Football Crazy

By The Drum, Administrator

July 3, 2006 | 8 min read

If business, like football, is a game of two halves, then Alan Horridge is the super-sub that saunters on in the 73rd minute to put his previously struggling team 3-0 up. At 55-years-old he may not be a Rooney-esque wunderkind, but his experienced reading of the commercial game certainly takes some beating.

Nut-megging further World Cup related clichés we’ll get straight to the point; Horridge appears to have the Midas touch.

An accountant by training and trade, the avuncular Manchester-based businessman spent a short lifetime in the manufacturing industry, before moving onto software and finally fashion. It was here where he really earned his golden boots, transforming the fortunes of Americana International, the holding company controlling Hooch, Bench and the Westworld Retail Corporation.

Here, from 1999 to his departure as MD in 2005, he engineered an increase in turnover from £4.5m to £40m, while squeezing out a very tidy 25 per cent profit margin. Early this year he transferred these silky skills to female football brand Footie Chick, with the intention of re-invigorating this once under-performing FC and moving it up a few divisions.

\"When I joined Americana the opportunity was in the brands,\" said Horridge a few hours prior to England’s woeful Trinidad & Tobago outing (I won’t tell you the scores we predicted, but 2-0 wasn’t mentioned). \"Everybody had heard of names such as Hooch and knew exactly what they were about. The brands were there, they were strong, they just needed to get the infrastructure right and that’s where I came in. It’s been exactly the same story with Footie Chick.\"

Founded by entrepreneur David Brint in July 2002 the thinking behind the female-centric brand was always sound. As Horridge explained \"they’d seen a niche in the market and come up with a great product and proposition to fill it\", but, well ... there was a ‘but’; a missing piece of the jigsaw stopping a great idea turning into a great business. Cue the super-sub.

In January Horridge acquired a 25 per cent stake in the business and became chief exec. In his own words he’d bought into a \"company (that) wasn’t doing particularly fantastically\" with \"other people who had invested in the past, before I’d joined, and were in danger of maybe losing their investment.\"

From this relatively inauspicious outlook things have turned sharply around as the team has gone on the attack, opening up new fronts in America and, with the help of Manchester’s Glorious, tidying up the brand itself.

\"Well, we had a meeting last week,\" confided Horridge, chewing on what sounded like a mouthful of pride, \"I think it was day 93 since we’d come on board (two ex-colleagues from Americana, Maggie Moran and Tim Parker, took an additional 15 per cent stake between them), and we were about three times ahead of the turnover we took last year.\"

One of the primary reasons for the turnaround seems to be the invasion of the American arena, but we’ll shimmy into that ballpark a bit later on. First Horridge, and indeed Adline, want to talk brand.

\"That was what turned me on to the business, the idea was great, the brand was great and there had been a huge amount of hype about it in the football world. It just needed the business to roll out and take advantage of that.\"

Slipping into devil’s advocate mode it’s worth questioning this belief in the Footie Chick brand. To these cynical ears it sounds a bit too, oh I don’t know, Atomic Kitten or something. A bit too young and overtly girly. Will the target market appreciate this and do they actually want to be marketed to as a separate entity when they may just see themselves as part of football as a whole?

It’s the latter point that Horridge immediately sinks his teeth into.

\"I can understand why some people might think that,\" he retorted good-naturedly, \"but nothing could be further from the truth. I think I’m safe in saying that the girls actually think that the big brands, such as Adidas or Nike, don’t take them seriously. Other companies have, and do, produce women’s football wear, but it just seems like an add on, an afterthought in addition to the men’s kit. Football boots are a good example of this.\"

Horridge then powers off on a solo run explaining that Footie Chick’s boots are made specifically for the female foot, with the same specifications and materials (kangaroo skin uppers) as the male professionals demand.

\"There have been some brands at some stages that have also produced female football boots,\" he continued, with an air of exasperation, \"but they’ve been made with the thought process of ‘I know, if they’re for women we’ll make them pink!’ I’ve seen that and the women just hated it; they found it to be totally patronising. Female players see it as a serious sport and want to be taken seriously in their own right, not just as a spin off from the men’s game.\"

Well, that’s answered that then. But what about the old Atomic Kitten accusation? Isn’t the brand a bit too pigtails and lollipops for serious soccer sirens?

\"The core age group we market to is around the 20-22 year old, so I don’t see that,\" Horridge countered. \"There’s around two million registered female football players in the UK and we provide products that cater for the whole spectrum. Yes, we do tailor part of our range to girls, down to about the age of five, but the technical side of the market is one of our main strengths. Some of the England team wear our boots and we sponsor three teams in the US, as well as Everton Ladies. So we are taken very seriously within the marketplace.\"

Sponsorship appears to be the primary way that Horridge and his team get the Footie Chick branding out onto the playing field, with one of the Everton stars, Rachel Unitt, ostensibly operating as brand champion. As memory recalls they did once plump for PR, in a fairly enthusiastic way, but have now \"backed away from that\" as \"it proved to be quite expensive.\"

\"At Americana I learnt the power of getting the clothes on the back of people that the target market would identify with,\" our interviewee elucidated. \"Now at Footie Chick we’re trying to get the top ladies players to wear the brand and thus make it aspirational for the girls that play the sport. If they’re seeing their heroes wearing something then they’re going to want to wear it as well.\"

As the fulltime whistle will soon be blowing, and there’s a few more trite footy clichés to shoehorn in, we’ll quickly break onto the American front. It’s here that Horridge sees real potential for FC:

\"There’s 22 million registered players over there, it’s a huge market and we’re obviously keen to take advantage of that. I’ve been over there five times since I joined the firm and we’ve now got our first franchisees and distributors on board, with much more to come. The reaction that we’ve had from the players, coaches and retailers is amazing and we’re doing all we can to capitalise on that.

\"It helps,\" he continued, \"that we’re still really out there doing this on our own. There is a small Canadian player manufacturing female only soccer products, but they’re not of the same quality. We were the first to do this specifically for women and we’re the best. Footie Chick has real brand integrity as a result of that and that will help us to really grow this business.\"

Horridge has already been quoted in the press as saying that he wants American sales to top $10m over the next couple of years, and with his proven acumen, not to mention work ethic (he covered 14,500 miles on his last two week US trip) you wouldn’t bet against him.

This super-sub looks certain to score yet again.


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