Mark Stewart, chief executive of Stewart Golf, brought a pair of brand new X9 Follow trolleys to Woking GC to give Robin Barwick an exclusive preview
Mark Stewart promised that the brand new X9 Follow – which does not arrive at retail until June – could cope with most terrains on a golf course hands free, and that it would follow me around via a Bluetooth connection between the trolley and a handset clipped onto my back pocket.
This was the first time Stewart and I had played golf together though, and the Stewart Golf founder and chief executive was not familiar with the thoroughness with which I prefer to explore golf courses. We all know what golf courses look like from the middle of the fairway – golf can be so mundane played straight down the middle – so I like to experience a layout from different angles, from a broad variety of lies, and with a range of obstacles ahead. That’s real golf.
I can report that Stewart Golf’s new X9 Follow is not just about sleek lines, metallic paint and sports wheels. Beneath a timeless chassis inspired by motor racing lies a pair of motors that have real power, a Bluetooth connection that renders the lithium-powered trolley impressively obedient, and a base unit that is balanced, durable and waterproof. And it really can ‘off-road’.
“Stewart Golf has a reputation for making high-tech products that are a bit different, but if our technological advances are not helping the golfer to play better then our products are useless,” starts Stewart, as we wend our way around Woking’s stunning course, controlling the X9 Follow with a combination of remote control steering, the Bluetooth follow function, and more conventional handle steering across narrow bridges. “Yes, we do like to stand out a bit, but the whole point of the ‘Follow’ system is to make a round of golf more relaxing for the player.
“Once the golfer trusts the X9 Follow, and they are walking on the golf course with the trolley behind them, with both hands free, without having to worry about where the trolley is or what it is doing, not even having to hold a remote, we think it makes a massive difference to performance.”
The X9 Follow is the result of a three-year development process, which began as soon as its predecessor – the remote-controlled X7 Lithium – was launched. With an RRP of £1,499 in the UK, the X9 Follow is a niche product that Stewart does not expect pro shops to stock, but the company promises a healthy cash commission for retailers who generate any orders. Four available colours are Pearlescent White, Metallic Black, Metallic Silver and British Racing Green.
“Once a product is launched we move almost immediately onto the next thing,” adds Stewart, who founded Stewart Golf in 2004. “With our electronic and mechanical developments we are normally looking to do something that has not been done before, so it usually takes a couple of years in development, and that’s why we have relatively long product cycles.”
To engage the new ‘Follow’ feature, golfers simply press a single button on the remote control handset. Then once the golfer starts to walk, the X9 Follow stays a few paces behind and matches walking pace exactly. It holds its position going down hills too, with a patented electronics system automatically varying and braking the twin motors to alter both speed and direction.
As with all Stewart Golf powered products, every X9 Follow will be hand-made to order in the company’s Gloucestershire workshop, and comes with a full two-year warranty covering both the trolley and the battery.
“We only launched the X9 a couple weeks ago,” says Stewart, “and until then we kept it a pretty big secret. But already the reactions have been way beyond what we were hoping. We have received an awful lot of pre-orders even though the X9 is not available for a couple months, and we hoped that would happen, so we could create some demand and add to the sense of exclusivity around the product.”
A shift in emphasis
As Stewart looks to continue growing his young company over the coming months and years, the sales emphasis is no longer on direct sales predominantly, but on direct and trade sales concurrently, with the key to growth identified within bricks and mortar retailers.
“When we started out we were almost exclusively a direct sales company, online and on the phone,” explains Stewart. “We did not have any trade presence and no-one knew who we were apart from the fact we sold the most expensive golf trolley in the world in the original X1.
“We remained mostly a direct sales business until three years ago, at which point around 75% of our sales were still direct to the consumer. That changed when we introduced the Z series push trolleys. It was our first push trolley, our first product that retailed for less that £1,000 and it was a revelation for us. With a price of £179, all of a sudden we had a product that was retail friendly and it enabled us to broaden our horizons as a business.
“It was a big step for our business to go from uber-expensive powered trolleys to a push trolley, even though it was at the top of its category. The Z Series was really well received, and we found that once a retailer started selling the Z Series, it would start selling the power trolleys too, even though they weren’t stocking them.
“The number of special orders from retailers for power trolleys shifted dramatically, to the point that last year was the first year that the majority of our overall UK sales came from the trade, rather than direct.”
Stewart Golf is a specialist, high-end brand that will not work in all pro shops, but what Stewart is looking for in trade accounts in quality over quantity.
The X9 is set to follow its leader in one respect, but it is breaking new ground in another.