The man behind Chris Gayle's weapon of destruction [Sport360]
(Sport360 Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) What happened with Spartan in early January last year would have left most marketing gurus shaking their heads in utter frustration and disbelief.
However, managing director Kunal Sharma can now look back at it as one of the defining moments in the history of his company.
Michael Clarke, one of modern cricket's foremost batsmen, had just finished his contract with Slazenger, and Sharma somehow persuaded the Australian captain to use a willow produced by Spartan, a company that had been in sports equipment business for several decades, but did not have a proven track record in cricket equipment.
In the second Test at Sydney against India, Clarke agreed to test a Spartan bat, but he was not willing to sign on the dotted line without giving it a serious outing.
Playing with a clear-skinned (no manufacturer's sticker) Spartan bat, Clarke hammered a brilliant unbeaten 329. Of course, he loved the bat and became a contracted player, and went on to score a double ton in the very next Test in Adelaide.
To this day, Sharma believes more interest was created around Clarke's bat because he was playing with one that did not have any logo on it.
"People were curious to find out about it. And then, of course, he went on to hit a double century in the very next match with a Spartan-branded bat," said the 38-year-old.
While Spartan has been around for many years, the rise of its cricket business has been nothing short of meteoric. Less than three years after launching their range, it is now counted among the top-five brands in the business, helped without doubt by the success of their three biggest ambassadors – Clarke, England wicket-keeper Matt Prior and the incomparable Chris Gayle, who used the bat in slamming the unbeaten 175 in 66 balls in the Indian Premier League earlier this year.
Sharma was in Dubai along with Gayle to launch the Spartan range in the Middle East after signing an exclusive retail deal with Sun and Sand Sports. Here, he talks about the rise and rise of Spartan.
Why don't we start with a bit of background about Spartan and the success that your cricket range has achieved in the past couple of years.
We are in a very tough market and the challenge of entering into a market dominated by brands that are more than 100 years old, such as Gray-Nicolls, Gunn & Moore, Slazenger and Kookaburra, is very exciting. To be able to come into the market and start doing well in such a short span of time is not easy, but we have managed to do that. Spartan's been a family-owned business for a very long time. It's been there before the Partition of India (1947). My great grandfather started the business in Sialkot, which is now in Pakistan, before migrating to Jalandhar in India. The brand was quite successful in India and after I completed my studies in Australia, we shifted our business there. Although, our manufacturing unit is still in Jalandhar and we have a big team working there. We were mainly into inflatable balls and health products, and got into cricket in late 2010. Cricket really has been my passion. And I had been thinking about it for some time, because if you really look at it, cricket equipment has always been very traditional. The products look dated. There was nothing exciting about them. So, we started and we have been very lucky. We have had some great brand ambassadors, like Chris Gayle, Michael Clarke, Matt Prior, Mitchell Johnson and of course, the legendary Sir Vivian Richards. There is a lot of research and development that goes into our bat and I believe they are technically superior than anything else in the market. Thankfully, the fans and cricketers love our products too.
What's unique about Spartan bats? And how do they differ from what's in the market?
Let me tell you that a cricket bat is a very difficult thing to make. It's not something that you put in a mould and it comes out. It really is a handmade product and you have got to craft the bat. It has to be made to the individual specification of a player. The right kind of willow has to be imported from England. We have put in a lot of money in R&D and technology. Our bats are light, very well-balanced and they are shaped uniquely.
A very important part of the bat is the handle, and we do it very well. We press the bat differently, so that they ping better. Apart from the fact that our bats are technologically advanced, and very importantly, made completely by us, unlike some other manufacturers who just put on their sticker on a sourced bat, we do some cool things like the graphics and shapes. It just makes the bat seem so much more exciting and funky.
So, for Gayle, we have very fiery and bright graphics - we have actually used the gold colour because he loves wearing gold so much. In the case of Clarke, they are more sophisticated. But if you have noticed, we used the Australian flag on his bat and called it the 'Ashes edition' bat during the recent Ashes series and it has become a hot seller Down Under.
Tell us about the Indian market. You do not have any Indian cricketer playing with your bat, and I guess you would have to pay them a lot of money?
That's correct. Companies like Nike, adidas and Reebok, who may not sell cricket equipment in other markets, sell it in India. Now these companies have deep marketing budgets, backed up by sales over a vast variety of products, unlike a pure cricket equipment manufacturers like us. They are happy to pay exorbitant amounts to the players and it is difficult to sign up an Indian player.
Having said that, the demand for our bats has gone through the roof, mostly because of the performance of Gayle in the IPL.
What's been the general impact of Chris Gayle on Spartan?
Chris really has been terrific for us, and I hope we have been for him. When we signed him up around the beginning of 2012, he was not playing any cricket because of the various things happening with the West Indies board etc. The first time I met him for just a casual meeting, I was humbled by how good a human being he is. I just knew we had to work together.
But just to give you an idea, apart from what he has done for us in the Indian market, we were in Lords recently for the Cricket Show. It had stalls from every equipment manufacturers, and ours was by far the busiest. And I spoke to some of the people who visited us, and they all wanted to see the bat used by Chris Gayle. Mind you, this is in a place like England, where cricketers prefer to use bats that have brand reputation of centuries.
You have recently entered the UAE market with Sun & Sand Sports as your exclusive retailers. What are your expectations?
We did a bit of survey of the market before coming here and we believe that the junior market here can be very favourable for us. There are so many children from the subcontinent, who are crazy about cricket. And I have been very impressed with the junior development programmes that I have seen or heard in academies here. So, I think our focus area for the Middle East market is going to be junior bats.
We have tied up with Sun and Sand Sports and we have talked about a few marketing initiatives. I am very excited about our partnership because they really have the pulse of the market here and a fantastic retail network.
- Chris Gayle interview: Revelling as cricket's box office star
* For breaking news, follow us on @Sport_360 or find us on Facebook.
(c) 2013 Gulf Sports Media All rights reserved. Provided by Syndigate.info an Albawaba.com company
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]