Wilson in Europe has been based in Irvine, Scotland, for 60 years. We spoke to Alistair Carey, Operations Manager, to find out more about the historic facility and how they’ve helped generations of golfers.
Sixty years old, does that make you the oldest working facility in UK golf?
Well technically we moved to another site Irvine in 2008, having been at the original plant since 1962, but we moved everything lock stock and barrel with us. We’re certainly the longest established in one area.
What are you doing to mark the anniversary?
The Wilson Golf European sales meeting was held at Cameron House, Loch Lomond recently and the whole Irvine team was invited, where they met our Chicago based U.S. team. We’ve got a very social workforce, and have some extra nights out planned in celebration. There is also some nice, limited-edition clothing and gifts for staff to mark the occasion.
How has Irvine changed over that time
Irvine was originally established to build equipment for Asia and in particular the Japanese market. As Chicago HQ and Tokyo were on completely different time zones, they wanted somewhere in between. At the time, Scotland was the epicenter of golf club manufacturing, at least outside of what was being done Stateside. A lot of the premium club building was being undertaken and our plant soon became the factory building equipment for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. There are six courses in Irvine, and another seven down the road in Troon. Consequently, there were four other golf club manufacturers in the town when we started.
What landmarks has the site achieved?
Sixty years is such a long time, and some of the people who have come through over the years are a who’s who of golf. Sam Snead opened the site and was a regular visitor as were a lot of other big name players who played Wilson because we were the main European HQ for both Golf and Tennis. Stefan Edberg used to spend a lot of time here on the tennis side of the business.
In 1977, we won the Queens Award for Export and recently we had a guy who retired from Irvine who had been with us for 52 years, he’d started when he was 15. We also have a few employees here with between 40 and 50 years of service, which seems crazy in the modern world.
What work is done on site in Irvine and is it just a golf facility or is it used across the whole Wilson business?
About 80% of our space is the EMEA warehouse, it’s a 100,000 sq ft building. Most of the remainder is a factory where we customise product. Custom-fit hardware is the obvious part of what we do, but we also custom logo all our golf balls on site and have vinyl and embroidery machines on site to custom logo clothing and golf bags.
Brexit has added some extra responsibilities too. We now handle all the returns for Amer Sports group brands that don’t have any UK warehousing.
How has your role changed?
As well as setting up the new warehousing site, I was tasked with updating the processes. In particular changing our focus from mass production to customisation. From that point all the way up to now, it’s been about having a continuous ethos of looking how we can always improve what we do. We try not to react; we are always trying to be ahead of the curve and anticipate what we need to change and improve before we need to.
Customer Service is also a key part of what we do. We want to be great when everything is running smoothly, and even better to deal with when dealing with a customer’s problem. This supports our retail partners, knowing we will go above and beyond. The easier we are to work with, the more retailers will work with us. For example, we can offer product customisation at much smaller numbers than other brands, which makes logo balls and small runs of embroidered product much easier to add to their stores.
What are you excited about for Wilson going forward?
We’re in a good position, we are continuing to grow sales, year on year, the products are getting better and more consumers are engaging with our brand. We’re really excited to carry on this trajectory and what the future holds for Wilson Golf.
We’ve got some fantastic products coming out next year. At our sales launch we did some blind testing with very, very good results. We’re really investing heavily in R&D compared to previous years too. The product mix we’ve got coming through is even stronger than what we’ve had and the price points are going to be more attractive to the consumer with the current direction of the economy.
Wilson Golf employees continue to have a real energy and it’s a great team to be a part of. Our staff at Irvine are so good. Many have been with Wilson for more than 20 years. The pride they take in their work is remarkable. They are so dedicated to the brand and servicing our customers. GR