By Louise Ramsay
It makes sense that Anthony Egan works for Kooga. Mad about rugby from the age of 11 when he first played it at Lymm Grammar School in Cheshire, he went on to play at top class club level with Sale with the likes of Tony Bond, Steve Smith and Fran Cotton, as well as for England Colleges.
But despite his passion for the game, it’s only in the last 18 months that he’s managed to combine his second career in sales with his favourite sport.
“I worked my way up from sales rep to sales manager at Wilson Sporting Goods over 15 years, then went on to become general sales manager at ASICS for four years,” Egan explains. “When the opportunity to be sales director at Kooga came up, it felt like everything was falling into place. It wasn’t just that I’d always wanted to work for a great rugby brand, but it was a brilliant opportunity to get involved at a time of massive change.”
Kooga was acquired by JD Sports in 2009, but until Egan came on board not much had changed about how the brand was being run. He says: “Kooga had come into the market very quickly. It had become involved in a lot of professional club contracts, which was great for branding, but a lot of the deals were unprofitable.
“When JD took Kooga on, they wanted to give the then management an opportunity to put their ideas for recovery into practice, but it was an uphill struggle. Not only had the market in replica shirts slowed, but it didn’t help that the JD buyout coincided with the re-emergence of Canterbury and the likes of Optimum coming into the market.”
Eighteen months ago JD Sports decided the time had come for a radical shake-up of the way Kooga was run and Egan was brought in alongside managing director Andy Ronnie to manage the change. Ronnie is also managing director of football licensing brand Source Lab, which he previously owned before selling out to JD Sports in 2012.
“The results have been incredible,” Egan says. “Our year end is January 2015 and we expect to be in profit. It’s a fantastic achievement for just over a year’s work. It makes us all very proud.”
To achieve the financial turnaround, Kooga’s warehouse and distribution was merged with Source Lab’s resources in Cheadle.
“The previous Kooga warehouse was very expensive,” Egan says. “We also switched to Source Lab suppliers, allowing us to buy in materials in greater volume to reduce costs. Kooga used to buy in from around 18 to 19 suppliers and we’ve reduced that to about seven or eight. Outgoings have been further cut by using existing Source Lab designers.
“The end result is we’re now producing a better quality, better designed product, which is much more saleable.”
Progress has not come without its costs, though. “We had to cut the workforce by 50 per cent,” Egan says. “It was very disappointing, but we had to do it for the future of Kooga. It wasn’t the easiest day of my life.”
Kooga is being canny about where it places itself in the market. “We’re the number two brand behind Canterbury,” Egan says. “We’re filling the middle end of the market. It’s foolish for us to compete head to head with a brand leader, but we’re a strong, technical brand offering the rugby player a great second choice.”
To achieve this, Kooga is offering a slightly different product with a good price differential. “We wouldn’t aim to undercut Canterbury by a few pounds on a similar product, we’d offer something recognisably different at an obviously lower price,” Egan says. “Our products are still very high quality – we’re just not pushing to be at the top end.”
The aim is for Kooga to continue with its bespoke kit supply. “We’re still in touch with the grass roots via our retailer-supplied local kit,” Egan says. “But we’re also keeping up our club presence. Currently we’re involved with the Scarlets, Gloucester, Worcester, Yorkshire Carnegie and Huddersfield Giants.
“At the end of the year we’ll be announcing a major signing with an English Premiership club. It will take us seriously into the rugby union market – the future is very bright for Kooga.”