“I’m a businessman, but first and foremost I’m a bookmaker. And I love bookmaking.”
UK bookmaker Betfred has grown into a multi-billion pound enterprise, and one that employs thousands across the UK, but this wasn’t always the case.
Co-owner Fred Done opened the first shop way back in 1967, in a working-class area of Pendlebury, Salford.
In the first part of a four part look at Done’s 50 years in the industry, a picture emerges of an enterprising individual from a young age. Done began running his own sweep from the age of 9, and left school with £1000 in the bank, aged just 15.
“It was an enormous amount of money,” he emphasises. “To put it in context, the working man would be earning £20 a week.”
After a failed apprenticeship as a draftsman, the opportunity arose to work for a local bookmaker.
“Gambling was still illegal at this stage, and I can remember when I left the apprenticeship to become a bookmaker, the personnel director telling me ‘it’s the worst days work you’ll ever do’,” Done recalls.
Slowly but surely, Done acquired the bookmaking bug, and when it was legalised in 1961, he began to save for his first shop.
After finally gathering the money together, he opened what was a family-run venture, with a huge help from brother and co-owner Peter, dad Fred and wife Mo.
Slowly but surely, Done Bookmakers expanded with more and more stores in the Greater Manchester area, but Fred admits he was initially sceptical about branching out into other regions – chiefly Liverpool.
“We wanted to stay local and we were warned not to go to other cities,” he admits. “I was even told not to go to Liverpool, but Liverpool was no different to being anywhere else. I never had any more problems in another city than I did in Salford.”
Shortly after, the opportunity arose to purchase 16 stores in the North East, and a successful acquisition gave him the the belief that he could continue growing his empire.
“That gave me the confidence to think ‘if I could run Newcastle that’s 150 miles away from Manchester, then I can run Timbuktu’,” he said.
The company’s expansion continued at a considerable rate, and at its peak in the 90s, 80 Betfred branches were opening per year.
“We made a few mistakes, we got some wrong, but all-in-all it was well worth doing.”
Click here for part 2 of the Betfred Story