The 43 years Herbert Prout devoted to the sports industry is more than the lifespan of many of the youngsters currently active … although his children might claim that he had spent 73 years in the industry as he never fully retired. When he passed away a week ago, aged 90, the industry lost a large part of its heritage.
Herby joined the sports industry fresh from school in 1946 and he got to know most of the retailers during the 1950’s when he visited them as a sales agent for one of the leading distributors, A&J Agencies. During the 1960’s he joined golf distributor Golfex, where he worked for 17 years. There he got to know the prestigious Ping golf brand, which Opal Sports started distributing after his restraint of trade expired in 1984.
The sports industry has been in the Prout family’s genes. His late wife, Natalie, also worked for A&J Agencies and during school holidays their daughter, Anne, joined her father on sales trips.
It is well-documented that Anne and Natalie Prout bought Opal Canvas and Webbing, which manufactured the martial arts brand Mitsuko in 1978. More than 40 years later it is still one of their many brands. When they added their first sports agency – Durus soccer – they changed the name to Opal Sportswear (later Opal Sports). The following year Herby joined them and used his knowledge of the golf industry to acquire Munsingware golf shirts and Taylormade equipment.
The Prout family became the distributors of the Gunn & Moore and Unicorn brands in South Africa in 1980 – a relationship with the Lowy family from the UK that spans nearly forty years. Herby’s sons Nigel and Robert joined the company in the early 1980’s and they acquired various other brands like Summit and Ping, which is part of the golf division run by his son-in-law Doug Vilas.
They sold Opal Sportswear to Interleisure in 1987, but the family continued working for the group until they again bought back their company. In 1990 they decided to appoint Anne as MD.
Although Herby Prout officially retired in 1998 after more than 50 years in the industry, he maintained an office in the office complex where they rented, until the children bought a building in 2013.
But, he remained connected to the sports industry until close to his death. A few months ago he was among the “Old Timers” invited to the Old Timers lunch at Zwartkop, where he had began calling on Otway Hayes as an agent more than 67 years ago.
We would like to invite any member of the industry who knew Herby Prout to share their memories and anecdotes with us via email to be included in an article in Sports Trader.