Category Archives: Leisure

Sega World Sydney

Sega World Sydney joined its sister theme park SegaWorld London as a high-profile failure. What went wrong?

Sega World Sydney was a joint venture between Jacfun, a property consortium led by Kevin Bermeister (born 1960), and Sega. Kevin Bermeister was the general manager of the park.

Sega World Sydney was modelled on Sega’s Joypolis indoor theme park in Yokohama, Japan. The park was fitted out at a cost of AU$50 million. It occupied 10,000 sq metres of space. Unlike SegaWorld London, there was only one virtual reality ride. Alongside it was a rollercoaster, a ghost train and a dodgems.

A view of Sega World Sydney. Image used with permission.

Bermeister confidently announced that “Sega World will make existing theme parks look old-fashioned”. It was anticipated that the park would attract 1.2 – 1.5 million visitors in its first year.

Embed from Getty Images

The Sydney park was expected to function as an anchor site from which Sega could establish similar sites across Australia and South East Asia.

Opening and closure
Sega World Sydney was opened in March 1997 at Darling Harbour. In the first full month of opening the park attracted under 70,000 guests. Sue Williams of the Sydney Morning Herald reported in November 1997, “it is not the virtual reality attractions that catch your eye; it is the virtual emptiness of the place”.

Sega paid $36 million to exit the joint venture in 1999.

It was hoped that the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney would boost attendance figures, however the park recorded just 400,000 visitors for the year. The park struggled to attract guests outside of holiday periods, despite active discounting. Opening hours were shortened in an attempt to reduce costs. The park was closed in November 2000.

The Sega World Sydney assets were sold by auction in 2001.

Pitch perfect: a history of Mitre

How did Mitre become 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

How did Umbro became the leading football 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. The business was revived as Reebok, and had grown to take one fifth of the global athletic shoe market by the early 1990s.

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 for training 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 “Joe” William Foster (born 1935) and Jeffrey “Jeff” 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. Joe Foster was the chairman and managing director, whilst Jeff Foster had responsibility for production.

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.

Joe 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.

Production capacity at Bury was doubled to 1,000 pairs a week in 1983. Reebok was the fourth largest manufacturer of training shoes in Britain with a ten percent market share, behind Nike, New Balance and Adidas.

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 Joe 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.

85 percent of Reebok shoes were made in South Korea by 1987.

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.

Joe 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 became the sponsor of the Bolton Wanderers football stadium from 1997.

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.

Joe Foster stepped down from his consultancy position in 2015.

Adidas underinvested in the Reebok brand. Joe 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.

Further reading
I would highly recommend Shoe Maker by Joe Foster (2020)

Holding court: a history of Slazenger

How did Slazenger became the largest distributor of sports equipment in the world?

The Slazenger brothers establish the business
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.

Slazenger was a highly likeable and popular man.

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 brothers began to produce sporting equipment from around this time. Ralph Slazenger renounced his Judaism at this time and converted to Anglicanism.

Tennis equipment was sold from 1881.

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.

Slazenger introduced golf clubs from 1890, followed by golf balls shortly afterwards.

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 died with a gross estate valued at £56,137 in 1910.

Slazenger becomes a public company
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 Sydney, Australia in 1922. A factory was established in Toronto, Canada in 1924.

H Gradidge & Sons of Woolwich was acquired from twin brothers Michael McMaster (1896 – 1968) and Humphrey McMaster (1896 – 1979) in 1931. Gradidges was strong in the cricket bat and golf club markets. The McMaster brothers joined the Slazenger board of directors.

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 producer of tennis balls 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). He was succeeded as company chairman by Archdale Palmer.

During the Second World War almost all manufacturing was dedicated towards producing goods for the war effort. When much of the London factories were destroyed during the Blitz, alternative sites had to be found quickly to fulfil existing contracts. 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, for £149,270 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.

Archdale Palmer retired in 1946 and was succeeded as chairman by Michael McMaster.

Brand rationalisation meant that only the Slazenger name was used by 1951.

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

Acquisition by Dunlop
Slazenger was acquired by Dunlop Rubber in an exchange of shares which valued the company at over £1.35 million in 1959. Dunlop Rubber had a large sporting equipment business.

Dunlop merged research & development and production between Dunlop Sport and Slazenger, but operations remained otherwise separate in areas such as sales and marketing.

Around 40 percent of sales were in export markets by 1960.

Slazenger was the largest manufacturer of tennis balls in the world, by a considerable margin, by 1962.

The Slazenger panther motif was introduced from 1963.

Slazenger was the largest distributor of sports equipment in the world by 1963.

Slazenger ranked among the leading tennis racket manufacturers in the world.

The sportswear market was entered from 1964.

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

The Slazenger football for the 1966 World Cup

Soccer and rugby ball production ended in 1969.

Export sales tripled between 1965 and 1970.

Product rationalisation saw production of equipment for niche sports such as boxing and archery end in the late 1970s. Areas where the Slazenger brand lacked strength, such as footwear, were also discontinued.

Price pressures in the mid-market saw production increasingly outsourced to low-cost manufacturers in the Far East from the late 1970s. A new tennis ball factory was established in the Philippines in 1977.

Horbury was the largest factory of its type in Europe by 1983.

Slazenger operations were fully merged with those of Dunlop Sport in the mid-1980s.

The Horbury factory was closed in 1986. Manufacturing was largely transferred to the Far East, although cricket bat production was relocated to Barnsley.

Recent history
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 Barnsley factory was closed with the loss of 134 jobs in 2002. Production was relocated to Bataan in the Philippines, which was closer to the source of rubber and had 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 £40 million in 2004.

A history of Thomas Cook & Son (1841 – 2000)

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

Early life of 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 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.

The travel agency business is born
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.

Midland Bank sold Thomas Cook & Son to LTU, the third largest German travel agency, for £200 million in 1992. Westdeutsche Landesbank acquired Thomas Cook & Son the following year.

Preussag, the owner of TUI, the largest travel group in the world, acquired control of Thomas Cook & Son in 1999.

Carlson acquired Thomas Cook & Son in 2000.

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.

Unable to find suppliers to furnish it with components of sufficient quantity and quality, Raleigh became a vertically-integrated business, manufacturing every part at its Nottingham site apart from tyres and chains.

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.

Ian Phillipps was appointed chairman in 1974. The finance director informed him that the Nottingham site was “the biggest white elephant in Britain”. Phillips reduced a product line of 7,000 different bicycles to around 1,000.

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.

Sonic boom: the saga of SegaWorld London

SegaWorld London opened as the largest indoor theme park in the world. It was closed after just three years. What went wrong?

Nigel Wray (born 1948) and Nick Leslau (born 1959) acquired the Trocadero, a large building on Piccadilly Circus, London, for £96 million in 1994. A profile in the Evening Standard described Wray as “the nearest British equivalent to American investment genius Warren Buffett”, whilst Leslau was “a chunkily-built North London Jew with all the elegance of a natural street trader”.

Although sited on one of the busiest thoroughfares in Europe, the Trocadero had historically failed to prove profitable. Tenants included a Planet Hollywood restaurant, a cinema, and retailers such as HMV, but 110,000 square feet across seven floors remained unused.

The Trocadero building at Piccadilly Circus

Nick Leslau negotiated with Sega to open an indoor theme park in the unused space. Sega, along with Nintendo, dominated the video gaming market, and the Sonic the Hedgehog mascot was at the peak of its popularity. Sega would have full managerial control and operate the park rent-free, with the landlords receiving a half-share of profits.

The family-friendly SegaWorld concept had already undergone a soft launch with “Sega Park”in Bournemouth in July 1993. The largest video game arcade in Europe had been opened at a cost of £3 million.

The London site was to be modelled on Sega’s Joypolis theme park in Yokohama, Japan, and would include many of the same rides. Joypolis had been the largest indoor theme park in the world when it was opened in 1994.

Sega claimed to have invested £650 million in research & development for its theme parks. James Bidwell, head of marketing for Sega Europe, was confident that “the return on investment will be very high”.

SegaWorld London
SegaWorld London was the largest indoor theme park in the world. 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 constrained space at the site. Each ride cost around £2 million to construct. The rides were complimented by over 400 coin-operated arcade machines.

“We’ve designed it to have at most a 30 minute queue time for special attractions”, commented Peter Searle, operations and development director for Sega Amusements Europe.

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 launch and press reactions
James Bidwell described SegaWorld as, “the most sensational new tourist attraction in the world”.

SegaWorld London opened in September 1996, with a launch party featuring pop star Robbie Williams. Nick Leslau witnessed over 100 people queuing for a ride that could handle just 40 customers per hour. He would later describe how his “heart just sank” as he realised that his partnership with Sega was “a mistake”. He prepared himself for a media evisceration.

The initial reviews of SegaWorld were as unforgiving as Leslau had feared. Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph described the park as “little short of a disgrace” and “the most joyless tourist trap in London”. The park 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 criticised the ride technology as “nearly always obvious and unsubtle”. The Economist dismissed SegaWorld 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. Leslau 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.

Later media reviews continued to criticise SegaWorld. For Paul Gogarty of the Daily Telegraph the park was “a hot, exhausting, dark experience”. John Tribe of The Times described the attraction as a “glitzy con-trick”.

SegaWorld London was subject to a relaunch in December 1996. 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. Leslau explained that “cultural mistakes” by Sega had underestimated the tolerance of British and European guests for lengthy queue times.

SegaWorld London is closed
It was reported that SegaWorld London had attracted 1.1 million visitors by February 1997, but this, as well as average customer spend, was about half what had been anticipated. Leslau accused Sega of trying to run the park “by remote control from Tokyo”, and criticised the lack of basic facilities such as a bar, cloakrooms or seating areas.

In July 1997 Gervase Webb of the Evening Standard wrote that the park was “echoingly, cavernously empty … a vast white elephant”. Sega claimed an average attendance rate of 3,500 people a day.

Wray and Leslau stepped down as chairman and managing director of the Trocadero in the summer of 1997. Wray commented, “we had not realised that SegaWorld would do so badly and it is a great disappointment”. John Conlan was appointed as chairman. He accused Sega of lacking “any coherent plan that could improve profits to levels that would begin to mitigate the rental obligations for the space it occupies”.

SegaWorld London received a £650,000 facelift in December 1997, and admission fees were removed. Conlan 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.

Unfortunately the removal of admission fees resulted in a reduced customer average spend of just £1.70.

Closure of SegaWorld London
Sega was evicted from the Trocadero in September 1999. The disorganisation, mechanical failures and lack of market research at the park reflected poorly on Sega’s management. Conlan described the SegaWorld concept as “fundamentally flawed”.

Sega quietly reversed plans to open 100 Sega Worlds across Europe and the United States. A Sega World was opened in Sydney, Australia in 1997, but failed to attract sufficient guests, and closed down in 2000. The Yokohama Joypolis was closed in 2001.

Subsequent tenants
The SegaWorld site was taken over by Family Leisure Group, who had operated the Funland video game arcade on the ground floor of the Trocadero. Michael Green, the managing director of the group, commented on SegaWorld, “once I saw it, I knew it couldn’t last long. It didn’t have the right mix for this market and I don’t think they had a clear vision for the property”. The old SegaWorld attractions, with the exception of the Aqua Planet 3D simulator, were closed down.

Funland was gradually reduced in size, before it was closed in 2014. A large part of the Trocadero was reopened as a budget hotel in 2020.

The promises of interactivity, optimism for the future, over-expectation and consequent media cynicism that defined SegaWorld also characterised the launch of the Millennium Dome in London. Further parallels can be made between SegaWorld and DisneyQuest, a similar indoor theme park with virtual reality elements which also over-promised and failed to deliver.

Bouncing back: Dunlop Slazenger

How did Dunlop Slazenger become one of the largest manufacturers of sporting equipment in the world?

Dunlop was established as a rubber goods company in 1889. In 1909, it moved into sporting goods when it began to manufacture 144 golf balls a day at Manor Mill in Birmingham. In their first year, Dunlop balls won five of the major British golf tournaments.

The success of the Dunlop golf ball led the company to enter into tennis ball production from 1924. Tennis rackets were introduced from 1925. F A Davis, sports manufacturers, was taken over in 1925 in order to acquire a distribution network.

One third of British open tournaments used Dunlop tennis balls by 1926.

Gardner Brothers of Waltham Abbey in Essex was acquired in 1929. Production of rackets was transferred to the site. Waltham Abbey was the largest producer of tennis rackets in Europe within a few years.

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.

Dunlop was the largest manufacturer of sporting equipment outside of the USA by 1933. More than three million golf balls, three million tennis balls and 80,000 rackets were produced in 1936.

Production of golf balls was temporarily discontinued in 1941 due to war work and a lack of rubber supply.

After the war, Dunlop transferred production of golf balls and tennis balls from Fort Dunlop 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.

Carlton Sports of Saffron Walden, Essex, manufacturer of badminton rackets and shuttlecocks, was acquired in 1968.

By the end of the 1960s Dunlop Slazenger had established nearly 30 factories across Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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

A golf ball and club factory was established at Normanton, Yorkshire, in 1973.

62 percent of all tennis rackets used at Wimbledon in 1973 were made by either Dunlop or Slazenger.

A new tennis ball factory was established in the Philippines in 1977.

The Speke factory was closed in 1979. Golf ball production was concentrated at Normanton.

Rationalisation saw Dunlop Slazenger exit niche categories such as table tennis and archery.

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. Graphite rackets were introduced from 1980.

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.

Wooden tennis racket production ended in 1984 as customers increasingly preferred lightweight graphite equipment.

The Slazenger factory at Horbury, Yorkshire was closed in 1986. The majority of production was transferred to the Far East.

Dunlop Slazenger was acquired by Cinven, a private equity firm, for £372 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.

Dunlop Slazenger held 15 percent of the United States golf ball market by 2000.

Cinven “struggled with outdated management systems, missing orders and overlapping sales teams, competing to sell Slazenger golf balls and the upmarket Maxfli range to the same customers”.

The Normanton factory was closed with the loss of 69 jobs in 2000. Production was relocated to the United States.

Dunlop Slazenger was taken over by its lenders, led by Royal Bank of Scotland, in 2001.

Sales of tennis, golf and squash balls, as well as shuttlecocks, accounted for almost 70 percent of sales by this time, with annual sales of nearly 150 million units.

The Maxfli golf brand was sold to Adidas for £20 million in 2002.

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.

RBS returned the business to profitability and sold the company to Sports Direct 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.