Luke Nicoli continues his regular darts blog at www.harrowsdarts.com, with part three of a chronological look at dart evolution, bringing us up to date in a much-changed market.
As the new millennium headed towards the end of its first decade, darts had witnessed a real powershift back into the mainstream, thanks mainly to Sky’s coverage of the PDC World Championship at Alexandra Palace and subsequent high-profile televised tournaments throughout the year.
Where punters had long been confined to darkened, limited-capacity venues, while catching a glimpse of the Oche through a cloud of cigarette smoke, a sprinkling of on-screen stardust by Sky resulted in a demand for far bigger venues as fans were lured to a hedonistic mix of top-level arrows, lager, razzmatazz and live television.
A younger audience had, indeed, come to party but the revolution extended far behind the walls of sold-out arenas, from Aberdeen to Brighton, Belfast to the O2, and everything in between. Indeed, with the extensive prize money now available, young players could see a realistic career pathway, while those with lesser ambitions were playing in pubs and clubs without prejudice.
Darts had become de rigueur and so had the demands on manufacturers to become more creative, more innovative than ever before. The advent of social media and advances in website technology have only fuelled the consumer hunger, and as a market leader, Harrow’s have needed to react accordingly.
John Gwynne at World Matchplay (photo credit: Lawrence Lustig)
“We have to be the company looking to do the next big thing,” states Harrow’s international sales manager Euan Blundell. “It’s fair to say that with the changes in demographic and with the way darts are now sold – mostly online rather than in your traditional high street shop – everything we produce has a shorter shelf life.
“Ten, 15 or 20 years ago a dart would be in our range for a number of years, when they weren’t coated, when they didn’t have milling all over them and when they weren’t so high-tech as the market now demands.
“We can now bring out an all-singing, all-dancing dart and still, within a year the interest, demand would have dropped and within a couple of years it could well be out of the range. It’s a fluid market like never before, so we are always looking at the next dart, the next technological advance to be made in our development process.”
“Where we have seen a change though, certainly in the last four or five years, is with milling – the machining process which gives the billet vertical spleening to enhance grip, rather than the horizontal cuts which we had seen before,” Euan adds. “Coatings, too, have added value to the dart [see Dave Chisnall’s silver, black and gold steeltip range here for example], while flights have different laminates, different finishes, print techniques and different shapes.
“There is a desire for the consumer to experiment more and more, and that has driven us to maintain our innovative approach.”
As far as darts technology is concerned, there is a general consensus that we are partly driven by the Far East market. Harrow’s sales director, Robert Pringle, concurs and is mindful of the roles currently played by countries such as Japan and China.
“With the explosion we’ve seen in the 21st century, a lot of it is down to the demands of the Far East markets,” he points out. “Japanese players, for instance, reflect the culture of that country; they are always demanding and always striving for perfection. Some of the more innovative companies have raised the bar and everyone, including ourselves, has had to follow suit.”
Where Harrow’s are able to steal an advantage over their rivals is with their development and manufacturing process. Both are done on-site at their Hertfordshire headquarters, with the turnaround proving to be both cost effective and extremely efficient.
“The fact that our darts are manufactured on-site means that we have real control of the development process,” Euan adds. “We can have a prototype designed in the morning and made in the afternoon, it is that quick.
“The fact that we’re able to fast track our prototype with trial and error means that when we do get to the final version, we’re pretty confident that the design is as good as it possibly could be.”
“We’ve also tried to avoid being a ‘me too’ brand,” Robert interjects. “It’s very easy to sit on the edge of things but it doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning. We try to be as innovative as possible without being ridiculous.
“While we might take a punt from time to time, our products have been extensively researched and we also have two generations of experience in the team, so as a specialist we know what has worked and what will work further down the road…”
Read more from Luke on the history of Harrows in Part 2 – Technology Takes Over
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