I’ve gone through the comments on my previous stories, looking for topics that my readers seem to want covered. So far, I’ve focused on the nuts and bolts of the industry and stayed away from what might be considered more personal. But one comment kind of stuck with me.
What did we talk about while having a beer? This person wanted to know more about the day-to-day discussions of people in the industry.
Obviously, I can only respond from the Adams Golf viewpoint. The industry is very competitive and as such, we didn’t have industry functions where we got together and socialized. Many years ago, Golf Magazine would have an outing after the PGA Merchandise Show and invite its customers, which included equipment industry folks. I played in a couple, but we didn’t get together to discuss the industry.
At Adams, any conversation during a get-together had the same theme — how do we increase our sales so we can effectively compete with the big guys?
Let me put this in perspective. It’s post 2000, post IPO, we are the No. 1 hybrid on tour and competing daily against companies 5-to-15 times our annual volume At our peak, we did a bit more than $100 million in annual sales and, while that may sound like a lot, it’s well short of the roughly $140 million you need to do all the necessary marketing stuff and turn a profit. You are managing cash flow.
What were we doing with the money? Huge salaries, big benefits, expensive marketing? I know it doesn’t mesh with what many outsiders believe about the golf equipment industry, but we were very conservative. Since it’s public record, you can confirm that my yearly salary never exceeded $200K. Some of our key people actually did better in areas where we had to pay to get the best folks, but we were very professional with our salary structure.
There’s a saying about marketing that goes like this:
“I know 50 cents of every dollar is a waste. I just don’t know which 50 cents.”
We probably spent as much time in random discussions on this subject as anything. We would get a call saying Player X is available and we can get him for… well, more than any of us were making. Once the euphoria of being associated with a known name wears off, it’s the old question: Will the association pay off in sales?
There is no formula that applies to a company that has a tour staff of one or two players. The only thing that moves the needle is to have a large tour staff, and financially it wasn’t in the cards for Adams. It isn’t just the player; it’s how much of your advertising budget gets dedicated to promoting the relationship. Where else could the money go?
That conversation brings us around to “who are we” and “how do we capitalize on our image?” At Adams, we knew we wanted to appeal to the average golfer. Our designs were focused on making the game more enjoyable for what demographically is the largest constituency.
Now remember, in the example I’m giving, this is a bunch of us sitting around having a beer and giving opinions. There’s no formality, just ideas. When it came to the issue of helping the average player, there was one unavoidable step. You had to make excellent product that good players would use and do so knowing it would be a small percentage of total sales. Golf has a pyramid of influence, and if the better players aren’t complimentary of your products the selling effort increases significantly.
There’s an important thing to remember here. The golf equipment industry is a lot more like the fashion industry than many people are willing to admit. The actual differences between products are minor and often subjective. We don’t want to copy, but we are remiss if we don’t look at what seems to be popular and decide how to position ourselves.
Doing all of this — tour, marketing, product design — and you missed break even at $100 million in sales?
Well, cut back!
Drop the Tour staff to one or two minor (read: cheaper) players, cut back on advertising, don’t spend money designing a driver that competes favorably with the best in the market, etc. This movie has been seen, and the company slides into oblivion during the denouement.
There are other “opportunities.” A golf ball manufacturer will make a top-quality ball under our name, a shirt company will do the same. This can be done with golf shoes and virtually anything that’s sold at golf retail. Look to history. Has any smaller company ever been successful adding non-equipment products? The answer is no. So we collectively decide that our focus is on-course and we will try and do the best we can knowing we don’t have the luxury of funding.
Then the sales guy says,”I was in one of the ____ stores the other day and our [very costly] displays were in the back and some had product from other companies.” (I’m assuming everything was done to correct this!)
This is a killer. You spend the advertising dollars, the tour dollars and the R&D money just to have your product displayed where it’s hard to find. There’s a simple reason why; the big guys pay for premium space and make sure it’s properly managed. We completed our budget just getting to the store — renting premium space doesn’t fit. We have to come up with an in-store sales strategy that allows us to compete.
Get the picture? We’re still drinking beer, having a good time and we’re all passionate. And it’s good that we are; we want to put the best product in consumer hands and do so in a way that allows us to compete going forward.
That’s what we talked about.
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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