Many happy returns
Boomerang breakthrough from the company that juggled its way to success
Sunday 11 June 1995
As a marketing triumph, it is on a par with selling English wine to the French or cowboy hats to Texas. While the market for its juggling equipment may have peaked, the company, More Balls Than Most, is proving that it still has plenty of bounce. And cheek.
The deal was struck at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Myriam Duetz, men's gift buyer for David Jones, the Australian department store, was touring a trade show there when she called in at the More Balls stand. Step forward Sally Marlow, international sales manager. "I'd love to sell you this," she beamed, and whipped out a polished piece of curved birch, measuring 15 inches from tip to tip, and lovingly crafted in the outback of Northampton.
Ms Duetz was impressed, particularly by the packaging. Each box is decorated with surreal Monty Python-style graphics. It contains not only the boomerang but also a little tin of wax polish and a booklet that makes it plain this is a Pom product.
"I think the Aussies love that in-your-face cheekiness," says Ms Marlow. "It's really an executive toy for the man who has everything. It should go well on Australian Fathers' Day."
Like many multiples, David Jones is already selling the juggling kit that More Balls Than Most helped turn into a craze in in 1990.
Charlie Fairbairn was a computer consultant in the City during the 1980s. He spotted a gap in the market after being taught to juggle one night. When he wanted to buy the equipment, he had to go to Amsterdam. He returned with a suitcase full of balls, set up a stall in Covent Garden and sold the lot in a day.
With his partner, Adam Gardner, he set up in business in Bermondsey, south London, behind the London Wool, Leather and Hide Exchange (and bought a pub there, now renamed the Jugglers Arms) sub-contracting the manufacture of balls and clubs. The firm has since sold 200,000 kits, not just in Britain but also in America, Germany, France and Scandanavia.
But crazes do not last. Non-juggling products now account for 40 per cent of its business in Britain. The boomerang is one manifestation. Balloon kits are another. Each comes with careful instructions on how to build your own blow-up Harley Davidson motorbike, Viking helmet or dinner party, complete with lobster thermidor.
"We're about introducing old ideas in a new way for adults," said Mr Fairbairn. "We appeal to the child in everyone." Regular brain-storming sessions are held in the Jugglers Arms. Ideas are "thrown around", but the company is deadly serious about the ones it adopts. Designers are involved, prototypes developed, market research assiduously carried out. "The most important thing," said Mr Fairbairn, "is to understand the psyche of the person you're selling to."
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