We will be publishing regular blogs throughout the year at www.harrowsdarts.com, covering a wide spectrum of subjects within the world of darts, but where better place to start than with a three-part Harrows history lesson…
‘Harrows trips off the tongue in any language’
While Harrows has today positioned itself as the world’s leading and mostly widely distributed darts brand, it was in fact spawned from very humble beginnings, writes Luke Nicoli.
Founded in 1973 by Jack Harris, Colin Harris and Ron Woodhead, two London taxi drivers and darts enthusiasts to boot, they opened a small shop in Baker Street, Enfield, in the suburbs of north London.
Initially buying in darts and associated accessories that were sold by mail order across the UK, while providing a walk-in service to those living within closer proximity, the business only really took off when use was made of a run-down shed in the back garden of the premises.
“A lathe was put in the shed and the pair started to machine dart barrels which were then sold through the shop,” recalls Harrows sales director, Robert Pringle, who has been with the company for all but six years of its existence. “Jack and Ron had also started to manufacture dart flights and little by little the business expanded, to the point where they had outgrown their surrounds. An industrial unit in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, was soon earmarked and Harrows have remained in the locality ever since.”
Pringle’s appointment helped with the transition from business to brand, with trade customers built up throughout the UK and now overseas. “There was a lot of field work to be done,” he remembers of his fledgling days. “Lots of travelling, lots of trade shows which were helped, it has to be said, by our name as well as the quality of our products. There is, of course, the connotation with ‘arrows’ but Harrows is a name that trips off the tongue easily in any language.”
With a concerted business model putting Harrows on an upward curve, the sharp spike was in direct correlation with the darts boom of the late 1970s, early 1980s in the UK. Darts was first shown on terrestrial television on an ITV programme called Indoor League, hosted by cricket legend Freddie Trueman. The BDO came to the fore on the back of that exposure and before long both ITV and the BBC were on board, providing the oxygen of publicity that ensured it became a credible sport for the mainstream masses. For the live televised finals, viewing figures peaked just below the ten million mark while the ITV darts quiz show Bullseye, hosted by Jim Bowen, boasted figures of 19m on a Sunday afternoon!
Main: Eric Bristow and the Harrows team
Top right: Ron Woodhead in the early days
Above: Ron Woodhead, Jack Harris and Colin Harris pictured with Joe Hitchcock, Harrows first contracted player.
No longer was darts a game restricted to smoke-filled pubs and clubs. It became de rigueur for dartboards to find a home in the spare bedroom or garage; dads and lads hitting the oche and emulating the Eric Bristow throw – the ‘Crafty Cockney’ being the poster-boy of the sport back then, a five-time world champion, and every bit as famous as football’s Kevin Keegan or cricket’s Ian Botham in the UK.
Harrows, of course, seized the moment, capitalising on the huge domestic demand for darts and its accessories, while continuing to make in-roads overseas. To further increase brand awareness and to encourage player participation, the company also started to co-operate with emerging darts associations and leagues around the world. By sponsoring tournaments outside the UK, an early presence was built in countries which have matured into substantial and important territories today. Bristow also came on board, helping to further enhance Harrows’ flourishing status worldwide.
“We signed an endorsement deal with Eric that was the biggest of its kind in the sport at that time,” Robert reveals. “In fact a deal like that was unheard of [it netted Bristow a cool £250,000] but to give you an indication of how big he, and darts, was at the time we signed the deal live on TVAM.
“Also part of the signing was Eric’s partner at the time, the number one ladies player of the era, Maureen Flowers, and all of a sudden peopled started to sit up and want to know more about Harrows.
“It was a very good fit; the right person at the right time, and aside from the promotional work he did with us around the UK, when Eric was playing in Australia, New Zealand or the United States for instance, we’d tie it in with some promotional work with the retailers we were partnered with in those countries.
“Our association with Eric helped to move us forward substantially and as I said to him before his untimely death, it would have been a much bigger struggle to get our name known without him. He had an extraordinary impact; he always worked diligently and he always delivered.”
Yet, sadly, time waits for no man; by the late 1980s, Bristow’s star was on the wane and whether consequential or not, darts also fell into sharp decline. With a format stuck in its ways and the image of smoke and lager not as aesthetically pleasing to the TV companies as it once might have been, ITV culled darts completely, with the BBC following soon after. With a lack of innovation, darts as a televisual spectacle was now pretty much on its knees.
Thankfully though, as we’ll discover in our second blog, Harrows would comfortably ride out the ensuing storm…