Karl Holden has built up A180 Darts from his garage to a business that has a global reach.
Hi father, David, a former Lancashire County player used to sell darts around the St Helens area from 1974 to 2000.
And when Karl was laid off in 2001 he thought he would take up where his father left off and see where it took him.
And it has been quite a journey so far.
Karl said: “I was just selling in local pubs etc. It was doing okay but it was only a limited customer base.
“Then a friend of mine mentioned that eBay was huge in the USA and was going to be the same in UK. So I opened an account.”
Within a year Karl had become one of the top sellers of darts and got so busy that his wife, Dawn, left her job to help him out.
Two years later they launched the website a180.co.uk, took on another staff member and have grown every year since then.
Karl added: “Competition is at least ten times bigger now than it was ten years ago.
“But our name and reputation keep customers coming back time after time.
“People who come into our shop in St. Helens also spread the word about how much we care and know about darts.
“ The internet changed us from a local company to a worldwide brand.
“We are pushing 60,000 registered customers which is a far fetch from running the business from my Garage 12 years ago.
“We used Google ad-words etc to grow but these days just use our great reputation, along with newsletters, which help to generate sales.”
But outside the world wide web, A180 darts has another unique selling point to help draw customers into their bricks and mortar store, which they opened in Folds Lane, St Helens, in August 2006.
If you want to buy some darts – come and have a go.
Karl has set up a number of practice boards in the store so customers can get a feel for the equipment.
He said: “Setting up the practice boards was very important for our customers but it’s not really cost effective for us as a company.
“However, we get big respect for offering that service and that caring feeling really does keep them coming back to try and purchase the darts they really want and need.
“So much so we have now increased it to six practice boards due to demand.”
That is not the only way that Karl looks to keep repeat custom and has firmly placed his business at the heart of the darts community.
He added: “We do our absolute best to make people happy. We look after them and go that extra mile, especially in the darts shop where we have the staff and time to do so.
“We keep the shop totally separate from the internet side.”
The staff who serve in the shop have all been involved with darts for well over a decade, including Karl who has listed or been involved with every new product available.
He added: “The second we get a new product, we test it, check it and feel it, so we can pass on what the darts feel like. That way we know what the good and bad points are for different customers on every product.”
Another service on offer sees PDC player Alan Tabern, and former world number seven, come into the shop to give advice, known as Tabs Top Tips, and share stories about what top level darts is all about.
Karl added: “On top of this, we do try to offer advice to good standard players who frequently come into the shop to sharpen up on some parts of the game.
“I feel it is important that we offer something back to our customers.
“We offer free advice, free tea or coffee and even feed them at times.
“We have even picked many of our customers up from train and bus stations were possible because they come from all over the UK & EU.”
But Karl also has his eye on the future of the sport and has launched an academy that has grown and grown.
Even in a town that boasted players such as Dave Chisnall, Michael Smith, Stephen Bunting and Tabern there was nowhere nearby that children who wanted to get into the sport could go.
Karl said: “We started out with seven kids the first week.
“After a few months it had grown to 30 but when it went up to 40 we had to get a new venue.
“We now have a brilliant venue at the Sidac Club with 14 dartboards set up with four categories for kids aged 6-18.
“Many times we have had over 70 kids enter with around 150 people attending and average around 55 all year round.
“The committee of 12 put a huge effort in and we only charge £2 entry and they get their food free. We run it every Monday night, except Bank Holidays from 6pm for a 6.30 start and it usually finishes around 8.30pm.
“We get kids from North Wales, Liverpool, St. Helens, Warrington and Manchester regularly attending as they love it so much.”
The downside of running a successful business is that it doesn’t leave a lot of time for family but it also gives Karl a lot of pride and great memories.
He added: “We know all the players, not just the top ones but hundreds of others and been to so many events, quite a few as VIPs.
“But to help players out who were just starting their career the likes of Dave Chisnall, Stephen Bunting, Michael Smith, Alan Tabern, Alan Norris, Ian White, Brendan Dolan, Wayne Jones, James Richardson, Andy Smith, ladies’world champion Lisa Ashton, World Youth BDO Josh Richardson and many more, has just been a pleasure.
“We were part of them developing and nothing is more satisfying in darts than that.
“Plus we just meet so many people in darts that are fantastic, including the darts academy parents and helpers.
“There are so many new friends who really are like family to us now.” And looking to the future Karl is not going to sit still, he added: “We will constantly be adding the many latest products on the website.
“The shop will keep increasing and we plan to take the physical shop into the larger room, as it’s almost full to capacity.”