When GOLF RETAILING was given the chance to meet three key players in TaylorMade’s global business it was an opportunity we couldn’t refuse. Andy Brown sat down with them to talk about the brand’s reputation among golf pros, custom fitting and what new products the team are working on.
Do you think consumers now have more of a knowledge on custom fitting?
Brian Bazzel (BB): One of the last times I was in the UK was when we put the MAT-T system into the Belfry and fitting was really new and just starting to grow. What has happened from them onto now is amazing regarding the tools that golf pros can have to help fit the golfer in terms of systems that can easily change shafts, lofts and moveable weight. A lot of these innovations started with TaylorMade and have evolved and become more intuitive and easier to apply. The awareness is spreading to a lot more golf shops and those places that perhaps didn’t have the tools in the past – they always had the expertise and the golfer always wanted to go to them first because they had a relationship with them. Now there is more opportunity for smaller golf shops.
We offer a lot more components at no extra charge that are premium offerings; we’ve done that to give the golfer more options and to make the process easy. We want them to make the decision because of performance not price, although there are of course some options that are very premium. We have definitely added to our arsenal over the last two years and have changed our offering in a big way.
Tomo Bystedt (TB): The challenge with custom fit is that it can be complex as there are so many different components and it can also be subjective as people have their personal preferences – as a fitter you have to navigate that. If a pro thinks one brand of shaft is better, but the customer doesn’t like it, then there is no point in pushing it. What we are trying to do is make it as easy for the pro as possible by offering a lot of options at no up-charge and then it’s easier for a customer to go different ways.
BB: On top of that there are a lot of devices, such as launch monitors, that measure ball speed, launch angle and spin. We can tell you about our product but, at the end of the day, the golfer has the opportunity to put it on that monitor and it will tell them if it is better than the last one we made or not and against our competition – that’s something that has changed over the last few years. This means that when we bring out something new it needs to be measurably better.
When you now create products how much of an influence is custom fitting?
TB: For irons we know that more and more of the products we sell are custom fit rather than bought off the rack, so one of the challenges we have is that everything has to be bendable. We are also making the heads interchangeable with shafts and that requires different technology. It is also important that we make sure that when you hit with the fitting head it doesn’t perform any differently from the club that you get assembled after the product has been bought.
BB: It hasn’t changed that much for us as we were ahead of the game to some degree. When we launched the 300 series we had three different club heads for different golfers and when the R7 came out it had a moveable weight – some people didn’t know what to make of it. That has continued on into the sliding mechanism in the M1 with the front and back track and having an easy system to change ball flight. In the golf space now in Metalwoods there are very few products that don’t have a loft sleeve, but there are differences between each one.
Rob Johnson (RJ): It also has a big impact on our launch timings because fitting is so important when we come out of the gate with either irons or Metalwoods. We can’t just put ready to rack products out there, we need all the components ready. We go green grass before we go off course, so it is a big conversation to get all the right products in the right specifications to all the carts before launch.
BB: That has been a dramatic improvement. It is difficult to have everything ready and do it right, especially for the green grass retailer so they can do fittings before and pre book orders so on the day it is on sale the customers get their products.
Where do you see products going in the future and how far in advance do you work?
RJ: There are different ways to look at it: there is creating products that we feel are revolutionary products to what we currently have, there are product needs out there from consumers that they have been telling us and then there are latent issues that golfers have that they don’t recognise they have that we are trying to solve. The product timeline can be as far out as five to seven years because you start with a concept that might be ‘out there’ and some of them don’t make it. This may be because they can’t be created or because the industry changes or we hear from golfers that it is irrelevant. It is about filling the pipeline with ideas and then vetting them.
BB: There are more ideas than we have people or time to make, which is a good problem to have. It is about committing and investing in the ones that you think are going to be the most desirable and sometimes golfers don’t know they want it until you tell them what it is, such as customisation. In the past the top professionals were doing things with this, but most golfers didn’t follow suit until we showed it to them. It gets really serious when you are 18 months before you want to launch, that’s when you really fine-tune and bring it to life. The form of a product is as important as the function; we want to speak to the golfer in terms of producing a good shot but also emotively through the design elements. That doesn’t happen overnight.
TB: It definitely gets intense 18 months before a new launch. The fluted hosel on the M2 irons and fairway woods is a system we have been working on for three years as a concept. We had prototypes but it wasn’t ready to go until the M2, but we knew that it was an interesting technology that would have good benefits.
BB: The iron team had been working on the fluted hosel for a while and we hit a bit of a roadblock on the M2 fairway and were able to utilise this technology in a slightly different way. Without the work they had done we wouldn’t have been able to do it, so sometimes there is a collaboration between the groups that works out pretty spectacularly.
What are some future trends we might see in hardware?
RJ: We believe that we won’t come with a new product unless it is measurably better than the last one. We are continuing to work on future state technologies. In terms of where it is going we don’t have a pinpoint saying exactly where it is going – the challenge for us is continuing to try and beat the one that we have. Whatever materials or shape it may be is still to be confirmed.
BB: In five years I hope it does look different because if it doesn’t then we haven’t been doing our job; we are trying to innovate and bring new products that people get surprised by and push the performance envelope. It should look different, but to what degree we will have to wait and see.
How is golf doing in America – what’s the feeling there?
RJ: The data would say that it is flat to slightly down but I would say that there is more energy around it that the data doesn’t reflect yet. It could be because we are just beginning to get into the golf season. The participation and rounds played data would be flat or a little bit down but I don’t feel that. I would anticipate the numbers going up this year.
BB: The sentiment seems to have changed and I think part of that is what is going on in the PGA Tour, the energy and enthusiasm amongst the young players and the battles that they are having. There’s a lot of anticipation for the Ryder Cup and the Olympics so you sense some built up energy that we are not seeing in the numbers yet, but it feels like it is about to go in the right direction.
What would you like to say to the UK golf pros?
TB: I think we definitely have a renewed dedication to the green grass pro and we know that there has been some issues in the past with our fittings programmes and how we have launched products in terms of timings and in the last 12 months we have made a commitment to make that better. We learned a lot launching PSi and M1 on how to do it correctly and it was one of the first launches we have done where, across all categories, it felt like it was executed extremely well and the feedback from around the world was very positive. If you go back to previous launches some were good, some bad and some in-between, but we’ve had the best feedback we have ever had in the last two launches. It takes a bit of time to change people’s sentiments and opinions about what brands do certain things well and not so well; we feel that if we keep executing this way over the next few launches then the green grass pros will realise that it is a new era for TaylorMade.
RJ: We have had a global business re-set in the way that we do business. Instead of just pushing and pushing – which began to hurt our green grass accounts and off course retail and ultimately that pain came back to us – over the last 12 months we have been asking ourselves how to run a good and clean business that still puts out great product but does it more in partnership with our retailers. This is a worldwide issue for us. Half of our business is done in the US, so the three of us being based there we see it and feel it from retailers and the sentiment is the same. We needed to change our business model and back office stuff to become a better partner for people to want to do business with.
BB: If, for whatever reason, the golf pro started to shy away from our brand for those reasons us telling you we are changing probably won’t make a big impact, but us doing it over time consistently will. Hopefully the people can see some of the changes and what we have done because we are doing things a little bit differently.
How did this change in company mind-set come about?
RJ: A combination of a few things. I’m very thankful of the leadership team that was in place previously and all of the hard work and vision put the business on the right track. The change came because we have turned over 85 per cent of the leadership team of the organisation and that happened at the same time we began to hear feedback from retailers saying that we either launch new products too fast or the service isn’t great. It was time to do things a little differently so the whole business and everyone who works with us can be successful.