This is a 2 part article I wrote in response to a question raised on the forum, which focussed on Yonex Racquets:

Part One

A racquet is very personal. What suits one player can be alien to another.

Yonex has been a driving force in the development of racquets over the last 30 years or so. Since I began playing… erm way back in 1970’s (yes I’m that mature – but not old) we had the steel framed, heavy Carlton 3.7 or 3.7X.

Along came a carbon frame, WOW! Since around 1984 when we first saw all carbon one-piece racquets, there has been massive development in racquet technology.

Whatever your favourite brand, you cannot deny Yonex as a world leader. Remember, it was Yonex who pioneered carbon frames and then made them stronger. Early models were susceptible to breakage from the slightest clash and could not be strung at high tension.

Not only has Yonex continued to push the boundaries of science in terms of frame material, they’ve probably been the only supplier to extensively test frame shape, hence virtually every manufacturer is now using the ISO head shape.

History has shown that Yonex is the main supplier of “firsts” in the market place, usually swiftly followed by the other manufacturers. It’s the most copied brand too in terms of fakes entering the market. You only have to look at ebay to see the number of “clone” racquets. For the record, whilst these racquets look like the top Yonex racquets, they play nothing like (I’ve got many friends who can testify to that and regret having bought them).

If you look at current catalogues, I’ll be surprised if there’s a manufacturer with as many models available for a player. In other words, there should be something to suit any type of player. From what i know, consistency in quality is also at the forefront of this brand too which cannot be said for other manufacturers. Just recently, Central Sports have dropped a major name brand from their list of racquets because of the fall in quality and onerous changes to distribution/availability. The owner of this brand also owns Newcastle United FC and we all know how much unrest there has been at that club.

In summary, I believe the badminton market owes a huge debt to Yonex. In my book, they are the top brand in the world because they do make the best racquets. That doesn’t mean they’re everyones cup of tea but I, for one, have huge confidence in the quality and I know that over the next year or so there will be further developments in technology that may improve my game. Whilst they may cost that little bit more, I’m willing to pay it because I feel I get value for money and not some “we can do that too” brand.

Oh, by the way, I’m a professional Business and Marketing Consultant so I’m not fooled by marketing hype to get me to buy a brand.

As a registered Advanced Coach I have extensively tested racquets over my badminton life and therefore feel I’m in good position to make these observations.

So, thank you Yonex for your legacy to the game to date and long it may it continue. Here’s hoping the market continues to bring in new suppliers to challenge our highly individual unique perception of racquet perfection as this can only be good for the game.

Part Two

As a coach and player in my mature years, I have seen many changes in the game when talking about equipment. I’ve seen brands come and go, many of them hyped up or well marketed e.g. Talbot or Prince. Prince in 1990’s produced some great racquets with a different shape head. They invested heavily in players to promote the brand and were probably the most successful at challenging Yonex for a period. Talbot on the other hand, despite the brand backing of a badminton great, didn’t make the grade although took some market share at their peak.

Other contenders over the years have been Pro Kennex. They consistently made good racquets but didn’t push to get into high profile players to really establish the brand. We’ve also had Yang Yang racquets, Park racquets and many more that merely came and went.

“What about Carlton” you may be asking? I played with their racquets from beginner stage. I went through the old 4.3, 4.1 3.7 3.7x 3.7s before switching to Yonex Carbonex 8 around 1982/3. Carlton has certainly had its golden years but sadly the sale of the brand many years ago really took the shine off a great badminton company. Some may know that Carlton was incorporated into the Dunlop/Slazenger camp many years ago. Since that time, it was the baby amongst the two giant names in tennis and therefore suffered from lack of attention. That said, they stayed strong whilst Morten Frost was spearheading the advertising and then it slowly disappeared.

Carlton has never gone away but sadly for the game has never recaptured its previous glory neither, despite advertising to a younger market with the likes of Robertson, Smith in their campaigns. Carlton is now owned by Mr Ashley’s empire. Discussions in the “inner circle” have expressed severe concerns about the brand. There is talk that the racquets have already undergone a lowering of quality dictat in order to increase profit margins. The brand also has to be purchased via Mr Ashleys distribution house which many retailers are steering clear of. So, possibly the brand is going to be seen in less shop fronts except Mr Ashleys who sells online.

I believe over these two articles I’ve made a fair assessment of the racquet market covering 3/4 decades. Over this period Yonex has always been the outstanding brand. What you, the reader may not know is that the racquet quality has never been in question. What has happened since around 1989/1990 in UK is the change of distribution from Ascot Sports to the emergence of Yonex UK.

Ascot Sports did a pretty poor job of developing the brand. They were more interested in pushing their own brand of sportswear which was more directly aimed at Squash market. We always had poor choice in clothing, shoes and accessories compared to what was available elsewhere in the world, especially Denmark. Yonex UK were formed to change that. They were originally headed by Larry lamb, former head of Badminton Association of England. He did a great job in setting up the business although it took many years before we saw the quality of catalogues we now take for granted.

Is Yonex a well-marketed business? Simply, yes. In my profession, I act for many companies as a marketing consultant. In any industry, the best marketing dominates position of the business, hence Yonex is No 1 in UK and the world. But, marketing alone wil not keep you in the No 1 position if your goods are poor quality, they really do have to live up to the marketing.

Let’s remember that Yonex is one of only a few truly International players. There are many names that are now familiar in UK such as Yehlex, Forza, Ashaway, Karakal who just do not have the world presence. All of these brands make good racquets and have their own appeal in the market. Up against Yonex, they don’t have the budget or the research funding to compete and therefore they have to work very hard to promote their brands against Yonex.

Being the biggest isn’t easy. With it comes a huge responsibility to continue to push boundaries of technology and lead the way. That means spending huge sums on testing materials. If any of you have heard about their racquet making plants, you’d know that they are beyond passionate about what they make. You’re talking typical Japanese attention to the minutest detail to ensure only the best racquets make the retailers shelves. The rejects get binned. There are only a few racquets in the current range made outside of the Yonex factory in Japan. As you would imagine, they are the budget range.

If you ever see an advert on ebay for a Chinese made Yonex racquet or clone, rest assured it’s a fake. The racquet will certainly look like a Yonex with minor differences in the graphics. The biggest difference by a country mile will be playability. Sorry to disappoint but an Arcsaber 10 selling on ebay at £29 will not play like the original. Is the original worth 5 times the price? You better believe it!

I think I’ve covered a lot of ground in my two replies to this thread to answer many of Yonex’s critics. There’s a place for every brand in badminton. As I say to all of my students, test everything you can and make a decision for yourself what racquet you wish to play with – it’s that personal. 9/10 still choose Yonex because they had more choice and occasionally found their racquets sitting in between 2 others in the brand. That’s not to dis other brands it’s just what I’ve experienced. The other brands generally do not have the same depth to choose from and for some that just doesn’t suit.

There’s a lot written on Yonex catalogues that means absolutely nothing to me. I buy BG65Ti string because I like it. I’ve tested loads of string including pretty much the full range of Ashaway which at one time used to be the number string in UK. Now it’s Yonex and most top players I know prefer it, whether they’re using Yonex racquets or not.

Quality always rises to the top. Whether you’re a Yonex fan or not, there’s no denying they are a quality brand. For some the price is too much. That’s fine. We don’t all drive around in a Mercedes or Aston Martin cars but we still have a car that gets us from A to B and does the job adequately.

Being a top brand brings a lot of criticism. There’s usually a lot of jealousy too. Also, when you’re top, there’s always someone wanting to knock you off the top spot. Good, as it keeps everyone on their toes.

But please, how about some respect where’s it’s due, whatever your personal favourite is. Yonex is the only brand in UK with the longevity and kudos to proudly be called No 1. If you don’t like it, then that’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. But, if you can find another sponsor for the All Englands to carry us into the next 25 years then put them forward.

Yes, I’ll stand by my first entry (Part One above) here. Yonex do deserve to be No 1 brand in badminton. I’ll bet they’ve sacrificed a lot more than we’ll ever know to attain this position and stay there over the years. They do make outstanding products and support our game way beyond the requirements of any supplier in a sporting arena.