Making a racquet: Mike Jones pf Emm Gee Sports has been kitting out Whitstable sports teams for more than 20 years WTBA0801MikeJones-1
FOR more than 20 years Mike Jones has been keeping the town's sports teams stocked with kit from his shop Emm Gee Sports at 124 Tankerton Road, Tankerton. When he is not re-stringing rackets, buffing bowls and embroidering kit, Mike, 46, likes to play table tennis and keep wicket for a village cricket team.
With the recession, online shopping and major sports chains threatening the independent stores across the country, James Scott went to see how Mike and his shop are coping…
Emm Gee Sports? What's the story behind that name?
It comes from my first two initials – Mike Graham. I had to spell it Emm Gee to avoid confusion with the MG car company but it didn't stop one person ringing up asking for a motorbike.
How has business changed over the past 20 years?
As there is a recession it's pretty difficult for a sports shop at the moment. With the introduction of the internet and online shopping there are more options where people can get sports equipment from. Even the older bowlers are well aware of prices these days so I have to keep an eye open on competitors more than I used to.
Have you noticed anything else?
A lot less youngsters are playing sport. Some are going to the skate park at Swalecliffe to keep active but sadly a lot seem to stay inside playing computer games.
Do you sell online?
I set up a website last year so it is early days but most of my business is still done locally. We have had to diversify so I have put more emphasis on the website and embroidery. I bought a machine 18 months ago so we can add logos and names to shirts, hats and caps. I also re-string racquets.
When did you open the shop?
It was 1987. We were across the road to start with, in the same row as Mr Snips. But we kept getting ram-raided. We were hit three times in five years. They didn't take very much, I don't think they were the blessed with much intelligence. But it was a hassle to replace the shop front three times. When I moved across the road the first thing I did was to put bollards in front.
Where did you go to school?
I grew up in Challock near Ashford but went to Simon Langton Grammar Boys Grammar School in Canterbury. My first job was in the payroll department of Aldington detention centre which later became a prison. I went on to have three or four jobs in other wage departments including Kent County Council. I took over the shop when I was 24.
Who had the shop before you?
I took over from Vince Wells, the former Kent and England cricketer. He ran it with his dad. I knew him through cricket because I used to play against him.
When did you start playing cricket?
I was 13 and played for the Challock village team. Then I joined Ashford and played in the Kent League for 15 years. I played for Kent under-19s as well. I still play for Challock.
Are you their kit man?
Yes. I've kitted out most of the players. It's probably why they let me play! I always carry a bit of extra equipment in case someone forgets something.
Do you play any other sports?
I play table tennis for Rough Common in the Canterbury and Ashford leagues. I used to play for football teams as well but I retired because of injuries.
Have you won any competitions?
I have won the Ashford tournament 10 times. The first was in 1979, that makes me feel old. I supply the trophies so it was quite strange being presented with my own trophy!
Which football team do you support?
Queen's Park Rangers. I watch their evening games in the week and on bank holidays but can't get to the Saturday games because of the shop. They are 10th in league but don't seem to know where they're going. I don't think the chairman Flavio Briatore knows either.
Have you had any famous customers?
The only one who tends to be around is Suggs (Graham McPherson from Madness) because he has a beach hut and his family live here.
What do you sell most?
Ankle and knee supports are very popular. Many of my customers are a bit older so they tend to need them to help with injuries.
What is special about your shop?
Personal service is what it is all about. I have in-depth knowledge of most sports and have played nearly all the sports I sell equipment for.
Which three people would you invite to dinner?
Alan Knott, the former Kent and England wicket-keeper, inspired me to become a wicket-keeper. He was quite eccentric though so I'm not sure if I'd want him to dinner - but he'd definitely make things interesting.
I would definitely ask Sir Garry Sobers, the former cricket captain of West Indies, because he is probably one of the best cricketers of all time.
I would also invite QPR legend Stan Bowles. He was another character of the 1970s. He was a very skilful player but apparently would always be in the pub before a game.
* For more information visit www.emmgeesports.co.uk or call 01227 276581.