Leading the revolution

Steve Ryrie, Sales Director of ECCO Golf, talked to Andy Brown about Fred Couples at the Masters and those shoes, having a good story to tell customers and what new products the company will be bringing to market.

Here’s an impressive fact about ECCO: globally they sell approximately 20 million pairs of shoes a year, which puts them comfortably in the top five shoe manufacturers in the world by volume. Of those 20 million around one million pairs are golf shoes, and this sector is performing well for the brand.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 09.19.23“The golf division has probably been the strongest division that we have at the moment. If you look at all our divisions – mens, ladies, kids and sports such as running and hiking – golf is by far and away the best performing division,” says Steve Ryrie, sales director at ECCO.

Ryrie first joined the shoe company back in 1998, initially looking after the firm’s store on Oxford Street – high volume retailing in its purest form – before progressing to sales manager and then sales director. ECCO are a second generation family business who really made an impact on the golf market in 2010 when a certain Fred Couples wore a pair of Golf Streets with no socks at the Masters. Ryrie agrees that this was a pivotal moment for the golf side of the brand and helped ‘put them on the map’. “That weekend the fourth most popular search term on google was ‘Fred Couples shoes’ and we just sold out of those things,” he recalls. “It was one of those moments when everything happened at the right time. We seemed to have the spikeless market to ourselves for around a year and then competitors launched their own shoes, but it is nice to be copied.”

Not long afterwards the company brought out their Biom Hybrid shoe at a higher price point than the Golf Streets, something which Ryrie admits the firm were nervous about but which the customer accepted and meant a higher margin for the retailer. This acceptance to spend more money has continued, and is one reason that Ryrie believes the golf shoe market will continue to grow.

“People are spending more money on shoes now,” he confirms. “Years ago people would spend a few hundred pounds on a new driver but not on a pair of shoes, so our average price point was around £100, whereas now it is £150. People now seem to have the mind-set of, ‘you know what, I do need to look after my feet as I spend four to five hours walking’ so people are spending that sort of money on footwear.”

The Biom is still the company’s best-selling shoe across men’s and women’s golf shoes and Ryrie says that spikeless shoes account for around 75 per cent of their golf footwear sales. This is a large figure, but what does Ryrie think the future holds for spikeless shoes? “The hybrid market is definitely here to stay and it is going to increase in terms of spend and the size of the market,” he states confidently. “If you look around, the amount of hybrid shoes has absolutely increased and it is not just on the golf course. Our marketing people in the early days were saying we were a ‘one-stop shoe’ to wear to the office during the day and then keep them on when you go to the golf course in the evening and it was a bit of spin, but the reality was just that. You do see people wearing them for everyday wear as the look is right and the comfort is good.

“In the early days there was a bit of doubt about whether this would be the right shoe for a Northern European market rather than for someone playing in Florida like Fred Couples. On a wet and windy day in February somewhere in the UK there was definitely a concern about the grip in the consumer’s mind-set early on, but it has been absolutely fine.”

ECCO currently have around 400 accounts across the country and Ryrie acknowledges that they aren’t the right product for all golf pros because the price point is higher than many of their competitors. The sales director states though that, when a retailer does take their product, the company works closely and supports them so they are comfortable talking to consumers about the shoes. One of the latest products is the ECCO cage Evo, a spiked shoe retailing at £160. Ryrie reveals that the UK has been the biggest pre-book market for them in all of Europe, showing that while hybrid shoes are still gaining market share there is still demand for spiked shoes. A new version of the ECCO cage, ECCO Cage Evo, will be released in the third quarter this year, which will be a sportier looking shoe with a wider range of colour options.

The golf shoe market is one that has changed considerably over the last decade. Data reveals that over half of all golfers now own a hybrid shoe, with 40 per cent of these owners saying that they use them as their primary pair, and like all sectors of golf, the shoe sector won’t stand still. “I think that the market will get more and more crowded and the companies will be asked by the consumers to do something a little bit different,” says Ryrie. “We are working at the moment on bringing a Velcro shoe back into the marketplace but I think we are going to have to change and to keep evolving. Consumers are getting more and more educated with what they are buying and wanting more value for money than ever before and more from their shoes.

“We are working on a shoe that we will bring to the marketplace in 2017 which uses Gore-Tex surround so there will be a new channel system through the midsole to improve breathability and that will be a game-changer for us and hopefully we will be the first company to market with this technology in it.”

Ryrie is correct that consumers are getting increasingly demanding and also switched on; the internet now makes it easy to compare prices to see what the best-value products for their needs are. In order to make a sale it’s also important to make a connection with the customer, something Ryrie believes his employers do. “The good thing with ECCO is that because we do all our development in house we can react very quickly to changes in the marketplace and for us it has always been about technology. There’s always a story behind our products, and I think that is going to become increasingly important going forward for consumers.”