With the golf season getting into its swing and encouraging retail figures for the industry, Andy Brown took a trip to TaylorMade’s UK headquarters to speak to David Silvers about custom fit, Tour player endorsements and customer service.
Hung up on one of the walls at TaylorMade’s UK head office there is a framed picture which contains a number of images and slogans. The largest picture is placed at the bottom but it’s not a shot of a famous golf course or a player such as Tiger Woods – more on him later – but instead there, in all her glory, is a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow at the 1999 Oscars. Paltrow’s speech is one of the most famous in the history of the Oscars as she cried throughout it and thanked everyone under the sun for her award. The message for the team at TaylorMade is that they want to be so good at customer service that they get their own ‘Paltrow’ moment.
Customer service does seem to be an obsession for David Silvers, TaylorMade Managing Director for Europe – so does he feel that big strides have been taken by the company? “Yes, I think we are on a really positive trajectory and we’ve put a lot of resource behind it – we had to because we had to win the trust back of the trade and I think we have. We have delivered our pre books to 95 per cent on time and in full, all our fitting parts were delivered four weeks before launch and we unveiled our state of the art B2B site,” he comments.
“We have done these things so we are easy to do business with. It is starting to get acknowledged but perception is lagging reality a little bit and we still have to convince some of the green grass retailers who have stepped away from the brand that, if they come back, they will have a good time from a service point of view. We want to become the best from a service point of view and be the most trusted and reliable partner and we are making progress but we have to keep going. We have learned, beyond doubt, that customer service is as important as the product and the marketing for our retail partners.”
Silvers makes an interesting point – that customer service is just as important as having desirable products. It’s no good having a red-hot driver if it takes three weeks to arrive at the retailer after they have ordered it, and figures do suggest the company have made real strides forward. A survey with TGI showed that in 2016 they were ranked higher by TGI partners regarding availability, delivery, service support and accounts than they had been in 2015. Due to their issues in the past some pros are still reticent about dealing with them, which was one of the main reasons the firm launched their custom irons guarantee last year. This stated that if custom fit irons weren’t delivered correctly and within five days the retailer would not have to pay a penny for the clubs – a strong statement.
“The custom guarantee is not really a promotion because we are hardly giving any away free because we are delivering on the guarantee. It is as much for the guys who are not dealing with us to see how confident we are,” says Silvers. “We are at 99.8 per cent delivery within the lead times so we are way beyond industry acceptable and it has been a big statement for us. This year we have brought MetalWoods into the guarantee and are doing it for a longer period – it will be running until the end of June.”
Retail figures released by Golf Datatech showed that the industry got off to a good start, with overall value in February up 14.5 per cent. Silvers puts this figure down to some strong launches but also the custom fitting services that golf pros are now offering. “I’ve been out on the road recently and it’s been really encouraging to see the investment that so many PGA Pros are putting into custom fit; hardly any of them don’t have some kind of launch monitor now,” he comments. “A lot of them are investing in indoor swing studios which is one of the reasons I think we have got off to a fast start this year as an industry. There have been some good launches by some big brands but the retailers are really playing their part because they are set up to deliver a fitting experience even when it is the middle of winter and I think that’s why sales have been so good.”
The M series has been a success for the company and will have certainly played its part in the strong start to the season. It’s also encouraging for the industry as a whole that, despite products going out at a higher RRP, the volume has been strong, showing that consumers are willing to pay for quality. This is also where launch monitors come into play as if a club costs £80 more than another one but gives better performance almost every golfer under the sun will stump up the extra cost. While the M – especially the M2 – has been the standout performer, Silver says that this year there is more strength in depth to the brand’s offering. “We feel that we have better clubs right throughout the bag which is great because we definitely need to do a better job in the second tier products,” he confirms. “This year we have a 14 club bag and golf ball offering which is the best we have ever had – a lot of retailers have commented to us that there aren’t any weaknesses, and the spider putter is the big talk on tour.”
Talking about the Tour, the company have a pretty impressive roster of players with world number one Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Sergio and Tiger. The signing of Tiger caused a big splash at the PGA Show in Orlando but it’s fair to say it hasn’t gone smoothly since them. Is Silvers concerned about the former world number one? “Personally I – like a lot of people – love Tiger Woods so I am concerned for him because I don’t like to see him injured and I think the industry could see the media attention he brought when he came back,” he says. It is understandable why companies pay millions of dollars to players to endorse their brand and there is a trickle-down effect for retailers – Silvers says that they can tell if an M1 or M2 player has won due to the demand for certain products and that they work with retailers that up their orders when they see that a product is popular on tour as they know consumer demand will increase.
It wouldn’t be an interview with TaylorMade without speaking about the fact that the company are still up for sale. Silvers is bullish about this though and insists it is business as normal. “The most encouraging thing is that since the announcement was made we haven’t done anything to suggest a change in strategy, there have been no negative connotations. Since we have been up for sale we have resigned DJ, Jason Day and signed Tiger. Since we’ve been up for sale we have created a second generation of M products and are investing more into R&D and we have the same structure of people out there selling the product and our service levels have gone up. We are pretty confident going in front of retailers to say it is business as usual and, to be honest, the questions that we get about it are very few and far between.”
Unlike years gone by TaylorMade won’t be unveiling lots of new hardware products later on in the year – as Silvers says, the company have made progress regarding how the ‘transition’ from one product cycle into another. There will be an Adidas shoe launch and new hardware product extensions to keep up interest but it is clear the company want to ensure that, as the year draws to a close, old stock is at a minimum. Having closer control of product cycles is one way the company will get back some of the pros who stepped away when they were experiencing difficulties.
“The other three brands that you would associate as being our biggest competitors are more widely distributed than we are. Part of that is a conscious decision on our side to make sure that we can service the partners that really want to add value to our products and some of it is a decision by some of the green grass guys to take a rest from us because of the service challenges we had in 14/15,” says Silvers. “We respect that and will do everything we can to work with them again if that is right for both parties. We would like to be in a few more doors for sure, but it has to be right.” It’s been a long road – and there are still obstacles ahead – but TaylorMade seem to be inching ever close to their own Gwyneth Paltrow moment.