Last November Wilson Golf announced the promotion of Doug Wright to the role of global commercial director, with Wright having held a similar position across the EMEA region for more than a decade. He spoke to Glyn Pritchard about his new role and the latest developments at Wilson Golf.
Wright turned professional in 1991 and qualified as an assistant three years later, working for Clive Bonner at Bramshaw Golf Club, near Lyndhurst in Hampshire. He began his career with Wilson as a tech-rep in 1998, before moving to Germany to become national sales manager and doubling the business in two years. “I didn’t speak any German before I moved over there, but I relish a challenge and decided to go for it”, he explains.
In 2003 Wright took over commercial management in the EMEA region covering 14 countries and oversaw the sales growth coinciding with the sequence of major victories by Wilson brand ambassador Padraig Harrington.
Asked about the company’s approach to the equipment market Wright is clear. “We have a very definite view of how we are trying to communicate the benefits of our products to the consumer based on ‘feel, control and distance’. Better players want feel and control, improvers want forgiveness and distance. We position our products along that spectrum so both the consumer and retailer understands the market positioning. We have the V4 range used by our tour players, the C100 irons aimed at the crossover player who wants more control and then the D200 range designed to be suitable for players of all abilities.”
From this basis the company has developed a two year replacement cycle says Wright. “It means that we are researching and designing for the three different categories in sequence and this year we launched the D200 series for the improving player that wants distance and forgiveness. We believe this builds trust with the trade and the consumer. They understand where our products fit in the playing spectrum and they know we will protect their investment in our equipment.”
Wright says the company works hard to ensure that product performance matches the marketing hype. “We’re very excited with the performance of the D200 range. With the Speed Sole Technology we have a really reactive face with a thin face-to-sole transition that creates CTs (characteristic time) in the 220s. You couple with a lighter shaft and it is all designed to get the ball coming off the face faster and going further. We believe for a lot of golfers in the ‘D’ category getting more ball speed and distance is an important purchasing factor.”
To support the launch of the D200 range, Wilson has organised a series of D200 Challenge demo days. Participants are challenged to see how much extra yardage they gain with new D200 irons against their current irons for a chance to win a new set of D200 clubs. Results are posted to the Distance Leaderboard web page and the golfer with the greatest difference in yardage will receive a D200 set of irons. “The initial feedback we had both internally and with test sessions was so good we decided to launch the D200 Challenge, because we knew the clubs really would deliver longer distance”, Wright confirms.
In addition to the D200 Challenge demo days, Wilson has scheduled a series of custom fitting days. “Custom fit is very important for us and increasingly important for our retail partners. We have had our own custom fit centre in Irvine, Scotland for over 50 years so there’s a lot of experience there and we turn around custom fit orders promptly. Not only are we helping customers with custom fitting of irons at our demo days but also identifying the golf ball which is most suitable for their game with our DX2 and new DX3 balls.”
Golf balls remain a major product category for Wilson. “We have been in the golf ball business since 1954. What has changed over the last ten years is the number of new entrants to the sector and that necessarily affects potential market share, but we have solid brand loyalty generated over decades coupled with great products.”
Wright says that Wilson has pioneered low compression golf balls since 1998. “We believe in it because 65 percent of golfers say they prefer a softer feeling golf ball. We have continued to push the envelope first with 50 compression, where we gained noticeable improvements in performance and we have continued to evolve until now we have the DX2 Soft with 29 compression. Other brands are now following our lead. The ‘drop test’ that we offer in store allows golfers to compare bounce and sound for themselves so they can see that DX2 Soft can generate distance compared to a competitor ball.”
In terms of marketing strategy Wright considers ‘tour endorsed’ to be an important part of the mix. “It’s part of a pyramid of influence. You have the tour players at the top and the ‘D’ level amateurs at the bottom and that influence does filter through. You can’t put your whole marketing budget into tour player endorsement, but you do have to convince the trade that you’re a serious brand with proven winners. With our Wilson Advisory Staff we were one of the first brands to engage in athlete endorsement. We have had a long and very successful relationship with Pádraig Harrington and I think consistent relationships like that are important to brand building.” As well as Harrington, Wilson sponsors Kevin Streelman and Ricky Barnes on the US PGA Tour and recently signed Paul Waring, joining Marcel Siem on the European Tour.
Wright is keen to emphasise that Wilson supports the retail trade with a full range of advertising and promotional activity. “We have invested in consumer trial days more than ever before, so this year we are doing more demo days than we have ever done. We assist our retail partners with in-store displays and we’re making a big investment in advertising on Sky Sports which is reaching the avid golfers. It’s all about supporting our retail partners who are supporting us. We would like to continue growing our distribution. It’s a tough market but we believe we have a compelling story to generate the sell-through.”
In his new role as global commercial director, Wright will relocate Wilson Golf’s headquarters in Chicago next year. “I’m looking forward to it. This is a great company to work for. I have been running sales in Europe for over ten years and it’s exciting to have the challenge of promoting the brand on the world stage.”