Wilson Golf have a strong heritage in golf, but over recent years their position in the sport has slipped. With new people in key positions and a renewed focus on golf Andy Brown visited their EMEA warehouse in Scotland to take a tour and chat to Lee Farrar and Alistair Carey from the brand.
When it comes to the companies in golf with the most financial clout it’s fair to say that Wilson golf wouldn’t be on most people’s top five or even top ten list – the company certainly have heritage but aren’t necessarily seen as a big player in the industry. However, Wilson are owned by Amer Sports, a €2.7billion company who have brands such as Salomon and Precor in their portfolio, as well as many others. When a company of that size say that they want to be taken more seriously in golf and are putting resource behind this ambition then it is wise to sit up and take notice.
This was one of the main points that Lee Farrar, National Accounts Manager and Alistair Carey, Operations Manager, wanted to get across when I visited the company’s EMEA warehouse in Irvine, Scotland, an hour south of Glasgow. The company are in a rare position in that most of their golf operations take place under one roof; the warehouse is where they custom fit, make clubs, embroider and print logos onto balls, bags and all kinds of apparel. Carey oversees everything that goes on in the warehouse and it is a slick operation. “A lot of these guys have been here for a long time – one of them on the floor has been with us for approaching 40 years – and most of the guys are able to do different jobs in the factory and they all know what they need to do,” he confirms. “It is a very smooth process and that is testament to the amount of work we have done to make sure we can cope with the extra demand that we are getting.”
The company have the heritage and the set up but, as Farrar acknowledges, need to prove to the golf industry that they are once again serious players. “Wilson is full of heritage and the loyalty the staff have towards the brand is humbling. I believe Wilson Golf has fallen a bit by the wayside and we aren’t taken as seriously as we should be in the golf industry. However, Amer Group has a real determination to put us back as a main player once again,” comments Farrar. “We need to change the brand perception because we are very serious about golf. We bring Tour-proven quality products to the marketplace and equipment to suit all ability of players. The 2017 product line is superb and we have found that once the consumers get the products in their hands and test on launch monitors, they are pleasantly surprised by the consistent performance, the quality and the value for money Wilson Golf gives.”
Having all of the processes under one roof does mean that it is easier for them to respond to requests. “I’d like to think that if any of our customers wants any of our products customised then we will find a way to do it,” comments Carey. “It’s easier for us as most things are under one roof here so we don’t have to outsource it – nothing is too challenging or small for us, if something gives value to customers and helps them with a sale then we will try and do it for them. A lot of our customers are the green grass guys and we know things can be tough for them so if we can do something which gives them an extra level of service to their consumer then it is good for us as well. If we support them then hopefully they will support us.”
The company are seeing an increase in market share and units sold, with their custom fit operation increasing by 30 per cent last year. In terms of products the V6 and D300 irons have been particularly strong, as has the Triton Driver. The club featured in Driver vs Driver, the Golf Channel’s reality television show in which half a million dollars was given to the individual whose design was picked. Despite the programme not airing on UK TV demand for the driver has been strong, to such an extent that the company are having to bring in additional products into the UK and Ireland from America to meet demand. Custom fit has been a strong area of growth for the company and in the warehouse they also have a custom fit studio, staffed by Andy Clift, who previously worked on the Tour. Any Pro with a Wilson account is welcome to invite their customers to use the facility where Cliff will custom fit them free of charge and then send the spec back to the golf pro. The studio is impressive and the window through to the warehouse is a nice touch – someone can get fitted and then see the factory where their clubs will get made.
Farrar says that there are plans to offer this same service in different parts of the UK. “The aim is to replicate and geographically position these fitting studios throughout the UK. I have already earmarked two places in the south, but there is still some more work required to finalise these locations. The plan is for these to be open midway through next year. We have found that if you do it right, people will travel. Last week we had some guys from Sweden come over to be fitted and then play golf.”
In the UK Wilson Golf is stocked by approximately 400 green grass pro shop accounts – actual stockists, not just those places which sell some balls or gloves. Farrar says that while the long-term plan is to expand the business at the moment they would rather do more with the pros that they currently work with. “The most important thing is not to increase on the doors at this moment in time but increase the width and depth of the range. I’d rather have more business coming from fewer pros and then once we are happy with this we can start to expand, but I’m not too worried about topping up the doors at the moment. This also means that our point of sale can go further and we can support those accounts that we do work with a lot more.”
It seems like this is already happening, with Carey confirming that: “Our workload went up 15 per cent last year but the number of extra deliveries only went up by half that so we are shipping out more lines per delivery, which for me is a good thing as it means our existing customers are taking more products.”
Wilson have fallen off the radar for some pros in recent years but from talking to Farrar it is clear that there are real ambitions to grow the brand in a sustainable way. When Farrar took over last summer there were three geographical areas which didn’t have an area manager, something which he addressed in his first month. He says there are plans to add more sales managers in the future but – as with getting into more pro shops – the watchword is very much growing sustainably and providing a high level of service for the golf pros that work with them. “We want to make it easy for the golf pros to sell equipment at a price point that we believe is fair for the consumer and is a good margin for the retailer. At the moment we are offering a personal touch on the irons when they are custom fitted – we look to see what club it is and put in a two sleeve of balls that suits them best in the box with a covering letter and, if the customer gives us their name, they will get this on the club. We will continue to work very hard for all our account partners as they are the future for what Wilson is going to be.”