We will be publishing regular blogs throughout the year at www.harrowsdarts.com, covering a wide spectrum of subjects within the world of darts. We continue with the second of a three-part Harrows history lesson…
In the late 1980s, with the popularity of darts falling into sharp decline in the UK following the TV cull by both BBC and ITV, Harrows maintained its relevance as a market leader. While players saw their income streams fall and manufacturers tightening the purse strings as demand declined, the company’s diligent work in expanding its overseas markets would prove significant, writes Luke Nicoli.
“We were quite established in a lot of new overseas territories so we didn’t feel the decline as much as we could have done,” recalls Harrows sales director, Robert Pringle. “Certainly, the players and promoters felt the pinch as their income was mainly UK–based, whereas we’d already planted seeds around the world. Of course we were aware that the market here was in decline but we were not overly stressed about it with what we were doing elsewhere.”
The emergence of a new phenomenon in the sport at the time, namely soft-tip darts, also helped allay those initial fiscal concerns. Harrows produced its first soft-tip products in 1987 and it quickly gained popularity around the globe, to the point where it virtually eliminated the traditional game in many countries.
Yet it would be fair to say that had it not been for the emergence of the WDC [which eventually became the PDC] in 1992, the winds of decline and change would have been felt eventually. The newly-formed organisation and its ensuing battles with the BDO are well documented elsewhere, but suffice to say, Harrows played a key role in helping the sport reinvent itself.
“Harrows was involved from the start [of the PDC],” Robert adds. “It was a call to arms, to regenerate interest in a declining activity. Around 20 companies signed up, put in a fixed amount of money each, with the aim of giving the sport a higher profile and attracting sponsors to make it financially viable. Barry Hearn then came in, took the bull by the horns and the rest, as they say, is history.”
With the sport finding a home primarily on the more ‘glitzy’ Sky Sports satellite TV platform, it signalled a change in demographic. Indeed, a quick glance around the crowd at any televised PDC event would soon see a younger, more impassioned audience. Harrows would dovetail nicely on the back of the renaissance, while mindful of the need to adapt accordingly.
“The exposure has been fantastic in the UK and, in the last ten years, overseas,” adds Harrows’ international sales manager Euan Blundell. “We’ve positioned ourselves to be at the forefront of this boom and, of course, we’ve been conscious of a growing younger audience.
“Harrows was perceived as an older brand, given the past association with Eric Bristow, but we’ve made the transition into the ‘modern age’, so internet, social media and marketing have become more and more important for us.
“Youngsters playing darts is also huge now; there are academies springing up everywhere, given it’s become a feasible career option with the prize money now on offer in the professional game. We still have our core buyers which of course we would never overlook, but it’s also important to take note of what the younger players are demanding because they are, naturally, the future of the sport.”
With the greater exposure also given to darts on the worldwide web, business models have needed to evolve and adapt to that ever-demanding audience. Ultimately for Harrows, that means producing products that are relevant today but staying true to the core values that have served the company so well for almost five decades.
“Since the internet caught fire, people have got much more into the technology of darts, so they’re zooming in on every little component,” adds Robert. “Previously when we were solely reliant on traditional bricks and mortar retailers, the offering to the consumer was far more limited because the retailer didn’t want to have a massive range, whereas the choice now is vast. That has helped us to be more innovative and the life cycle of a product has shortened because people demand new products more frequently.”
A need for a quick turnaround is therefore imperative and Harrows has stayed ahead of the game in this respect by keeping its production line rolling on-site in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, rather than seek a cheaper alternative overseas.
“Manufacturing is a quick process,” Euan points out. “As we are controlling it, buying the raw material and investing heavily in machinery, we can control the costs and our cycle times are that much quicker.
“If we have an idea for a new dart for example, by the end of day we would have a sample in your hand. If it’s a good product then it’s on the market in six weeks. If we’d been working offshore, that same process takes six months, that’s why our design team are constantly developing products. Not all of it hits the market, but the good ones do.”
So how comprehensive is the Harrows range in 2019 and what does the future hold for the company? Find out more in our next blog…