With the news that the Freeway has been bought by over half a million customers, Andy Brown travelled to the PowaKaddy office to discuss the milestone with David Catford and John deGraft-Johnson, what the future holds for the business and why lithium batteries could hold the key for all pros looking to sell more trolleys.
All businesses which have been going for more than a decade will have an interesting story to tell, but PowaKaddy (PK) has a better (and more complicated) story than most: founded by Joe Catford and ably assisted by his son David, the company has changed hands several times in its history. The last time was in 2012 when David Catford and John deGraft-Johnson, who had previously helmed the company, joined forces to take over the struggling business. The trolley company have come a long way in a short space of time – from being owned by the bank to recently announcing they have reached over 500,000 sales of the firm’s Freeway trolleys. Catford and deGraft-Johnson acknowledge that when they took over again in 2012 there was work to do – mostly with the trade.
After the firm was sold in 2004 deGraft-Johnson comments that he watched from the sidelines as, “the company went through about three different management teams. None of the people running the company came from a golf background and they struggled with understanding the technology and what the product had to go through.”
Catford adds, “They didn’t upgrade the products and then the Chinese copied them and a lot of their trolleys flooded into the market and undercut the price; instead of PK staying where they were they also cut their own prices to compete. In the next year they launched a new trolley called the P5 which was the first product they built in China, but it was wrong and they had to withdraw it a few months into the start of the season.”
The company had actually been owned by Barclays Bank since 2006 and by 2012 they had run out of patience and were receptive when Catford and deGraft-Johnson expressed an interest in taking the company back. Ironically, the management team had been starting to get things right by 2012 and, despite the mistakes made, had kept a strong relationship with the consumer; it was the relationship with the trade that had suffered.
“All the way through they looked after the consumer but it was the trade that said ‘we don’t need this hassle, we don’t need to sell these products as there are alternatives now,’” says Catford. “We knew with the trade that if we gave them a good product and a good margin then they would buy it as the consumer still wanted it.” The sales scheme had also become complicated, with so many golf pros and agencies on different deals that no-one could remember quite what deal someone was actually on. There was even a structure in place where if a customer bought a certain number of trolleys and then wanted some more the price actually went up – as deGraft-Johnson wryly comments, “It was a reverse volume discount.”
From 2012 deGraft-Johnson and Catford concentrated on simplifying procedures, from getting a clear sales structure and pricing in place to the manufacturing process; the range had consisted of three different models, all of which had their own electric motor units, frames and electronics, making the manufacturing process unnecessarily complicated. There’s no doubt that PK experienced a dip but the firm have come back strong and the golf trolley sector currently has two large players battling it out. Are they surprised by how well things have gone? “I think our competitors have been surprised by how quickly we have turned it all around but our competitors know the industry very well and they haven’t rolled over; the consumer and the trade have gained as the trolley business has got bigger and better with two strong competitors,” says deGraft-Johnson.
“We addressed the fundamentals of the business in 2013 but didn’t stop there, we worked on the current range and have put a lot of engineering experience into our products and the feel of them is really quite remarkable now. There is a lot of car influence in the look and feel of our products.”
The company recently celebrated – as exclusively revealed in the news pages of GOLF RETAILING – half a million sales of the Freeway and the FW7s is up 50 per cent in terms of sales from its predecessor. While the Touch has received positive reviews and done well – accounting for approximately 10 per cent of all PK sales now – it is the Freeway which is the cornerstone of the business. The pair believe that the fundamental reason behind the success and longevity of the Freeway is how easily and intuitively it folds while remaining solid and sturdy. Catford and deGraft-Johnson are keen to stress the importance to PK of the relationship with the golf pro, which now they have re-established they are very keen to retain.
“If you look at the marketplace between pro and off course it is around a 50 50 split. I think that the consumer does need to touch and feel the product and through the golf pro is a great way to do that,” says deGraft-Johnson. “We have our guys on the road who visit both on and off course but they do spend a lot of their time visiting and speaking to the pros. There is a lot to explain about our products and it’s about us explaining to the pro why consumers should buy our products over someone else’s and what the deals are.”
“There’s questions sometimes about whether green grass is dying,” adds Catford. “It will never die. For us, sales are actually growing a bit faster than for the off course. Pros are still very well respected by their members.” When I ask what golf pros should be doing in order to ensure that they close a golf trolley sales the answer that comes back is emphatic – talk about batteries. Both Catford and deGraft-Johnson agree that lithium batteries have been a game changer for golf trolleys, replacing lead batteries which often have the same technology in them as when they were first invented over a hundred years ago. Lithium batteries are lighter, more reliable and last longer – according to the management team at PK they are the future and the more that golf pros know about them the better chance they have in converting a golf trolley enquiry into a sale.
“The battery should be something that the pro touches on to help them make a sale – we are running a campaign this year around our 20 per cent more staying power,” confirms Catford. “It means that there is a bigger capacity to start with and that gives the consumer reassurance that it isn’t going to let them down, there is more in reserve. Batteries don’t like being discharged – if you don’t discharge it then it will virtually last forever. The higher percent you take out of the battery the shorter its life is. For the same price the batteries now are better value. There are some courses out there which are very long and hilly and if it is wet and boggy then you need a battery with capacity; that 20 per cent can be the difference between getting round or not.”
The business introduced a three-year warranty last year, indicating how confident they are with their products and also giving the customer another reason to get out their wallet and make a purchase. Golf trolleys have evolved hugely as a sector over the last decade, with the products that different companies produce now almost universally good looking and the stigma of trolleys being something for ‘old men’ eradicated. From spending time in the company of Catford and deGraft-Johnson it is obvious that they are keen to see the sector evolve even further and a future focus for them will be to educate the market on the difference between various types of lithium batteries. There’s certainly plenty of energy in the trolley market and you get the sense that PK won’t be running out of juice anytime soon.