As the acknowledged market leader, FootJoy has built its reputation on performance. But in the fickle world of fashion, how does a brand that can trace its roots back to 1857 stay relevant? Richard Fryer, sales and marketing director for FootJoy in the UK, explains the company’s approach to Glyn Pritchard.
When you’re at the top, how do you stay there? That’s the challenge that FootJoy faces as a brand. This is especially difficult with new sports brands entering the market from outside the golf industry and competing with shoe styles not traditionally worn for golf.
Fryer says the company has successfully addressed this challenge by producing ‘athletic’ style golf shoes, while staying true to its heritage for established customers. “We knew we could produce athletic golf shoes, but would the consumer and our trade customers accept it? The launch and success of the FootJoy DNA proved that we were one of the few brands that can compete successfully at both ends of the market.
“The success of DNA, which was off the scale, effectively gave us permission to play in that market,” Fryer elaborates. “We wanted to follow up DNA with an inspirational design which we knew the market was ready for and that saw the launch of Hyperflex, with its radical FlexGrid exoskeleton design last January. This year we will sell more Hyperflex than DNA.”
Now FootJoy is following up the success of DNA and Hyperflex with the launch of FreeStyle. But while the company is innovating, Fryer is keen to emphasise that it is not leaving its traditional customers behind. “We know there are very loyal customers who every two years, go to their pro shop and say, ‘I want a pair of black DryJoys for the new season’. We totally get that, but there is a section of the market now which wants golf shoes in colours other than black, brown or white and in athletic styles and we must address that.” This is not necessarily a generational change says Fryer. “Our new designs are not just a young person’s shoe, they are for all golfers looking for performance with contemporary styling.”
While new styles are coming into the range, Fryer says FootJoy has rationalised its styles, so its retailers will not be burdened with stock issue. “We now have 20 less styles than two years ago, because it can be daunting for retailers.” This rationalisation has resulted in a product matrix of three distinct styles at three price points, as Fryer explains. “Our GreenJoys and Icon styles are niche products at the entry level and top end of the market. Leaving them aside we now have good, better and best price points for traditional, athletic and spikeless styles. This gives our retail partners a better understanding of where each style sits in the overall product range and makes their stocking simpler.”
Spikeless is a growth area and to meet the demand FootJoy is introducing VersaLuxe, a spikeless shoe for 2016. This will join the Contour Casual and DryJoys Casual already in the spikeless range. “VersaLuxe has been designed as a versatile golf shoe that can be worn on or off the course. It’s got the soft feel of real leather, but importantly it’s waterproof, unlike a lot of competitive offerings in this sector and available in a range of sizes and widths.” While Fryer says the golf shoe market contracted in 2015, spikeless has bucked the trend with real growth. “It’s an important and expanding sector for us, but the market for spiked shoes is still more than twice the size of spikeless.”
Women’s golf shoes is another sector of the market FootJoy is addressing with new styles for 2016. “We have conducted a survey and found that there is a critical lack of size options, colour options and styles in the women’s market,” states Fryer. “Women will spend on golf shoes if these areas are improved giving them choice. So our strategy is to focus on these details to produce shoe styles that are fashionable, functional and fun – the three ‘Fs’.”
As evidence of this approach FootJoy is launching the emPower style for 2016. “It’s exactly what our research shows the women’s market wants; an ultra-lightweight and great value shoe for those players looking for comfort, style and function.” However, the best-seller in FootJoy’s women’s range is not a shoe at all. “The lined black boot is our best-selling style of women’s footwear.”
Fryer believes the main reason why many retailers don’t make a success of women’s footwear is because they fail to carry sufficient styles and stock. “You need to commit to women’s footwear and do it properly; there is no point in dabbling with just a couple of styles with a few pairs in stock. Women customers want choice.”
The sales and marketing director says that FootJoy’s sales account managers can help to advise its retail partners on optimum stock levels for its style categories. “We have a field sales force of 20 for the UK and Ireland. They are highly experienced, providing a trusted business adviser for our retail partners. Our staff work with our retail partners to ensure they can get the very best turn rates and sales potential from our range.”
FootJoy’s shoe fitting programme has been a great success for its retailers, as Fryer confirms. “It’s now in its second year and we have three full time fitters doing fitting days at our key accounts all year round. Our research showed that 70 per cent of people are wearing the wrong size golf shoes. That almost exactly correlated with what we found in practice during 2014 when we conducted 3,500 fittings and 2,490 golfers were in the wrong size shoes. This can be because people take a longer size to get the width they need. But FootJoy offers a large range of width options, so customers can receive a correct fitting for length and width.”
As with clubs, Fryer says shoe fitting can be a great differentiator for on-course pro shops. While FootJoy supplies high-street and online retailers, on-course retailers make up two-thirds of FootJoy’s retail channel. FootJoy will train retailers to do expert fitting, which brings significant benefits, says Fryer. “It only takes ten to 15 minutes to do a fitting and it’s a great sales opportunity, because we know that most players would benefit from wearing correctly fitted shoes. Not only will a retailer sell more shoes, but it provides them with the opportunity to upsell. But beyond that it demonstrates a retailer’s expertise and customer care levels, so it’s a great promotional tool as well.”
All these developments are designed to keep the FootJoy shoe range relevant to today’s golfer. “It’s paramount that our shoes excel in their primary function as golf shoes,” says Fryer. “But shoes are fashion items as well, so we must innovate with styles and colours that excite the market. That means as a fashion brand we have to show change each year, but never a complete range replacement. We recognise that we have to support our retailers so they don’t have to run their stock right down, or be left with obsolete categories.”
Asked what keeps FootJoy as the market leader, Fryer replies, “Products, people and process; ultimately we live and die by our product quality. When golf pros sell a pair of FootJoys they know they have a satisfied customer and those shoes will not be coming back with problems.”
New styles and enhancements for 2016
In an exclusive interview with GOLF RETAILING, Paul O’Hagan, FootJoy marketing executive, previews new additions to the company’s 2016 range and enhancements to existing styles.
Launching in January 2016, and on sale from March, the FreeStyle range continues FootJoy’s expansion into the athletic style of golf shoes. “With FreeStyle we combine mobility with radical styling”, says O’Hagan. “FreeStyle uses ‘Dynamic Traction’, which engages and subsequently disengages based on surface conditions, creating optimum mobility throughout the swing to help golfers turn through the swing and make the most of their potential power.”
The inspiration for FreeStyle comes from an unusual source. “Dynamic traction has been inspired by a species of tree frog which utilises increased ground contact points to improve grip.” FootJoy will use the tree frog imagery in its marketing promotion of FreeStyle.
Also launched for 2016 is the spikeless VersaLuxe design. “The new VersaLuxe is exactly that – its USP is that it is the most versatile shoe we have ever brought to market for wearing on and off the course. But it is also waterproof and available in over 20 different size options”, says O’Hagan. Upgrades to existing styles for 2016 include DNA with a refreshed upper design for 2016 and a new Tornado by Softspikes TourLock cleat system to provide extra stability and grip in all playing conditions.
Further improvements have also been made to the DryJoys Casual and DryJoys Tour models. New colour combinations are available for the spikeless DryJoys Casual, while the 2016 DryJoys Tour model offers a softer ChromoSkin leather developed by long-time FootJoy collaborator Pittards and which has previously been used on the brand’s DNA model.
More colours have been added to the athletic style HyperFlex model, as O’Hagan confirms, “HyperFlex has been a really big hit since its launch earlier this year and now we’ve added even more colour combinations to reflect the latest fashion and athletic trends expected for 2016.”
FJ is also adding the BOA closure system option to more of its styles next year, including DryJoys Casuals. “We were the first golf brand to work with BOA and we are the only golf brand that is able to utilise BOA on the back of the shoe,” O’Hagan explains. “From our extensive testing we have found that this is the best position for the dial as it draws the foot down and back into the heel for a secure, comfortable and consistent fit. BOA is available in more style and colour options than ever before and is also available as part of our MyJoys customisation programme.”
Next year the DNA range is being added to MyJoys customisation for the first time. As well as allowing customers the flexibility to personalise the design of their shoes, O’Hagan points out that the programme has significant benefits for retailers too. “It means that cash does not get tied up in stock holding, while allowing customers a wide variety of choice. This is not confined to just design, but has practical benefits, because you can order different sizes and widths for each foot.”
Looking forward to next year, O’Hagan concludes, “While 2015 has been an extremely successful year for FootJoy and its partners in the UK and Ireland, 2016 promises to be even better and we’re looking forward to working with retailers on some inspiring new designs.”