Golf brand Stuburt have overcome difficult times in the past to re-establish themselves as a popular golf company. Graeme Stevens, managing director of the firm, met Andy Brown to tell him about the firm’s refocus on the shoe market and an exciting new partnership with an international company.
It was back in the 1980s, when it was fashionable to roll up the sleeves on a suit and when Hollywood action heroes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone ruled the box office, that Stuburt golf experienced its own glory days. Stuburt was one of the UK’s biggest golf brands and exported over a million pairs of Pro Am shoes into America before the company experienced difficulties in the 1990s when many golfers decided that it was expendable. The brand has experienced something of a renaissance over the last few years, especially in the apparel market, but the company – which was first and foremost a shoe brand – is targeting 2016 as the year when they will make a strong return into the footwear sector.
The company’s joint owner and managing director, Graeme Stevens, became involved with the firm 15 years ago. “When we bought Stuburt it was a shoe brand and we were successful and gained market share but we wanted to expand and so looked at outdoor wear, which has probably been our biggest growth,” he says. “If we are being honest, we feel that we took our eyes off the shoe business a little bit and it did go backwards. Our focus now is going to be on the shoe business and to get it back to where it should be.”
The initial signs are promising, with Stevens revealing that the firm’s pre-sales in shoes has been so strong that they expect to treble the amount of shoes sold in 2016 compared to last year. Their footwear range is still relatively small compared to other brands, but all products will be new for 2016, including a classic eVent shoe based on the Darren Clarke classic shoe, a new cyclone eVent spikeless shoe and a spiked version of an eVent shoe in Spring.
Stevens is still officially a PGA pro – and, by all accounts, a very good player – but says he is much more focused on the business side of the industry now. In truth, the retail side sounds like it has always been his main focus from when he started working as a pro as a 16-year old and he admits, “I really liked buying and selling; that was what I got my buzz from.” By the time he was in his mid-20’s Stevens had three profitable retail stores which he sold to USA golf and used some of the money to fund himself playing golf for a year. Recalling that year he says, “It wasn’t hugely successful. It could have been, but I didn’t want to be out practicing for seven hours every day and it is hard when you feel you have played well for one under and other people are nine under. You have to be realistic.”
After deciding that life on the Tour wasn’t for him Stevens set about doing what he loved – buying and selling in the golf industry. The first business he acquired was RAM – at the time a top-end brand that had a European subsidiary. They weren’t making golf bags and Stevens had a contact in China which meant he could get a bag for around £12, far cheaper than anything else on the market. He ended up taking RAM’s European subsidiary. Within the second year they were turning over £10 million a year and Stevens decided to purchase Stuburt, which was then in the hands of an administrator.
Stevens has already admitted that the firm will be paying more attention to the shoe side of their business in 2016 and, in some ways, their new range of waterproof shoes are the company’s most important product of this year. The reason? Stuburt have partnered up with eVent, an international fabric company and competitor to Gore-Tex that specialises in waterproof and breathable fabrics. The tie up with Stuburt will be the firm’s first foray into the golf business. Stevens acknowledges that they are not yet a well-known name in the industry but says, “It’s a high end product, so by using it we will be elevating our product and, going forward, all the waterproof shoes that we do will be with event. Gore-Tex has got a massive following in the golf industry but we feel our product with eVent will be as good, if not better, than what is out there at the moment.
“It is known as a market leader but they have never done anything in golf before, so it is exciting and they are going to get behind us. The plan is to move eVent into the rainwear eventually, but at the moment shoes are more workable because when you start to put it into the whole garment the price starts to rise.”
One of the key points Stevens is keen to stress is how he is aware that the company isn’t, as he says, a “three-stripe brand” and that to entice sales they have to offer good margins as they don’t have a Rory McIlroy figure to drive their products. He also believes that those who stock Stuburt alongside other products are offering a whole range for their customers. “I speak to a lot of people and they do want to stock the top-end of the market, but they also need an acceptable brand at a lower price point, and that seems to be us. A lot of retailers go ‘good’ ‘better’ ‘best’ where we will be the good.”
Remembering the frustrations that he sometimes experienced from his own days as a pro, Stevens says that he has made sure that he is personally available to their retailers, no matter the size of the account. “My background is as a PGA pro and I’m very happy to deal with people – it doesn’t bother me if you are our biggest or smallest account, if you have an issue you can have my mobile number and deal with me. We give that personal service and that goes back to the days when I was a PGA Pro and remembering being dissatisfied with the service that I was getting; sometimes the agent or rep would deal with it well but other times they didn’t and as a smaller pro you wouldn’t be able to pick up the phone and speak to the chairman. You can with us.”
Stuburt have partnered with eVent fabrics to help them take their waterproof products to the next level. Their director of sales and product line, Chad Kelly, explains more about the company and why they are so excited to be entering the golf market.
What’s the company’s background?
Since 1999, eVent fabrics have set the standard for truly air permeable and waterproof membranes in textiles. The technology used to create eVent membranes was invented in the 1990s to improve the pollutant-capturing performance of air filtration systems and give superior protection to industrial machinery. eVent fabrics — found in outdoor, winter sports, cycling and professional apparel and footwear — were the first air permeable and waterproof performance fabrics on the market that let the sweat out through Direct Venting technology. eVent membranes are offered in a selection of waterproof, windproof and protective textiles to consumer brands that create apparel, footwear, shelter and accessories, as well as to military, firefighting and police forces worldwide.
Can you tell us more about the technology used?
The eVent waterproof technology found in apparel and footwear is based on a proprietary ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene) membrane. The membrane has millions of microscopic pores which are open and therefore, air permeable — they allow sweat and body heat to easily escape out in vapor form. But the pores are too small to let rain and water through from the outside, so the membrane is completely waterproof.
Why is eVent different to other companies?
eVent technology prioritises performance and comfort. For golfers, this means feet stay dry from both the inside and out, and won’t overheat, which can cause blisters. Most competing products in the sector use polyurethane, which can be made to be waterproof, but cannot begin to match the breathability of eVent.
How excited are you about entering the golf market?
It’s quite exciting, because the golf market is ripe and ready for advanced waterproof technology and the value of highly breathability. Golfers are commonly exposed to the elements. The grass will be wet, it will rain on the far reaches of the course, and the game is played in all seasons. Waterproof is of course critical, but eVent enhances breathability for added comfort in all conditions.
Why did you decide to work with Stuburt?
We are always happy to partner with brands that innovate with eVent.
Stuburt recognises the benefits of our air permeable and waterproof technology and that golf is a perfect application where eVent can deliver an advantage.