|Headquarters||Shirebrook, Derbyshire, England|
|Products||Racquets, tennis equipment, cricket equipment, golf equipment, apparel, accessories|
Slazenger // is a British sporting goods manufacturer which concentrates on racket sports including tennis, golf, cricket and hockey. Founded in 1881, it is today one of the oldest surviving sporting brand names. It also holds the distinction of having the longest sporting sponsorship in world history thanks to its association with the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, providing Tennis balls for the tournament since 1902.
Slazenger was founded in 1881 by a pair of Jewish brothers, Ralph and Albert Slazenger. In 1881 Ralph Slazenger left his native Manchester, and opened a shop on London's Cannon Street selling rubber sporting goods. Slazenger quickly became a leading manufacturer of sporting equipment for golf and tennis. Four years after the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club held its first ever championships, Slazengers produced 'The New Game of Lawn Tennis' complete in a box.
Their plant in Barnsley manufactured tennis balls and exported them round the world. The plant closed in 2002, and production is now based in the Philippines.
In 1902, Slazengers were appointed as the official tennis ball supplier to The Championships, Wimbledon and, with the current deal set to run until 2015, it remains one of the longest unbroken sporting sponsorships in history.
In 1910, a public company was incorporated to acquire Slazenger and Sons, "manufacturers of sports equipment, india rubber, gutta percha and waterproof goods, leather merchants and dealers", which floated on the stock market. In 1931 Slazengers acquired H. Gradidge and Sons[.
War years (1939–1945)
Slazenger, like most nonessential manufacturing in the UK, redirected its production to manufacture a wide variety of items for military purposes, utilising Slazenger's expertise in wood and rubber manufacturing.
On 15 September 1940, during The Blitz on London, incendiary bombs fell on the Slazenger factory. The Gradidge factory in Woolwich similarly suffered. The competing William Sykes Ltd factory at Horbury was undamaged by the bombings. Slazenger and Gradidge were able to continue production at other facilities but began a series of mergers with competing companies. In 1942 it acquired William Sykes Ltd to broaden its wartime production facilities. Around 1943 Slazenger acquired F. H. Ayres. Thereafter the company was known as Slazengers Sykes Gradidge and Ayres.
The following lists a snapshot of some of their larger contracts completed for H.M. Government in the years 1939–1945, as recorded by Slazengers, Gradidge, Sykes and Ayres in 1946:
|Rifle Furniture - No.4, Mark 1||858,500 sets. Each set comprising: 1 Butt, 1 Forestock, 1 each Handguard (front and rear)|
|200,000 hand guard, front|
|200,000 hand guard, rear|
|Lanchester SMG Machine Gun Carbine Butts||80,000|
|Stoppers, Leak - Wooden||430,000|
|Bayonet, No. 5, Mark 1, Grips, left and right hand||466,500|
|Stoppers, Leak - Wooden||430,000|
|Standard Snow and Sand Goggles||3,000,000|
|Gloves, M.T (Motor Transport)||280,335 pairs|
|Gloves, Workman U.S Forces||122,450 pairs|
|Gloves, Boxing, 8oz, laced||22,239 pairs|
|Gloves, Boxing, 8oz, elastic||19,394 pairs|
|Machetes, 15 inch Blade Sheaths||250,400|
At its peak
In its heyday the empire of Slazengers Gradidge Sykes and Ayres stretched across the world with either licensed distributors or agents and/or manufacturing operations in which the company had partnerships or licensing agreements with. Distributors were flung far and wide as far away as New Zealand and Africa, in remote places such as Iceland, Newfoundland, Madagascar and even Bolivia.
Selling a brand
In the days when wooden tennis racquets held no peer, brands such as Slazenger and Dunlop were a dominant force in the world, but with the popularity of the metal tennis racquets from the early 1980s and then the fast transition to even more popular composite materials such as fiberglass, graphite, Kevlar and so on more and more brands became available to the consumer. The new brands became popular due to their ability to meet the consumer trends and demand for the new technology. Slazenger was slow to react. The company could not re-gear its existing factories to produce products in the new materials and there was a major existing investment in plant and raw materials. The company tried to market its product against these new products using quality as the unique selling point, but the quality level of imports quickly improved and soon Slazenger lost popularity and fell from prominence.
- 1959: Ralph Slazenger Jr. sells the family business to Dunlop Rubber.
- 1985: Dunlop Rubber is purchased by BTR plc, which forms a Sports Group combining Slazenger with the Dunlop Sport branded goods.
- 1996: BTR sells Dunlop Sport in a management buyout for £300 million - the buyout was backed by investment company Cinven. The new company is known as Dunlop Slazenger.
- 2004: CINVen sells Dunlop Slazenger to Sports Direct International for a reported £40 million, who in turn sold on the rights to the Slazenger Golf brand in Europe to JJB Sports.
Global rights and licensing
The purchase of Dunlop Slazenger by Sports World International (SWI) did not confer global rights to the brand.
SWI chose not to diversify the brands it acquired internally, and thus strain its own resources and finances, but to license them globally. With Slazenger, this was achieved successfully, with the Slazenger name being seen on a wide range of products not previously associated with the brand, such as sunglasses, toiletries and push bikes.
In Australia and New Zealand, the Slazenger brand is owned and licensed by Pacific Brands, with full and exclusive rights to sell and distribute throughout those territories. From the early 2000s due to poor management sales plummeted. Rather than investing in the brand, the Slazenger management began downsizing staff numbers, closing branches, cutting back long standing sponsorship as well as stripping back costs elsewhere within the business. Despite these radical moves the Slazenger brand still ultimately offered no real return to Pacific Brands and in 2010/11 they sub-licensed it to Spartan Sports who had been operating in Australia since 2005 and is owned by Spartan Sports in Jallandhar, India (established in 1954).
During its peak, many famous cricket players such as Sir Don Bradman, Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Viv Richards, Sir Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Rohan Kanhai, Mark Waugh and Geoffrey Boycott used Slazenger's bats and products.
- J. R. Lowerson, ‘Slazenger, Ralph (1845–1910)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 17 Jan 2014
- "About Us". Shirebrook, England United Kingdom: Slazenger. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
- The making of British products | Sport | The Guardian
- The Times, May 29, 1911
- The Times, Feb 25, 1932
- The Times, Sep 14, 1944
- Klaus Schmidt; Chris Ludlow (2002). Inclusive Branding: The Why and How of a Holistic Approach to Brands. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-230-51329-7. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
- "Slazenger – All-Time Greatest". Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 2009-09-29.