TRADE SHOW PREVIEW: Getting a grip




As the PGA Merchandise Show tees off in Orlando this week, there are a few surprise success stories. Also, new brand stories, longer balls and even more boom times for the sport.
his is the stuff that dreams, and mega-success stories, are made of: a fledgling marketer of golf equipment surges from virtually nowhere to $60 million in sales in just three years.
Adams Golf made it happen at a time when consolidation and retrenchment are the trends and where image, no matter how good the product, is such a force?
“It wasn’t just because we have a genuine, innovative product, although we do,” says Barney Adams, namesake founder and CEO of Adams. “It takes a belief, an endurance, some luck and a lot of hard work. And, really, it took 10 years.”
An all-sports scholastic and collegiate athlete who grew up in Fayetteville, N.Y., then worked after graduation from Clarkson College as a field rep for Corning Glass, Adams, now 59, was a golf equipment tinkerer who got into the clubmaking business in 1988. By 1992, he had nurtured his enterprise, now based in Plano, Texas, up to a modest $300,000 in sales. But, after the introduction of his Tight Lies fairway woods in 1996, revenues skyrocketed to $5 million, which placed Adams Golf that year at No. 34 on the Golf Pro clubmaking chart.
Last year was even more phenomenal, with sales shooting up a whopping 600% to $30 million and the company projecting, for 1998, a 100% boost yet again to $60 million. If that’s the triple-digit case, based on Golf Pro figures, Adams will have come from virtually nowhere to push its way into the top 10 roster of clubmakers alongside the likes of Callaway, Taylor Made, Cobra, Ping, Top-Flite, Titleist, Armour and Wilson.
“We’ve grown beyond my wildest dreams,” says Adams, who so far has spurned all offers to sell or go public.
Reaching today’s successful stage was based on several factors: a pioneering custom-fitting system; a well-regarded, standalone niche product; a solid trade push via telemarketing–not sales reps–and, finally, last year’s Tight Lies fairway woods infomercial. Produced by Ken Sperry of Santa Ana, Calif.-based Script to Screen, Adams mined the 30-minute medium for all it was worth.
“We put it all on the line; it was a huge gamble,” says Adams, who spent well beyond $1 million eyeing projected sales in 1997 of $8.5 million. “The objective was to sell enough on TV to keep the show on the air.”
With industry consultant Ric Jarrett providing advice on setting up the telemarketing operation, and vp-sales/marketing Mark Gonsalves shepherding the infomercial rollout, the company was perilously well-prepared with inventory to meet the hoped-for demand. And, as Adams Golf far surpassed its projections, it maintained production to keep up with the calls. The infomercial ran in major markets nationwide, and on The Golf Channel. Consumer print ads, handled by both Novus of Minneapolis and R.D. Fox of San Francisco, augmented.
“[Jarrett and Gonsalves] were the professionals,” says owner Adams. “They supplied the strategies. They got it done.”
As it works in action, Adams pushes just one club directly–its 16-degree 4-wood, designed to help golfers get balls airborne more easily than tough-to-hit long irons–via infomercial and consumer ads. The rest of its Tight Lies line is sold through normal retail channels. “We’ve found that 8 of 10 people who buy one of our woods will buy at least a second,” says Adams. “That’s how we drive them into the shops, where the retailer is provided with an excellent margin on sales. Our goal is, and was, to sell product at retail.”
With its fairway woods wholesaling at $102 each for steel shafts and $139 for graphite, suggested retail is $159 and $219, respectively. Adams says less than $10 million of last year’s $30 million in sales came via direct response. The rest moved from retail shelves.
This year, Adams plans to continue its successful sales formula, while cautiously taking some expansive steps. Certainly, the marketing budget will go up. With a new infomercial in the works, ad spending, including 30% for print but nothing at the moment for traditional commercial spots, should surpass $10 million. Golfers Carol Mann and Hank Haney, and sports commentator Jack Whitaker, help pitch the product.
“Our game plan is to continue to focus on the fairway-wood market,” says Adams. “Too many companies in this industry push line extensions too fast. Secondarily, we’ll develop some new products that will make us a real player in the game. Sure, we want to be big. But, we want to be realistic too.”
As the industry prepares to converge this week on Orlando, Fla., for the mammoth PGA Merchandise Show (1.1 million square feet), here’s a canvass of other marketing plans in 1998. Not specified, but please note, the major firms all maintain custom Web sites; most provide product info, dealer referral and offer giveaways. Further, many also advertise and/or have hot links to golf-specific and other demographic-related sites.
BRIDGESTONE–Precept balls continue to get main push, led by MC Spin and Distance lines. Media buying increases TV, mainly cable such as ESPN and USA, to 65% of mix. Consumer golf print, in-store POP and targeted sales promotions supplement. Promos include “Tee Up a Precept” days at selected golf facilities, offering free trial to consumers. Sponsorship agenda includes tie-ins with both Nike Tour and Nike Junior golf camps. Endorsement roster: Nick Price, Larry Nelson, Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd, Lee Janzen.
DUNLOP–The brand, a subsidiary of Focus Golf and a cousin to Maxfli, will continue to stress “performance-enhancing products at affordable prices for consumers and excellent margins for the trade,” according to Michael Shaw, director of sales. Consumer golf print gets buying bulk as part of 50% overall marketing boost. Trade lure dangles European golf trip to top 10 accounts at year-end. Sponsorship exposure includes logo-bearing Dunlop automobile in Nascar races. Also, with company research revealing that 55% of Nascar fans play golf, manufacturer is producing special edition 6-packs of DDH110 Explosive balls with Nascar car numbers and signatures of drivers Dale Earnardt, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace. Top pro endorser is Chris Patton.
PRINCE–New ads for golf-specific publications stress advanced technology; new Thunderstick titanium driver carries $500 suggested retail tag. Prince offers consumers a 30-day “playability guarantee.” Company plans to conduct 2,500 demo days nationwide with increased fulltime tech-rep staff. Acknowledging need to curry trade to help promote product, Prince is looking to add 200 club/shop pros to its roster with enhanced retailer programs.
MAXFLI–Golf balls get major portion of 15% increase in marketing budget. Branding tag: “The best products in golf.” Ball lines, pitching technology and customization, include Maxfli New HT, Revolution, XS Tour and Distance, and MD Tungsten. Promotions beginning in March: Maxfli Golf Tool, a multi-purpose item included with purchase of MD Tungsten 15-ball packs; New HT Valuable Pouch, a black velvet pouch included in 12-packs. Pro endorsers: Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, others.
POWERBILT– Print gets 100% of ad dollars from this Hillerich & Bradsby unit. Unique Air Titanium driver boasts compressed nitrogen chamber, technological benefits. PowerBilt intros include TPS Titanium Copper irons. POP displays, collateral literature support.
TITLEIST– A subsidiary of Fortune Brands, it bumps marketing budget up 7-10% this year to estimated $80-100 million; ad buying splits 60/40 TV/print, with balls getting bulk of television time. Arnold agency in Boston handles ads. New HP2 Distance is Titleist’s first double cover offering. New 30-second Pinnacle spot, tagged “No Ball Goes Farther,” features North American Long Drive champion Jason Zuback.
Club positioning reprises tag: “Serious Clubs for Serious Golfers.” Intros include Vokey Design wedges, Scotty Cameron putters, enhanced 975D driver. Titleist steps up pitch to women via targeted TV and print ads, and cause-related ties to breast cancer research.
Consumer promotions on tap for Titleist balls include a USGA Rules of Golf offer through April, and Champions of the Masters running February-May; Pinnacle brand dangles Family Valuables Pouch promo in March-April. Among Titleist tour endorsers: David Duval, Brad Faxon, Davis Love, Kelly Robbins, Karrie Webb.
PING– Major product intros lead the way for venerable Karsten Mfg., which breaks with its own wood-oriented tradition to debut ISI titanium driver and wide assortment of insert putters. Ad buying, via the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., expected to increase 20-25% to $12-14 million, with heavy network and spot TV buys, plus full print schedules, in first half of year. Custom-fitting POP carts for Ping clubs eye nationwide increase by 600-700 outlets to 1,200-1,300 overall. Large roster of tour pros worldwide.
COBRA–New year-long theme umbrellas all products: “Total confidence, tee to green.” Ad buying will split 60/40 TV/print, with superstar Greg Norman fronting new executions breaking this month and next. In addition to nationwide demo days via traditional golf outlets, Cobra is hooking up with non-golf corporate partners in 12 major cities, aiming to lure 600,000 enthusiasts to all-day activities featuring product displays, lessons, prize giveaways. Sponsorship ties include PGA Club Pro Championship, and LPGA Teaching & Club Professional division. In addition to traditional Internet activities for a golf marketer, Cobra in ’98 will launch a monthly Fantasy Golf game on the Web and conduct celebrity online chat sessions.
New King Cobra II irons, touted by “Go for the pin” ad message, begin shipping to retail locations in February. Product received major overhaul to help increase shelf appeal. “This isn’t about looks alone,” asserts marketing vp Pascal Stolz. “The performance characteristics of this iron have improved as much as the cosmetics.”
ARMOUR–Newly revitalized 845s line is primary focus of $10 million marketing budget in ’98; ad buying splits 60/40 TV/print, and stresses product benefits. Direct mail, sales promos augment. Pro endorsers include Tommy Tolles, Paul Goydos, Tom Byrum, Brandel Chamblee, Omar Uresti, Dana Quigley, Brian Barnes.
TEARDROP– New parent of both Armour golf and Ram balls pushes its namesake equipment brand via 20% jump in marketing budget to $2.5 million. TV gets 70% of media buying, with broadcast spots in 15 top markets during 8-10 selected PGA Tour events. TearDrop heavies with daily schedule on cable Golf Channel, plus consumer/trade print ads.
Primary sponsorship is TearDrop Pro Golf Tour. Company will co-promote on-site at 15 PGA Tour and Senior PGA Tour events this year with Claritin antihistamine medicine, sharing hospitality tent space and on-site sampling displays.
TAYLOR MADE–Now a unit of Adidas via purchase of Salomon Group, TV and print ads herald Taylor Made introduction (for June shipment) of new Burner LCG line as direct replacement for its Burner Bubble Oversize irons. Clubs will be customized for men, women and seniors. New thrust for youth market is spearheaded by debut of economical Burner Bubble for Kids line, supported by targeted print, POP and instructional video program. New endorser Michelle McGann is featured in ads for women’s products; other tour pros include Tom Lehman, Lee Janzen, Brad Bryant.
Marketing budget goes up by more than 10% to $40 million-plus. Taylor Made will conduct over 3,000 demo days nationwide. Company publishes Pure magazine for golfers with circulation of 350,000. Online essay contest offers trip to Father and Son World Golf tournament; Taylor Made also ties online to EA Sports and Dockers with consumer promos, contests, tips. A unique Web site, taylormadekids.com, goes online in April.
WILSON–Company touts both Staff Titanium ball line and Fat Shaft irons in TV and print ads; Fat Shaft woods in print only. Tour pro Mark McCumber is featured in Wilson “edumercial.” Plans for 2,000 Fat Shaft demo days nationwide.
YONEX–After highly-publicized bidding war, Yonex renewed multi-year endorsement deal with tour star Phil Mickelson, who continues to assist in product development and headlines advertising campaign. Scott Hoch also signed multi-year endorsement extension.
LYNX–There’s been some management turnover and a recent agency assignment for strategic branding overhaul, foreshadowing introduction of Black CATi clubs featuring titanium-faced irons and beta titanium metalwoods. Pros Fred Couples and Gil Morgan continue to endorse. Boston-based Fitch agency was hired just a few weeks ago to develop corporate positioning, product packaging, POP materials, pr and Web weavings for staged rollout throughout 1998.

THE LEADER BOARD

1996 1996 1997
Company Sales Spending Spending*

Titleist/Foot-Joy/Cobra $677 $40.8 $34.8
Callaway 466 14.5 15.2
Spalding/Etonic 361 19.9 22.1
Taylor Made 251 13.3 17.2
Wilson 140 10.3 7.4
Maxfli/Dunlop 121 5.0 3.8
Ping 115 8.7 8.1
Armour/Odyssey** 85 12.2 11.4

* Jan.-Oct. only; ** Odyssey now owned by Callaway
All figures in millions
Sources: Golf Pro, sales; Competitive Media Reporting, spending.


PGA MERCHANDISE SHOW
Event: 45th annual PGA Merchandise Show
Dates: Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 1998
Site: Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla.
Square feet: 1.1 million
Exhibitors: 1,500
Total attendance: 48,000 est.
Largest exhibitors: Titleist/Foot-Joy, 12,800 sq. ft.; Spalding, 12,100; Nike, 9,600; Bobby Jones/Nicklaus Apparel, Palmer, 6,600 ea.; Cobra, Lynx, 6,400 ea.; Wilson, Callaway, Slazenger, Taylor Made, 5,600 ea.
Celebrity appearances: Ben Crenshaw (Stuart Kern); Frank Nobilo, Byron Nelson (Cleveland); Chris Johnson, Kelli Kuehne, Craig Stadler (Spalding); Loren Roberts (Cross Creek); Rick Fehr (First Tour Junior Golf); Dottie Pepper, Karrie Webb, Kelly Robbins, Michelle McGann (Titleist)