At the end of May GOLF RETAILING visited Italian apparel brand Chervò, at its Verona HQ, and also took in its flagship store and the Chervò Golf Resort at San Vigilio, near Verona, to meet the team behind one of Europe’s most successful privately owned golf clothing brands. Words by Miles Bossom
Spend a little time at Chervò’s Costermano base, near Verona, in the company of founder brothers Manfred and Peter Erlacher, and it’s easy to see why Chervò is one of the leading golf apparel brands in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Spain.
The set-up here is like the brand’s products: classy yet practical; stylish and functional; or, as we came to know it, chic and tech.
Founded by the brothers Erlacher in 1982, Chervò focussed originally on providing stylish and functional ski apparel, filling a gap between those companies that provided technically sound products and those that looked good, but didn’t suit the environment.
Peter, a champion skier who had represented Italy and coached the national team, understood the requirements of sports clothing and so Chervò’s philosophy of ‘Chic and Tech’ was born. As his brother, CEO Manfred, explained: “Technical things need not be ugly, and bright beautiful things can be technical.”
Chervò enjoyed great initial success in the countries around the Alps but, in 1990, elected to move into the golf sector, applying the same ingredients that had made the company so successful in ski wear.
Manfred explained: “At the time golf was dominated by Anglo Saxon designs with a British or Scottish look, with materials that were not necessarily technical and designs that were only suited to golf. In a sport played in many countries that enjoy very changeable weather it was necessary to develop a range of products in which the game could be played well while still looking good.”
So the company’s first venture into golf apparel was in rain-wear – a product with which the brand has become synonymous in northern European countries.
Erlacher continued: “Rain is the biggest enemy of the golfer because when it rains you have to keep playing and, if you are not well protected and able to move smoothly and comfortably, you have a big problem. At that time there were already many segments of the sports industry using technical rain materials such as Gore-Tex; however, we did not consider Gore-Tex a suitable material for golf.
“The problem was that the fabric on which the membrane was applied was very noisy and bulky so not ideal for making a comfortable golf swing. So, with some of our suppliers, we set out to develop a fabric with a silky touch that would be quiet while still affording protection from the rain – and it was a big revolution. Chervò was the first to introduce this type of material to golf.”
Ingredients of success
By introducing a new type of fabric to the golf market Chervò gained immediate credibility. And Peter Erlacher continued designing clothes with the ‘Chic and Tech’ concept at the front of his mind.
He said: “Other manufacturers claimed to produce clothing that was attractive and technical, but it was Chervò who pioneered the concept. It was our aim always to be at the forefront of materials and design and we were the first in golf to register our own brands for the technologies.
“We have Aqua Block for our waterproof products; 4Way Stretch and Drymatic for materials that absorb and manage moisture; and WindLock for wind-stopping garments. These are all registered internationally and, therefore, these are original products and not copies of our material suppliers.”
Chervò’s focus is now very much on the golf sector after it discontinued its ski range a few years ago.
Manfred added: “We now focus firmly on golf but with an extended meaning. We are not just a company that sells products to be worn just while you are playing golf, but we design our products to be worn as casual wear for those who have an active lifestyle and the desire to be protected against the weather.
“Only 10 per cent of our products are suitable just for playing the game: our rainwear; 80 per cent is designed for a golfer both on and off the course and the final 10 per cent of the range is suitable only as casual wear – but our focus really is 100 per cent on golf and golf lifestyle.”
Chervò is distributed in more than 30 countries worldwide yet it has consistently been perceived as an exclusive brand in the UK.
While it has been visible in the likes of Harrods and House of Fraser, it hasn’t been, historically, available in many pro shops. Now, the approach in the UK is different to the rest of Europe, with two sales agents – Tim Greenwood and Chris Thundow – actively and directly liaising with more retail outlets. Currently Chervò offers its products through around 30 green-grass retailers in the UK, but it is looking to double that number in the next 12 months.
Manfred Erlacher explained: “In every mainland European country we have a distributor that does the marketing for their territory, even in Italy. We own the Italian distributor but they act as if it was a third party. We ensure there is no overlap in territories as that causes conflict.
“The only exception is in the UK and Ireland where we have been struggled to find a suitable distributor so have decided to have a direct relationship with retailers. This has led to appointing the two sales agents who report directly to Italy.
“In Europe we are market leaders in a number of countries – including Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Spain – and are well represented in all others, with the noticeable exclusion of the British Isles. We are sorry that this has traditionally been the case and we are looking to change this in the coming year.”
“We aim to keep our medium-high positioning but become a brand which appeals to the vast majority of golfers. We want to sell lifestyle and specific looks and build partnerships with retailers who sell to final consumers,” concluded Manfred Erlacher.The impressive Chervò flagship store, at the company’s HQ, is stylishly designed, with consistent layout and an ‘on message’ approach. If Greenwood and Thundow continue to expand the UK&I network, the Chervò logo may soon be a familiar sight in hundreds of golf clubs across the country.
To discover more about Chervò visit www.chervo.com
The Chervò Resort
For the duration of my visit to Italy, I was lucky enough to stay at Chervò Golf Hotel Spa & Resort San Vigilio, at Lake Grada, not far from Chervò’s HQ – and it’s well worth a visit. The resort has a close relationship with Chervò and Manfred Erlacher is the current president.
He said: “The resort was successful but wanted to grow and has received significant investment. It is a high-quality resort in every aspect from golf to the spa and the cuisine. By Chervò lending its name to the resort it has helped raise customer awareness and increase customer numbers.”
His brother, Peter, added: “The golf course is very fair and should suit all levels of golfer. We have a nine-hole academy course for beginners, but the 27 holes we offer are designed to be enjoyed rather than beat up a golfer, because we want them to return regularly.”