On the morning of the 22nd May 2009, almost six years to the day, the sports world woke up to news of a radical new cricket bat. The bat, originally codenamed the ‘Albert Trott’ in honour of the only cricketer to clear the pavilion at Lord’s, was in essence an oddly shaped paddle. It was the biggest innovation, in terms of appearance, to hit the traditional game in over 100 years. Yet less than 4 years later it disappeared from the Sky Sports screens, and the company behind it, Mongoose Cricket Ltd were plunged into administration. This is the tale of that bat, and my part in the story.
10 minutes of primetime BBC breakfast TV. Another 5 minutes on Channel 4 news. A discussion piece at watercoolers, cricket grounds and pubs. Such hype was unprecedented for a launch of a sporting product and particularly so for a launch set for the Friday before a Monaco Grand Prix and Rugby Cup Final.
The launch was set at Lord’s, the home of cricket. A location selected specifically to highlight the changing game of cricket and to lend credibility to this new, crazy cricket brand. The Lord’s Media Centre formed a perfect backdrop for the numerous press shots and interviews. Cricket was moving into the 21st century.
How I ended up at Mongoose
I, like most of the UK, woke up early on that Friday and saw the bat. Little did I know, within 3 days I would be moving to London and taking part in that wonderful journey.
I was obsessed with sports equipment. I cared more about what sports equipment the athletes used, rather than actually spending time in the game. After leaving school in Derby, aged 16, following my GCSE’s my first job was working on a farm in Crewe, for a family run cricket bat manufacturer called Fusion Sports.
For my 17th birthday, I flew out to India alone for 2 months to work in a factory shaving, shaping, stitching and sanding cricket equipment. And by the age of 17 1/2 I had twisted my parents arm to borrow some money, and founded my own cricket brand. Itias, a small company specialising in importing hand-made cricket bats from Pakistan and India.
Needless to say, there was nothing more I wanted to do than work in cricket. And when Marcus Codrington Fernandez (MCF) appeared on our screens, there was one place I wanted to be. I fired off an email to the company, and within 3 days I had been interviewed and had moved down to live in London. Albeit in a £25 a night B&B for the first month.
The first 6 months for any start-up is turbulent. But based out of a small, 3 person office in Primrose Hill, we set about turning the cricket world on it’s head.
Surprisingly, Mongoose had launched without any stock. The bats were all to be handmade to order by master craftsman of 50 years Tony Cook. This was our first problem. Tony, employed by Hunts County Bats, could produce approximately 5 bats per day for Mongoose. Unsurprisingly, a national launch, drove well over 40 bookings within the first couple of days of launch. The supply/demand problem, would prove to be an ongoing battle for Mongoose over the coming years as we tried to fight cash flow and keep customers happy.
Once the initial demand, driven by the launch and a single appearance by Derbyshire cricketer Stuart Law, had died down, there was a lull in orders. Like any business, if there is no PR or marketing — the customers will lose awareness. We heavily focussed on correcting this, and eventually, after a couple of months of trying secured a sponsorship contract with Dwayne Smith, a hugely talented West Indian all-rounder who was appearing for Sussex in the latter stages of the English T20 tournament.
Unfortunately for us though, we hadn’t considered that cricketers wouldn’t actually use our new ‘game changing’ cricket bat. In his first game for Mongoose, Dwayne used his regular bat restickered as our CoR3. The more traditionally designed bat. And for the year he was signed with Mongoose he used the headline grabbing MMi3 only once, in an exhibition game in Australia
Dwayne, like many of the cricketers we signed at Mongoose, was a hard hitting all-rounder. A match-winner. He was using another brands equipment at the time, however we managed to tempt him away with the promise of a massive increase in endorsement fees and some hefty bonuses around performances. Whilst in absolute terms, the figures were not massive — it would set the scene for our approach to sponsorship. We’d pay better than anyone..
Shift into retail
Initially, we had hoped to only sell the Mongoose range direct via the website. However after the intial demand died down it was patently clear that without significant advertising we would only manage a couple of sales per day, which for a brand with visions of dominating the world was unrealistic.
We made the strategic decision late in August 2009, after securing some much needed investment (in early August we were heavily in debt, and looked likely to go into administration then), to launch into UK retail stores. This gave us under a month to design, prototype, cost and launch our range. Optimistic to say the least. I reached out to some of the suppliers I had worked and spent time with in India, to help us out and we set about designing some crazy new protective equipment.
The designs were bold, using materials never used before in cricket, with the aim of being the lightest equipment around. The final designs were briefed into India only 1 week before the tradeshow started. The factory in India managed to turn around some prototypes, however they were miles off our expectations and certainly not what we wanted to show suppliers.
In late 2009 at the Lord’s show, we launched our range to the UK retail trade. At this show that one of the most memorable pieces of advice came to me, from Nick Keeley, batmaker at Newbery Cricket. His words, “You don’t see me driving around in a Ferrari, you’ll never get rich from cricket bats” resonated more and more as Mongoose fought the tides of cricket.
Sports equipment pretty much all works on the same margins, and we opted to price our product at a sub-premium. At only £259.00 RRP (£140.00 trade price) the bats were amongst the most competitive on the market, in hindsight potentially too cheap considering competitors equivalent bats would retail in excess of £350.00. Despite this, there was doubt from the age old cricket industry about the product, it’s viability and the interest in it.
We ended 2009 with around 350 bats sold and around £45,000 in revenue. A promising start, however far lower than one would have expected from a national televised launch and significant press coverage. The cricket industry was lining up to be tougher than we had anticipated.
An England signing
Whilst sales wained, Mongoose continue to grow as a known brand in the industry. The signing of Dwayne Smith led to a baying pool of agents, all keen to get their players signed up and their hands on the new found investment.
In late 2009 we made signings such as Lou Vincent, the New Zealander, and Mohammad Ashraful. The flashy Bangladeshi captain, known internally at Mongoose as the Bangladeshi ‘Ian Bell’. Neither player scored substantial runs, nor grabbed the headlines for their on field antics. However interestingly 5 years on, both Lou and Ashraful went on to be outed as known match-fixers.
One of our less suspect signings was the signing of James Anderson, the England fast bowler. Whilst not known for his batting prowess, the England poster boy commanded a significant five figure sponsorship salary. At the time, it was incredibly exciting — and for the first time ever in cricket it was time to shout about the bat of an England No.11.
To announce the signing of Jimmy, we arranged a photoshoot in London. The majority of cricket photoshoots revolve around a player swinging a bat around a photo studio in their cricket whites. Mongoose however was different. There were no slog sweeps on show, instead we recruited the assistant of fashion designer Isabella Blow. Armani, Dunhill, Givency and other top fashion designer wares dominated the shoot. The results were some spectacular imagery, worthy of GQ magazine.
However was this where we could best spend the budget? Did Jimmy sell Mongoose cricket bats?