh was one of the largest munitions manufacturers in Britain by the close of the conflict, with a workforce of 5,000.

Harold Bowden succeeds his father
Sir Frank Bowden died in 1921 with an estate valued at £475,000. Harold Bowden inherited the entire business.

Sir Harold Bowden (1880 – 1960)

There were 2,000 workers by 1924, making 400 bicycles every day, and over 100 motorcycles a week.

During the General Strike of 1926, 800 Raleigh workers joined in sympathy. Following the strike, Bowden introduced a profit-sharing scheme for his workforce. He wanted his employees to be proud to work for Raleigh, and believed it was essential to afford them fair treatment.

The brand and design rights of the Humber Cycle Co were acquired in 1932. The Humber cycles functioned as a premium alternative to the Raleigh brand. All production was centralised at Nottingham.

Raleigh had been overtaken in sales by the Hercules Cycle Company of Aston, Birmingham by 1933.

Sir Harold Bowden retired as managing director of Raleigh from 1938, but remained as chairman.

The war and post-war period
The Nottingham factory and it’s 9,000 employees were engaged almost entirely in producing munitions during the Second World War.

The post-war period was to prove difficult for Raleigh as it took time to rebuild the business after the war. The company had expected to enjoy the post-war consumer goods boom, but the rise of the car had a negative impact on sales. However the business had an output of one million bicycles by 1953.

Sir Harold Bowden retired as chairman in 1954.

Raleigh acquired the bicycle subsidiary of BSA of Birmingham in 1957. Production was consolidated at Nottingham.

Raleigh pioneered moped production in Britain in 1958.

Takeover by Tube Investments
Raleigh was subject to a friendly takeover by Tube Investments for £10.8 million in 1960. This represented a merger of the two largest bicycle manufacturers in Britain, which together held 80 percent of the domestic market.

Tube Investments consolidated all production at Nottingham from 1961.

Raleigh merged with Moulton in 1967, which confirmed its position as the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world. By this time the Nottingham site spanned 64 acres, and 70 percent of production was exported to 140 countries.

Raleigh was the only major British producer of mopeds, but abandoned the market to foreign rivals such as Honda in 1969.

Raleigh had a 67 percent share of the British cycle market in 1972, while foreign imports had a mere nine percent share.

Cycle sales in America boomed in the early 1970s, and Raleigh cycles, with their reputation for high quality, were in high demand. As a result, Raleigh cycle sales rose 55 percent between 1970 and 1971, leaving the company struggling to keep up with demand. Raleigh employed 8,800 people by 1975.

Raleigh had a production capacity of two million cycles a year at Nottingham in 1979, and employed 7,500. Together with other factories both in Britain and overseas it produced a total of four million cycles annually. 60 percent of British production was exported and it had a 60 percent share of its domestic market. It remained the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer.

Foreign rivals had captured a 36 percent share of the British cycle market by 1981, and Raleigh’s share had declined to 45 percent. The company’s workforce had been reduced to 4,000. Raleigh was no longer vertically-integrated, and instead imported all of its components apart from bike frames.

Following three years of consecutive losses and after reducing the workforce to 1,800, Tube Investments sold Raleigh to Derby International for £18 million in 1987. Derby’s timing proved fortuitous as mountain bikes began to enjoy strong sales growth.

Peugeot sold its loss-making bicycle arm to Derby in 1989.

The lease on the Nottingham factory expired in 2003. Raleigh relocated production to the Far East, which reduced manufacturing costs by 25 percent. The bikes are still designed in Nottingham. The company sold 850,000 bikes and employed 430 staff in 2011.

Raleigh was sold to Accell for £62 million in 2012.

Jaguar ‘British Villains’ ad

Have you seen the new Jaguar ‘British Villains” ad? I first caught it on YouTube, then they showed it on Top Gear, and more recently I’ve seen it airing in UK cinemas.

I like the ad. It’s distinctive and has a lot of character, which I think has much to do with the actors hired by Jaguar: Ben Kingsley, Mark Strong and Tom Hiddleston. The three actors cover a lots of ground: Kingsley is an Academy Award-winning septuagenarian, Strong is a rising middle aged actor who is known for playing villains, and Hiddleston is a rising star, best known for playing Loki in the Thor superhero films. By covering three generations, Jaguar broadens its potential appeal. The inclusion of Hiddleston encourages individuals in their 20s and 30s to aspire to own a Jaguar, even if they can’t afford one yet.

The high calibre of acting talent associates the Jaguar brand with quality and refinement. It does this while avoiding the pitfall of seeming stuffy. This is because mainstream Hollywood actors give the ad accessibility and a contemporary feel. The ad also utilises humour, which is fairly unusual and thus distinctive for a sports car ad.

The actors and the London setting firmly establish Jaguar’s British provenance. The ad also attempts to associate itself with the kudos of the James Bond movies: a high speed chase involving sports cars, helicopters and planes, the tuxedos, the camp villains. This is Bond association on the sly, as not many viewers will realise that movie Bond has never driven a Jaguar.

The ad is of course very masculine, which makes sense, as most Jaguar drivers are probably men.

The tagline “It’s good to be bad” is fairly clever as well, as it acknowledges that a sport car is a kind of guilty pleasure, a frivolous, un-necessary purchase.

All in all, a decent ad from a brand that has suffered from a lack of a strong brand image.

The saga of SegaWorld London

SegaWorld London was the largest indoor theme park in the world when it opened in 1996. The venture continually lost money, and was closed in 1999.

Nick Leslau (born 1959) and Nigel Wray (born 1948) acquired the Trocadero, a large building at Piccadilly Circus, London, for £96 million in 1994. Tenants included a Planet Hollywood restaurant, a cinema, retailers such as HMV, and the Guinness World Records experience, but 110,000 square feet across seven floors remained unused.

The Trocadero building at Piccadilly Circus

Leslau and Wray negotiated with Sega to open an indoor theme park. At the time Sega, along with Nintendo, dominated the video gaming market, and the Sonic the Hedgehog mascot was at the peak of its popularity. Sega would operate the park rent-free, with the landlords receiving a half-share of the profits.

The SegaWorld concept had already undergone a soft launch with the opening of the £3 million Bournemouth “Sega Park” video game arcade in July 1993.

The London site was modelled on Sega’s Joypolis theme park in Tokyo, which contained many of the same rides. Although Joypolis was smaller, it had been the largest indoor theme park in the world when it was opened in 1994.

Initial reactions to SegaWorld London
SegaWorld London was the largest indoor theme park in the world. Sega claimed that over $1 billion in research and development had helped produce the park. An initial investment of £45 million included six rides which combined traditional and virtual reality elements. The focus on virtual reality was partly due to the fact that space was constrained in the Trocadero. Each ride cost around £2 million to construct. The rides were complimented by over 400 coin-operated arcade machines.

SegaWorld also contained the longest above-ground escalator in Europe. Customers embarked upon it at the park entrance, and it took them up all seven floors in a single run. It was so large that it had to be lowered through the Trocadero roof in five sections during installation.

SegaWorld London was subject to massive marketing hype. James Bidwell, head of marketing for Sega Europe, called SegaWorld, “the most sensational new tourist attraction in the world”. The park was described in terms such as “futuractive” by its marketing agency.

SegaWorld London opened in September 1996, with a launch party featuring Robbie Williams. Laslau was at the launch event, and later reported that his “heart just sank”. Over 100 people were queuing for a ride that could handle 40 customers per hour. He prepared himself for a predicted media evisceration.

The initial reviews of SegaWorld London were unforgiving. The Daily Telegraph described the park as “little short of a disgrace” and a “joyless tourist trap”. SegaWorld London was “prosaic and tacky”, according to Cosmo Landesman of the Sunday Times. Tom Whitewell of The Guardian claimed, “it’s not all that different from your local shopping centre”, and described the ride technology as “nearly always obvious and unsubtle”. The Economist dismissed the park as a “vast video game arcade”. Several reviewers pointed out that one ride was simply a dressed-up dodgems.

SegaWorld London was overpriced (£12 entry for adults), rides broke down, the queues were lengthy, and it failed to live up to the marketing hype. The coin-op machines cost £1 a time, and were already available elsewhere without an entrance fee. Laslau later described his disappointment:

Sega could not deliver what they said they’d deliver… It looked amazing, but their rides were not capable of delivering the number of people they needed to deliver to support the operation. People were queuing for ages … It was a question of over-anticipation and under-delivery.

Reviews subsequent to the launch event did not improve. John Tribe of The Times described the experience as a “glitzy con-trick” in December 1996. That month, the entrance fee was reduced to £2, but ride fees of between 50p and £3 were introduced in an attempt to reduced the hour-plus queues that developed during busy periods.

SegaWorld London is closed
It was revealed that SegaWorld London had attracted 1.1 million visitors by February 1997, but this, as well as average customer spend, was about half what was anticipated. The situation was not helped by the lack of basic facilities such as a bar, seating areas or cloakrooms.

SegaWorld London reported a profit loss of £1 million in 1997. In December 1997 admission fees were removed and an IMAX cinema was installed. John Conlan, the Trocadero’s new chairman admitted:

We have realised that this is not an indoor theme park. It is an amusement arcade and you would not normally pay to go to an amusement arcade.

A £2 million 125 foot free-fall ride sponsored by Pepsi was opened in March 1998. However new investment failed to stem continued losses of £2 million a year, and Sega was evicted by Trocadero management in September 1999.

The disorganisation, mechanical failures and lack of market research at the park reflected poorly on Sega. A Sega World was opened in Sydney, Australia in 1997, but closed down under similar circumstances in 2000.

The interactivity, optimism for the future, over-expectation and consequent media cynicism would also characterise the Millennium Dome, which was a kind of theme park/interactive museum.

Further parallels can be made between Sega World and DisneyQuest, a similar indoor theme park with virtual reality elements which also over-promised and failed to deliver.

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.

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.

Slazenger, a major English sporting goods rival, was acquired in 1959.

Dunlop Sport exports amounted to £1.6 million in 1960. The business was a world leader in golf and tennis.

Dunlop and Slazenger ranked alongside Wilson and Spalding as the leading manufacturers of quality tennis rackets.

Astronaut Alan Shepard used a Dunlop 65 ball when he played golf on the moon in 1971.

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.

Dunlop Slazenger supplied twice as many Wimbledon competitors in 1980 as its nearest rival, Wilson.

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.

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

Much of the Dunlop Slazenger sports equipment was manufactured in China by the turn of the century.

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 closed the head office at Camberley with the loss of 37 jobs.

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.

A history of Donnay Sports

Donnay is best known today as a low-cost clothing brand available from Sports Direct stores.


Donnay was established in Belgium in 1913. The business became involved in sporting goods when it began to manufacture wooden tennis rackets from 1934.

Donnay was the largest producer of tennis rackets in the world throughout the 1970s.

Donnay was buoyed by its sponsorship of Bjorn Borg, the superstar tennis player of the era, between 1979 and 1983. 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 an annual production figure of two 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, with $35 million of debt, in 1988. It was purchased by Bernard Tapie, a French singer turned businessman, who later acquired Adidas.

Donny finally ended wooden racket production towards the end of the 1980s.

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. Mike Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct, acquired the global rights to the brand for $3.9 million in 1996.

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.