Garry Price, Sales Manager for Nippon Shaft in Europe, spoke exclusively to GOLF RETAILING about how the golf shaft business is picking up in 2014, and on the success of Nippon Shaft’s new N.S. Pro Zelos 7
Nippon Shaft has recently launched the N.S. Pro Zelos 7 – ‘the world’s lightest steel shaft’. How have sales of the Zelos 7 gone so far?
In terms of sales, the Zelos 7 has been the best launch we have ever had. At the PGA Show in January the reaction to the shaft was very good, and it received great reviews, and our customers were asking to receive shipments as soon as possible. In Europe we had the shaft a month ahead of the United States market, receiving it in the second week of March.
What makes the Zelos 7 so good?
I am just an average golfer, but the Zelos 7 made such a difference to me when I tried it in Japan last year – its feel, flight and ease of use. Quite honestly, I am 54 this year, and the Zelos 7 has given me a renewed enthusiasm for the game, because I have never hit irons any better, and certainly no higher than I do with the Zelos 7. The ease of launch is fantastic.
This is a genuine alternative to graphite, because it is so light and feels great, and the launch has been fantastic all over Europe. I am receiving re-orders already from Germany, Italy and the UK catalogues.
How is the Zelos 7 so light?
It is a very thin-walled steel shaft and it is quite revolutionary, but that does not make it delicate. We have had Tour pros use the shaft with no problems at all, which is always a good test of durability.
It was developed for golfers whose swings might be slowing down a bit, and for ladies. The main comments we get are that it is very smooth, and that shot dispersion is very good. It encourages a nice high launch with minimal effort.
How is Nippon fairing on the PGA Tour this year so far?
At the Zurich Classic last week on the PGA Tour we picked up three new players and we had 21 golfers playing Nippon shafts, and nine of those players were playing prototypes of various types. The rest were using either Modus 3 Tour 120 or Modus 3 Tour 130. Different golfers want different things for their irons and wedges.
Is Zelos 7 the main product focus for 2014?
The Zelos 7 is very important, while the Modus 3 Tour 120 is in its third year now, and it has begun to take off, as we expected it to. That reflects Tour successes we have had, which people are seeing.
There is also our NS Pro 950, which is our bread and butter shaft, and that continues to sell strongly. That shaft was created in 1999 and has been on the European market since 2001. I can’t see that shaft ever being phased out because it is a good-quality product at a good price, and it simply suits a lot of golfers. It remains a good tour product too, with women and seniors.
With one OEM, we have already done as much business this year as we did in the whole of 2013, and they are not alone. This year the general feeling has carried on from the Orlando show, of optimism and confidence for this year, and I am hearing the same from other components suppliers too.
Is this optimism in contrast to market conditions in 2013?
I won’t lie to you, I was glad to see the back of 2013. It was a struggle, but we hit our sales target for the first quarter of 2014 and in April we have performed well above expectations, so we can’t say any better than that. Prospects look good, and the weather is okay at the moment, golf courses have dried out, and all we need is some average British weather over the summer for us to have a good year.
We are very happy with our range, which is being backed up by tour success. The Tour 3 130 is just coming into its second year of availability now, and we think you need to give a shaft three years of exposure before it starts to get some real momentum, but it is looking like 2014 is going to be a great year for us, and for the golf industry in general.
Shaft product cycles couldn’t be further from the main hardware categories today at retail could they?
Well, the Modus 3 Tour 120 took 18 months to two years of development on tour before it came to market, and it just takes a long time. A shaft needs to be tested by the world’s best players before it can be pushed out to consumers. It takes time to get established on tour as well. Bear in mind that four years ago we did not have any players on the PGA Tour at all, whereas last week we had 21. And all of them are playing Nippon out of choice.
Does Nippon’s consumer product vary from the tour specs?
No. It is important that retailers and consumers understand there is absolutely no difference whatsoever between the shafts on tour and the shafts out in the marketplace – there is no grading between them. They are all made to exactly the same specs and tolerances, so all golfers with Nippon are investing in Tour specs. There is only one level of quality with Nippon, and that is the principle upon which the company has been built.
The Nippon N.S. Pro Zelos 7
Nippon’s new N.S. Pro Zelos 7 employs newly developed, high intensity NZNS60 material that Nippon promises to offer the smoothest of swings.
Lightweight and strength used to be mutually exclusive in shafts. Reducing the weight of a steel golf shaft lowered its strength, increased the likelihood of breakage and reduced the pliability required to make dynamic shots.
Two years ago Nippon Shaft started developing a new type of steel alloy that would deliver both greater strength and flexibility, and NZNS60 is the result.
The Zelos 7 is designed with an evenly distributed rigidity from tip to butt, that should generate high trajectory and distance without power loss.