All in the feel

Bionic is one of the few brands in the golf trade that specialises in gloves alone. As the brand prepares to launch its new StableFit glove with Natural Fit in the UK, Robin Barwick visits company headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, to meet Cheryl Fink, marketing director of Bionic, and European distributor Mark Richardson

How much business sense do Bionic gloves make, when their retail price is comfortably a 30 percent hike up from most other golf gloves? Well, ‘Dragon’s Den’ investors Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden were convinced in 2012 when UK distributor Mark Richardson took a deep breath and presented his business plan to them for the prime-time BBC programme. The two ‘Dragons’ agreed to invest £100,000 between them in Bionic, for a 40 percent share of the business.

Having accepted the offer on TV, Richardson ultimately declined the investment once he looked at the long-term prospects of the agreement, but the boost in profile of receiving such a strong endorsement on national television triggered strong growth for Bionic in the UK.

“We had a really good experience on the show and it gave us validation in what we believed with the Bionic products,” states Richardson, who brought Bionic to the UK market in 2008. “Once the show had gone on air the consumer reaction was terrific and interest in Bionic reached new heights. Sales volumes increased significantly and 2013 was a record year, and we have maintained that pace since then.

“For me the show was not about the money. £100,000 is a lot of money, don’t get me wrong, but the experience was about creating consumer awareness, which we achieved, and we have carried the momentum on by expanding into different categories and by distributing throughout Europe.”

Richardson also distributes Bionic lines for fitness, horse-riding and gardening, but the focus in golf for the rest of 2014 and into next year will be on the launch of Bionic’s new StableFit glove with Natural Fit.

“This StableGrip Natural Fit glove is an enhancement of the StableGrip glove that already exits,” states Cheryl Fink, marketing director for Bionic, as she talks at Bionic’s Louisville headquarters, a premises it shares with sister brand, the legendary baseball bat manufacturer Louisville Slugger. “What is different is that the original StableGrip glove was designed on one plane – on the flat surface of a golfer’s palm – but the pads in the new model are three-dimensional and they wrap around the fingers. This helps the golfer have an even better grip on the club without having to squeeze too tightly.

“The tapered finger design also ensures that when the golfer wears the glove, the fingers conform to the actual shape of the fingers, so it offers more of a custom fit. The motion zones have also been improved so that they better reflect movement over the knuckles.”

Made from Cabretta leather, the StableGrip with Natural Fit trade sales are due to commence this month in the UK, with an RRP of £16.99, with Richardson planning retail deliveries from March 1, 2015.

Baseball“Compared to other companies in the glove market, we came out with a glove 10 years ago that retailed for $24.99 in the US, and people laughed at us,” adds Fink. “They said it was never going to fly. But when you have true technology – and this is all patented, no other glove company can produce this – then you have something that is different and people are prepared to step-up and pay for it.

“We have found that once golfers have played with a Bionic glove, they don’t go back to another glove.

“At first, some golfers are not sure whether the different feeling of a Bionic glove is good, bad or indifferent,” adds Richardson, “but once they grip a club and take a swing, there is no looking back.”

“We would never ask retailers to stock Bionic over other glove brands,” says Richardson, who has current agreements with both American Golf and the Foremost retail group. “We see it sitting alongside other brands, perhaps as the third glove brand a retailer might carry. This is because when golfers take the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ so to speak, and consumers try on gloves from other brands alongside ours, to a large extent golfers find that all the other gloves are virtually the same, whether they be from FootJoy, Callaway, Nike, TaylorMade or whatever. We know most of these gloves probably come out of the same factory in Indonesia and the only feature differentiating them is the logo or the colours.”

www.bionicgloves.com