David Hall, 67, had always wanted to be a journalist. "But because I didn't have the qualifications, there were absolutely no opportunities." So he went it alone. In doing so, he managed to turn a small specialist fishing magazine into what would eventually become Britain's biggest independent angling and fishing publishing company. "Who says the UK isn't a land of opportunity?"
A council house child from Manchester, Hall lifted his first fishing rod from a bin "my grandfather was a dustbin-man". He left secondary school "without an O Level to my name", and ended up making loudspeakers in Rugby. That's when he hit upon the idea for a specialist fishing magazine.
"Fishing is a lot like rugby," he says. If you're not a fan, union and league are much the same. But rugby fans know "they're completely different". With fishing, in the 1970s there was just one black-and-white, 48-page magazine. "It was trying to cover everything and failing." So in 1975, Hall launched a specific title dedicated to coarse fishing.
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Richard Walker, a well-known angler, told him he'd lose his shirt. "Coarse fishermen don't read," he said. But as it turned out that was only because "there was nothing for them to read". Between 1975 and 1985, Hall grew the magazine's circulation to 19,000 copies a month. He was "making a good living" when the magazine distributor went into administration, dragging Hall down with him. "I had to start all over again. But this time, I vowed I wouldn't be so vulnerable." Indeed, Hall decided it was safest to do everything himself, from the publishing to the distribution.
Starting in the attic of his Victorian home, Hall raise £19,000 by remortgaging his house and launched a magazine on carp fishing. "What you lack in resources you make up for in speed." He systematically sliced up the market, starting specialist magazines dedicated to each branch of the sport. Carp anglers who had been buying more generic fishing magazines "suddenly realised that instead of just two pages on carp, there was a magazine out there with 148 pages for them only". Magazines on sea angling and fly-fishing followed.
By 1989, turnover had hit £1m, and the company doubled in size every three years over the next decade. Hall bought Tackle & Gun, and launched what's become a very successful trade show off the back of it in 1999. "I can't claim to be the smartest guy in the world but I'm quite likeable. That's more or less been the key. Why would anyone like to advertise with my little magazine? The honest answer is that they liked me and kind of enjoyed having me around."
Today, David Hall Publishing is a £6m family business, with Hall's daughter on the payroll and his wife bringing up the grandchildren. Has he got any plans to retire? Not while he's still having fun, he says. Hard work and money-making prowess runs in his blood. "My brother and I have both turned out to be millionaires, he in the bacon industry, me in publishing. What are the chances that the sons of a cleaner, without any financial support from anyone, could do that?"
Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.
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