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2000 Archives

Masters of Darts & Marketing
By Tony Bush

Queen Elizabeth II may or may not be a darts enthusiast but she certainly scored a bull's eye for two brothers who have introduced this essentially-British game into the corners of the world.

In one of her Christmas Speeches in the 1980s, the Queen surprised many and gave the House of Darts a huge spur, when she said: "It is not only large firms that help in the prosperity of Great Britain. This firm with just five employees, which makes darts and accessories, was so ingenious that it sold darts to countries where the game has never been heard of." That second sentence summed up the marketing method used by House of Darts partners Eddie and Pete Norman. If the two brothers wanted to sell to a country that had no knowledge of darts, they simply introduced local people to the game and then staged tournaments to create further interest. Thereafter, they supplied the darts and other accessories their proteges required.

The strategy was so successful that the Normans now export more than 96 per cent of their products and sell to 80 countries. Among the nations that have taken up darts thanks to their pioneering are Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Korea, Borneo, Macao, the Maldives and, just recently, Mongolia. Last year, they helped promote the first ever darts tournament in Ulan Bator, and, since then, they have played a part in organising a Mongolian Darts Federation, which has just become a member of the World Darts Federation.

And these moves emulated the Normans well tried and tested formula. "We had our brochures distributed at the Mongolian Open to all of the players who took part in the championship and both they and the price lists were translated into the official language - Khalkha Mongolian," said Eddie Norman.

"We also had the Mongolian flag printed on a special run of dart flights, which we distributed at the championships. On top of that, we have since carried out a complete study of Mongolia to understand the country and its customs so that we can talk with some meaning to the darting fraternity there. I believe that in the next two years we will have expanded the darts federation so that it consists of several thousand enthusiasts, which will lead to more trade between us and Mongolia." Organising national darts tournaments comes as second nature to the Normans because they arranged the first World Individual Darts Amateur Championship and the first World Masters Championship.

The brothers originally ran an antique shop, but they got caught up in the sixties resurgence of darts that took the game out of the smoky public bars to which it had been largely confined.

Thereafter, they opened a shop in Bristol - where they are still based - which, apart from darts, also sold flights, darts wallets, scoring equipment and other items such as key rings, mugs and pens with a darts theme.

Initially, their business was local only, and selling overseas wasn't ever considered until Eddie and his Australian-born wife, Anne, were passing through Singapore on their way back from visiting her relations. That touchdown was later to become a touchstone for Eddie, because, back in Britain, he decided to try to organise a tournament in Singapore.

"From England, we sent posters, entry forms and details of the tournament to every pub in Singapore and the neighbouring islands, as far afield as Penang. Then, a month after that we flew to Singapore. When we arrived, we learned that we had 584 entries for the tournament, when we were expecting only 50 to 60 at the most. Among them, were people who spoke only Malay, Mandarin or Tamil and we had to explain the rules to them before they could even start playing." But, despite their astonishment to the reaction their flyer had caused, their business instincts didn't desert them.

"Every entrant received a sample of our new darts flights to play with and a complete list of products we had for sale. With each brochure was a retail price list and a letter explaining that, as well as quality and price, we would give them a top service despite despatching products from Britain. When we returned home to put in a system that would ensure we could keep our promise, we had no idea what response we would get. In fact, we were inundated with trial orders from Johor, Panang, Sentosa Island and many of the clubs and pubs in Singapore."

But, despite their resounding success and novel marketing approach, the Normans are never complacent and are dedicated to professionalism, which has won them the Queens Award for Exports and several other export awards.

And they are always on the lookout for ways to make their company stand out from its competitors. Little things make a big difference, said Eddie. "We have sold flights with football team colours on them, and we will name a range to suit a particular market. For example, we have created one set named after United States presidents and another depicting Australian mammals. Also, we make sure we are on first-name terms with most of our customers, and, I'm proud to say, we rarely lose one."

The House Of Darts
453-455 Gloucester Road, Horfield, Bristol, United Kingdom, BS7 8TZ
Telephone: +44 117 951 4415
Fax: 117 935 4520.

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