A new line in sponsorship
It’s been more than 30 years since a little-known double glazing company pulled off what turned out to be a pioneering deal that helped change the commercialisation of football.
The 1983-84 Scottish season was the last full campaign that either Rangers or Celtic wore kits without the name of a sponsor. In September 1984, CR Smith announced a shirt sponsorship deal with both clubs and the brand appeared on their jerseys for the first time on the 29th of that month.
Gerard Eadie recalls how it set the pattern, not only for others to follow, but for the creation of a new industry in football kit sponsorship.
He likes to think he’s about to do something similar, only this time with the Edinburgh trams.
CR Smith has just signed a two-year deal, once again breaking new ground as the first commercial partner for the light rail system. Its logos and specially-designed artwork featuring Scottish themes, will be emblazoned on 18 of the 27 trams.
“The Celtic-Rangers campaign went from no one knowing who we were to everyone knowing us,” he says. “It gave us wall-to-wall awareness of our name across Scotland and for years I have been thinking that we need to come up with an idea that would be like it. I think this one is just as good.”
Speaking on the first journey for one of the newly-decorated trams, he says that keeping a company’s profile in the public’s mind is crucial.
“It’s a mistake for anyone to think that once you are well-known you are always well-known. If you do not keep the profile up then it will diminish.”
He won’t disclose how much has been invested in the sponsorship package, nor compare it with the Old Firm deal. “At the time it was a lot of money as I didn’t have any,” he quips. “This one has got to work, and we think it will work.”
The new-look tram was unveiled to the media at the Gogar depot where the announcement coincided with news that the route may be extended eastwards from York Place in the east end to Newhaven.
‘The trams are the perfect fit for us’
The arguments may be about to resume over the merits of spending a further £165m but for Eadie this just creates more of the sort of attention that sponsors crave. The current partnership with the city council, negotiated with Marketing Edinburgh, Transport for Edinburgh and Edinburgh Trams, will run only until 2019 when work may begin on the Newhaven extension, and that may be the time to assess whether the advertising deal itself might have further to run.
For now Eadie sees the 5.6 million tram journeys a year as a honeypot of potential customers as it becomes increasingly popular with locals.
“The trams get millions of visitors and a big percentage of those are people living in Scotland,” he says. “That makes the trams a perfect fit with our campaign.”
Eadie has been at the helm of the company for more than 40 years. He had just completed a glazing apprenticeship when one of his suppliers, Charles Robert (Bert) Smith, who ran a business in Dunfermline, asked him if he wanted to take it on.
“I paid £1,200 for his Olivetti accounting machine, £1,200 for the shares and rented the premises,” he says. “I kept my own business, Gerry Eadie Glaziers, for a while but decided to go with CR Smith which meant I could claim we had been around for 60 years.”
‘I don’t have the slightest concern about Brexit’
He says business is currently buoyant, with turnover likely to leap from £25m to £36m largely because of new work on social housing and for new building clients. Demand generally has held up, he says, because the economy is in reasonable shape.
These days he sells “orangeries” rather than conservatories, explaining that they are more decorative and elaborate with tiling and cupola towers. “They are more substantial structures these days,” he says.
He assuages hostile public opinion by remaining close to the demonised banker Fred Goodwin, inviting him to his regular shooting parties, and is not impressed by political warnings over the potential impact of Brexit, arguing that solutions to problems will always be found.
“I read about Brexit, and what have you, and if I’m asked if it will have any impact on us I have to say that no it won’t.
“My view is that we may not get all our own way but we are smart enough to survive and I don’t think any of it will hold us back.
“Change is always a problem and a worry in anything we do but you just work through it. I started in business in my 20s and I have been through a lot of change. Personally, I don’t have the slightest concern about Brexit.”
Trained: Apprentice glazier, Fife County Council
Business highlights: Founded his own business aged 20 and two years later acquired CR Smith. Now executive chairman. In 2013, he was appointed a CBE.
What keeps you awake at night?
My charity work. Concern that people will not contribute after all the effort that has been put in.
What annoys you?
Not much. I have a retriever that doesn’t retrieve but I get more tolerant as I get older. The key is to mix with the younger generation.
Do you do social media?
No. I text now and again. But I am no Donald Trump.
How much does Brexit bother you on a scale of 1-10 (1 being not bothered at all)?
Do customers still ask for Mr Smith?
Yes, I often get called it. I just let it go.