Graeme Smeaton is the co-founder of Royal & Awesome, the clothing company looking to put the fun back into golf. Andy Brown met up with him to discuss how the brand are performing, why golf pros are important to them and the key to engaging with customers online.
Before travelling to London to meet up with Graeme Smeaton I had done my research on Royal & Awesome: golf clothing company specialising in vibrant and bright trousers that launched in 2012 and who sell their products through golf pros and online channels. Within the first five minutes though I was introduced to a fact that surprised me – the company behind Royal & Awesome are the same firm that created and owns Morphsuits, the skin-tight suits that were, at one time, the most popular fancy dress brand in the whole world. It was Graeme’s two brothers that started up the Morphsuits business and the experience of this has proved invaluable for Royal & Awesome.
“Through starting that business we had an infrastructure that was perfect for bringing new products to market as we had relationships with manufacturers and warehouses around the world and experience of building a brand,” says Smeaton, who had previously worked on Cadbury’s sales and marketing graduate scheme. “We had the infrastructure and know-how and looked at the golf market and thought that there was very little competition in the bright trouser sector and thought there were some things we could do differently. We liked the idea of combining the traditions of golf in Scotland with lots of fun and colour and that’s where the name Royal & Awesome came from.”
The brand has been around for four years now, growing at an impressive rate of 60 per cent a year. From talking to Smeaton it is clear that he is a golf enthusiast, but a business man first – something that perhaps has been the other way round for many new brands that have launched in the past. Smeaton says that they only launched the business because they saw a real gap in the market. “There’s very few people who will wear our trousers every time they play golf, but there is a massive desire for those sort of trousers at the right golf event, whether that’s a charity day, team event or a trip abroad with mates,” he comments. “It’s all about a pro knowing their members and what events are coming up and when is the right time to pitch the Royal & Awesome occasion.”
The brand sell their products through golf pros and also online – the split of sales is approximately 40/60. Smeaton says that the brand do want to be physically available in as many places as possible where there are golfers and work with JS International for their wholesale distribution. They are in around 300 retailers and believe that those who stock even a small amount of their product see the benefits. “If you have a small range of our products in store this can help to trigger the initial conversation and it also means you can show customers the quality, colours and the fits,” says Smeaton. “The great thing about it is that it’s totally incremental to all the other sales – pros will still sell the golf balls and clubs, it is just an additional high margin product. We’ve also had feedback that when you sell a pair of trousers the opportunity arises for selling other products that we do, like hats, belts and t-shirts.”
An important point for retailers is that there is no minimum order with the brand, so they can order as little as they want initially and with an RRP of £49.99 for the trousers there is a 40 per cent margin for the pro, something that is very deliberate. “We want it to be a really good quality product but at a price point that people will buy as a discretionary purchase,” he says. “If there is a team event coming up then people will pay £50 for some trousers that they can wear on different occasions that will generate a bit of fun and a laugh.”
It’s fair to say that the game of golf isn’t renowned for always being forward-thinking and moving with the times – witness the reaction of some when it was announced that the European Tour would allow players to wear shorts in practice and pro-ams. The brand has experienced a bit of this stuffiness themselves, with Smeaton admitting that some pros simply don’t think that the brand is for them. However, he counters that by pointing out that, “all it takes is one fun guy to get 12 of his mates wearing us for a team event or society day and you have loyal customers. The switched on retailers understand that, even if it is not to their taste, they still buy for their customers but there are some retailers who can’t get beyond the fact that it’s not for them.”
Trousers are the brand’s main offering, although they do also sell shorts, socks, belts, hats and t-shirts, which means people can have a whole outfit and creates more basket spend. The firm’s best-selling trousers are bright tartans and bright diamond patterns and the brand brings out between three and six new designers a year although Smeaton says the brand, “make sure that the best performing designs continue to be available as we don’t want to make changes for the sake of it. We are never in fashion so we aren’t going to out of fashion either!”
The brand are very active on social media and have good engagement with their customers, so what advice would Smeaton give to golf pros looking to talk to members and potential customers on these platforms? “I think social media can be distracting if you don’t know what you want to achieve with it, so it is important to have a really clear objective, whether that is to reach new customers or re-engage with people that already know about you,” he says. “Creating Facebook groups through which pros can ask their loyal customers to join and then speak to those people for free whenever they have any new deals or events coming up could work well.” Smeaton does issue a word of caution though when it comes to social media: “Pros need to be careful, as there are a lot of snake oil salespeople around digital who are quite happy to take money and make big promises. There are a lot of very useful blogs and information online about how to teach yourself the basics, so I would encourage pro-active pros to do some research.”
Since the company launched in 2012 they have worked hard to build up a recognisable brand, and with increasing numbers of golf pros and customers now aware of them, Smeaton is looking to expand the business. “We want the brand to be synonymous with fun golf events, so we will continue to be focused on bright and fun trousers,” he confirms. “We are already in America and Australia and America is our fastest growing market at the moment. We were up 100 per cent there last year and I see us continuing to grow strongly there. There are more people that wear our products every time they play and there are also a lot of golf events going on there.”
It perhaps isn’t a surprise that Americans – not always known for being understated – have welcomed the brand’s trousers with enthusiasm, but you get the sense there is a market for this product in every golfing nation on earth; they just have to be identified. Royal & Awesome may not be suitable for every golf course and occasion in the UK, but the key to retail success for any golf pro is matching the right product with the right consumer. If a pro can find a golf day or event which they think would be a good fit then it should lead to increased revenue for them, and some very brightly dressed men and women on the golf course.