If you buy a generic mass market product, such as a DVD player, you may be aware that the brand plastered on the front may not have manufactured that DVD player. You may also know that supermarkets don’t make their own branded food, despite it appearing that they do. Nothing unusual about this, though, really? No, it’s called white labeling and it has been a highly successful commercial practice for numerous companies for over fifteen years now. But DVD players and baked beans are one thing, a cricket bat is another. They are not exactly mass market products, are they? A cricket bat is a specialist item made from a natural source. Almost like an ornament, in that it is the product of the love and devotion that the manufacturer gives it. You won’t see them on a production line, being churned out minute after minute. The time between the initial shaping of the cleft to the moment the final sticker is applied takes hours, and unlike electrical items or cheap groceries, each item is different from the other. Might we therefore be concerned that the same white labeling exists in the cricket bat market? It is certainly a thorny issue in the industry, so I’d like to take a look and provide a retailer’s perspective on it.
Cricket bat manufacturing is a dying art, especially here in England. The level of skills and expertise required is substantial, not to mention the cost of the machinery needed and the infrastructure to store it. The time demands are also considerable – no genuine cricket bat maker can do the job part-time, at least not if he wants to earn enough to make a living from it. I know of some bat makers who work seven day weeks at busy times of year, and each day is a morning, afternoon and night. I also know of bat makers that used to be very talented cricketers who needed to give up the game in order to continue in their trade. They just can’t take weekends off. These are big sacrifices to make, especially for a cricket lover, which all cricket bat makers need to be, so just being able to do it in the first place is impressive.
In my four years in the cricket industry, I have come to know of only twelve or thirteen genuine cricket bat brands in this country. By genuine, I mean those who are working full time and can legitimately claim to make all their bats from the raw cleft here in the UK. Yet, having scoured the market before writing this, I know that there are in excess of fifty cricket bat brands out there claiming to have their bats made here in the UK and this number seems to be growing every month. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that a low percentage of these brands actually make their own bats and amongst these, there may also be some that claim to make them in the UK, but actually buy in finished bats from India or Pakistan. Others may buy in part-made bats from elsewhere, and then just finish them off themselves i.e. sand them down, slap some wax on them, apply the stickers and grip and claim that they are making these bats themselves! All is not what it may seem in the cloak and dagger cricket industry…
I don’t have a problem with brands that are open about the provenance of their bats and can admit that they don’t manufacture their own. Gray-Nicolls are a good example because, despite their heritage in this country and the fact that they still have a large manufacturing premises in East Sussex, they openly admit that they make very few bats here nowadays – with the vast majority being made in India – and have clearly explained to us the reasons why. An open book. I also think that as in-house UK manufacturing is so cost and time prohibitive, as Gray-Nicolls learnt, and requires such specialist skills, it’s acceptable for other brands to outsource and advertise their bats as “handmade in England” when they genuinely are (if outsourced to a UK bat maker), but from what I’ve learnt in the past four years, I have a feeling that not all brands are as honest as this. Some may be misleading you, claiming things that aren’t actually true. Lying to customers. This is what upsets me and many of the genuine bat makers out there because, ultimately, all these brands are competing for the same willow (which is becoming more and more limited every year and is a finite resource) and fighting for market share in what has become an increasingly competitive sector. Why would anyone support a dishonest brand over a genuine one? Would we not rather buy from our own manufacturers, or at least the honest brands out there, and in so doing help keep them in business over the brands who are pulling the wool over our eyes? I am sure I know what most of you would say in response, but the trouble is: how many times can you actually find out who these dishonest brands are? Will you ever really know if you are being lied to? It’s a tough one to police, especially for the average customer who probably wouldn’t think to ask these questions, or even if he did, would not be able to investigate beyond the surface level.
As a specialist retailer, we are not only fussy about the particular bats we stock – handpicking every single one of them ourselves – but we also do our best to filter out the dishonest brands from our shelves and steer clear of them. We don’t always get it right, unfortunately. Sometimes it takes us some time to learn. We are also being lied to…
We also try to only stock the genuine brands and have a personal connection with the bat makers. Indeed, I have a lot of respect for them and can relate to them, as it’s a very difficult job that is done for a love of cricket rather than a love of money! I think that, as a customer as well as a retailer, their efforts are well worth supporting and I, for one, would like to contribute towards that. I would hate to see the dwindling bat making contingent dry up completely here in the UK, especially if it is replaced with what some refer to as the “sticker companies”. This is one of the reasons why I bought a Hell4Leather HellFire bat last year. I like to know that I can talk to the manufacturer directly if I have any issues with my bat. He is just a phone call away. I also like the fact that he will gladly repair my bat himself should it ever need fixing. It gives me a reassuring feeling that my investment is a secure one. I cannot say the same if I bought a bat from a company who outsourced their manufacturing. Call me a cynic, but I honestly doubt the brand I got it from would just put me through to their bat maker if I called them to discuss an issue with my bat. I therefore have less control and am less secure about my investment. For me, this is quite an important issue, and I didn’t even get a very expensive bat (sadly my batting isn’t good enough to justify this!) Imagine if it was, though, and I’d spent over £400 on it?
I don’t want to single out any brands on here, but would simply advise that if you have any doubts or concerns about your cricket bat, or if you feel you aren’t being told the truth, I urge you to talk to your retailer and manufacturer and put them on the spot. I feel this is especially worthwhile if the price seems very low for a grade one, English made bat, or if they are prepared to offer you a ridiculous sponsorship discount even if you don’t play at a very high level – if it’s too good to be true, it usually is. Ask them the tough questions and see how they respond. Realise that whomever you talk to may be lying to you and try to detect that before buying! Just sound them out first.
At the recent Lord’s Trade Show, Salix and Chase were proudly advertising that their bats are entirely handmade on site in their respective workshops in southern England. For me, this is a massive selling point for their bats, but I am a little concerned that they even feel the need to do this? Are they not hammering home a point that we already know? Or are other less genuine brands forcing their hand in order to compete? If this is the case, why do two very well established and critically acclaimed, genuine bat makers even see these less genuine brands as a threat? My own take is that the customer is usually not as well informed as they should be and can be tricked into buying bats that they shouldn’t. I don’t think it’s fair and I wish it stopped. Hopefully you can help!
Going back to white labeling, is the cricket bat market the right forum for such a practice? Could a customer rightly expect more when spending over £400 on such a product? Does the customer at least deserve to know the truth about his or her investment? Why are the customers – and even retailers – being lied to in the first place? It’s just not cricket!
As a thank you for reading this post, enjoy 5% off any product from three of the genuine UK bat makers – Hell4Leather, Salix and Chase – by quoting discount code BLOGUKBATMAKER on our website, http://www.itsjustcricket.co.uk