From the beginning of January 2020, Dunlop racket sport will again be locally distributed as a subsidiary brand, this time by Srixon Sports SA. The local company is guided by the steady hands of MD Louise Cooper, who has twenty years’ experience of growing golf brands in the Southern African market. The well-liked Eugene Brown, who has been working for Dunlop for almost 30 years, will add his expertise as brand sales manager.

Cooper, who says she likes to be a hands-on manager, is excited about the prospect of expanding into the local racket sports market. “My passion is growing and developing brands,” she says. As a subsidiary, she is confident that Srixon Sports SA will be able to offer Dunlop all the investment support and dedicated attention it needs to again become a very visible market leader. “I’m looking forward to diversifying the company and getting to know different retailers,” she adds. “We’ll be working closely with other industry stakeholders.”

She will be assisted by Brown, national sales manager for the brand’s current distributor, Brand-ID, which will be disbanded in early 2020. He will be joined by his Brand-ID colleague Karen Roux as part of the sales team that will cover the Sub-Saharan region.

Brown’s current dual roles place him in the ideal position to ensure a smooth transition to Srixon Sports SA, owned by SRI Sports Limited, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Rubber Industries (SRI).

This Japanese company has been manufacturing Dunlop tennis and golf balls – among others – since 1909 when the close collaboration between the Japanese Sumitomo Group and British owned Dunlop Japan began. It is now credited with holding the most golf ball patents in the world, including several for its own Srixon brand. It added a full range of Srixon golf clubs and accessories early in the 1960’s after the Sumitomo Group acquired control of Dunlop Japan and renamed it Sumitomo Rubber Industries (SRI) in 1963, and also added a Srixon tennis ball and racket range.

The XXIO line of golf balls and clubs was introduced to its manufacturing portfolio in 2000 and in 2007 it bought Cleveland Golf in the US, which became a subsidiary the next year.

Apart from manufacturing golf and racket sport equipment, SRI Sports also operate golf schools, tennis schools and fitness clubs in Japan to support their customers in improving their games. They have also developed several golf courses and presents golf tournaments, including the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament, one of the few tournaments on the international tour circuit that is held in Japan.

At the end of 2016, SRI bought the Dunlop wholesale and licensing rights from Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct International. Dunlop International became jointly owned by Sumitomo Rubber (which also manufactures tyres worldwide) and its sports subsidiary Dunlop Sports. The name has subsequently been simplified to just Dunlop.

In South Africa Srixon Sports gained market respect as the supplier of the company’s golf brands Srixon, Cleveland Golf and XXIO, which have a close relationship with one of their global brand ambassadors, Ernie Els, his Fancourt Foundation for golf development and his Els for Autism Foundation.

The subsidiary grew out of the Golf Trends distributorship, founded by Mike Powell and  joined shortly thereafter by current operations manager Mark O’Brien & Cooper. They  locally supplied golf brands like Srixon, Adams Golf, Hi-Tec golf shoes, and several subsidiary golf brands. Seven years ago Powell was appointed joint CEO of  Srixon Sports Europe, before being promoted to his current position as President North America Sales and Marketing of Cleveland Golf USA. Cooper became MD of the local company in 2017, and Powell remains a director and shareholder.

While there will always be a market for sought-after consumables like Dunlop balls, you have to provide a racket range that covers the full spectrum of players’ needs in order to build a strong brand, Brown believes. “There is a really good Dunlop racket range coming next year which I am very excited about,” he says, which will be properly marketed with the assistance of the brand owners.

Since it was founded in Ireland 130 years ago, Dunlop has had a proud history of providing equipment to top tennis players like Kevin Anderson, John McEnroe and Steffi Graff and golfers like 2011 British Open winner Darren Clarke and former world #1 Lee Westwood.

In South Africa, the tennis ball factory and sales office in Durban almost became the sports industry school, where many of the leading figures were taught the basics after BTR Dunlop took over the factory in 1960. For the next 40 years the rubber factory supplied locally made tennis and squash balls and during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s Dunlop Slazenger dominated these markets also in racket sales.

It is doubtful that anybody in South Africa has a better understanding of the Dunlop brand, and the retail environment it operates in, than Brown, who has devoted his entire career to the brand. After joining what was then known as BTR Dunlop in 1990 as storeman in Southdale, Johannesburg, he became a sales agent for the brand when Steve Gallienne was offered the position of national sales manager in 1998 by the new owners, Dunlop Slazenger International.

When the UK owners closed the Dunlop Slazenger tennis and squash ball factory in 2001 and announced that they were withdrawing from South Africa, Gallienne and Richard Agar bought the local business, which became the Dunslaz Distributorship. Brown was given the responsibility of managing the old Transvaal and Free State areas – a position he retained after the subsequent sales of Dunslaz to Super-Brands in 2008 and Brand ID in April 2014.

Gallienne left for the UK to manage Karakal globally in 2017 and Brown was promoted to national sales manager of the former Dunslaz brands, which included Slazenger, Swingball, Opro, Karakal and Ashaway. More recently, in one of several Brand ID restructures, he was appointed national sales manager for all the brands in the company.

Apart from squash and tennis rackets and balls, they will probably expand their product offering into areas like strings, grips, etc. which were covered by Karakal and Ashaway at Brand-ID. Dunlop also offers a range of Squash57 products – the name adopted by England Squash for racketball to eliminate confusion with the American racquetball sport.