Thursday, 4 March 2010

Rugby Pitch to the Sales Pitch

Steve Smith and Fran Cotton will be names evocative of a golden age of rugby to longstanding fans, having both captained England in the 1970's and 80's, both men have earned their places in the history books of the great game. During their fruitful partnerships with Sale, England and the British Lions, the pair experienced a great level of success on the field, but nobody could have predicted just how successful they were to be off the field.

Prior to 1995, rugby union was an amateur game, such that players would have to earn their living elsewhere. Smith and Cotton were particularly prolific in the employment side of their lives, with Cotton working as a regional sales manager, whilst Smith lectured on management and personnel. Following on from these business foundations and their bond on the pitch, the pair joined forces at Bukta Sportswear as their international careers drew to a close. Following a successful development of the company and sale to French Connection, Smith and Cotton decided to act on their entrepreneurial aspirations and set up their own company.

Cotton Traders was established in 1987 with the intention of becoming forerunners in the rugby and leisurewear market. Combining their knowledge of rugby, sales, management and marketing, cultivated over their years of juggling rugby and commerce: they were perfectly poised for success and lived up to that potential.

In 1989, after just 2 years of trading, the pair had managed to generate £2million turnover from their small office in Altrincham, Cheshire and then continued to expand operations at a phenomenal rate. Cotton Traders currently turns over more than £50million annually and boasts a workforce in excess of 700 people. The range of products offered by the company has expanded as rapidly as the company itself, with Cotton Traders covering everything from the original rugby shirts through to footwear, swimwear and accessories.

Much like in their earlier years of club and international rugby, both Smith and Cotton continue to juggle their 2 passions: rugby and business. With Smith still actively involved in the wholesale side of the company whilst also appearing as a television and radio commentator on international matches and Cotton consistently featuring on Boards and committees on the international side of English rugby when he isn't heading up the mail order arm of the business.

In an age when footballers command weekly wages in excess of many corporate directors' annual salary it is amazing to consider the success of these two men who have throughout their lives struck a balance between both sport and business at the very highest level.

Jamie Lyons

Writer for

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