It’s all change as Lionel Caron takes over as Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Srixon Sports Europe. We exclusively spoke to him to find out what brought about the change, and how that will affect the company moving forward.
Congratulations on the new role. What’s your background in golf, and how did you get the role?
Thank you. I have worked in the golf industry since 1998. I started as a sales rep for Rossignol, the parent company of Cleveland Golf at the time, and moved on to different roles with bigger responsibilities across Rossignol, Quiksilver and Srixon Sports Europe. I became President of Srixon Sports Europe for Continental Europe and Middle East markets from 2016 to the end of 2019. Our parent company, SRI Sports in Japan wished to merge the two divisions – Europe and the UK – for greater efficiency in the region. They offered me the role to lead this change for the sales and marketing areas.
How do you feel about where your three brands are in the marketplace?
The marketplace is a bit different between the EU and the UK. We have leading positions for golf balls and wedges in many markets in Europe and we have experienced steady growth with our Srixon hardware line and with XXIO, which is the fastest-growing brand in Europe.
For the UK, historically and for many years, we were in a leading position in the 2 piece ball market, but we are now probably seen more as a challenger in the market for both Cleveland Golf and Srixon and we are virtually unknown for the XXIO brand.
How do you plan on moving the company forward across the UK and Europe?
To be honest, I’m here to learn about the UK market first and foremost and to start working with a team who are greatly motivated to move forward. I know what has worked for the European markets and I plan to follow the same strategy, which is quite simply based on 2 pillars: promotion and distribution.
Promotion by offering our end-user the opportunity to use and test our products so that they can experience the quality and see the strength and performance of our products against competitor brands.
Distribution is of great importance to us; I want to offer our retailers the most attractive terms and the best service.
Is your role made harder by having three separate brands to look after?
You can always see the glass of water half empty or half full. Some may view it as more complicated to market three brands, with resources and marketing funds spread across three territories. But you can also see it as a fantastic opportunity to approach our end consumers in a better way. Srixon has a long history and is a premium ball company with a product for all categories of players. As well, the hardware line, with forged products, addresses the better players. Cleveland Golf is THE short game specialist with the largest offering of wedges and putters. Cleveland Golf also offer a line for Game Improvement players with woods and irons at affordable prices. Finally, XXIO is best aimed at lower swing speed players who want to invest in lightweight technology and ease of swing. To sum up, I enjoy working with three different brands with clearly identified territories and different price positions instead of having all price positions from £199 to £799 under the same name/brand.
You are taking over from Leslie Hepsworth who has been with the company a long time. How has the transition gone, and is he staying with the company?
When Cleveland Golf and Srixon merged in 2007, I worked for Leslie as he was President of Srixon Sports Europe at the time. I really appreciated his leadership and knowledge of the golf industry; he is a great professional in the market, and I’ve learnt a lot from him over the years.
The increase in the UK Srixon ball share from 2001 onwards was largely due to him and I really value the work that he has done.
As far as our current working relationship is concerned, the transition has been extremely smooth and even though he is no longer employed by the company, we fortunately have managed to keep him as a consultant for the UK market. His main role will be to mentor our sales force to deliver a better service to our customers and to help them improve their performance on a day to day basis in their respective territories.
What do you do differently to your competitors, and how do you help your retailers to help you stand out in a crowded marketplace?
We operate in a very competitive marketplace where the competition is strong and well-organized. Our strengths are the portfolio of three brands clearly addressing all categories of players; the quality of our products which perform better than the competition; the attractive terms that we offer to loyal retailers; and a clear strategy for the future: B-to-B format is in our DNA; so, we want to preserve and protect the relationship with retailers who need to make money by selling our products. By improving the service and continuing to deliver greater products year after year, whilst also offering great terms, we aim to grow
our business fairly with our retailers.