There will come a time when no one laces up a pair of golf shoes – at least not the way it's done now. It may seem difficult to fathom, but we've spent our entire lives surrounded by any number of emerging technological advances, which eventually render existing technology obsolete – lightbulbs, washing machines and HDTV are three I find particularly useful in my household. First-world comforts, I know.
Video killed the radio star and BOA very well might be the end of traditionally laced golf shoes. Some of you just asked, What's BOA? - And therein lies both the problem and motivation for BOA's unofficial, but still kind of official, relaunch.
The crux of the challenge facing BOA is one of identity and understanding. Despite its best efforts, market research performed by BOA recently revealed people could neither pronounce nor reliably identify the company based on its now former logo. BOA makes a product which millions of people use (and pay for) every day, yet consumers couldn't connect the product with the producer.
For BOA, that's a problem the size of Johnny Miller's ego.
The issue is compounded by the fact that BOA is an ingredient company. Its final product is a component of the consumer end-product. As such, any recognition or consumer response is typically associated with the product (i.e. Apple iPhone) rather than any of the composite pieces (e.g. A9 processor produced by Samsung). Exceptions occur only when one of the ingredient pieces is remarkable in a way which fundamentally changes the nature of the final product. If you’re searching for examples, GORE-TEX comes to mind. BOA has substantial ground to gain before if it’s to find itself in the vicinity of product/category synonyms like GORE-TEX, Kleenex, Xerox and Jet Ski.
At best, there's a general understanding that some golf shoes have fastening options other than time-honored laces. But those who can correctly identify BOA as the company who produces the patented closure system in select FootJoy, Adidas, Ecco, Under Armour, and Nike golf shoes – are in short supply. BOA's entire renaissance is dedicated to changing that.
Remember the 3M tagline “We don’t make the things you buy…we make the things you buy better?” Swap things for shoes and you have the message BOA is working to deliver to the entire golf footwear industry.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
The primary motivation behind BOA's rebranding efforts is largely self-serving. File that nugget of wisdom wherever you deem appropriate. It wants consumers to know what it does, why you should purchase shoes with a BOA lacing system and ultimately, create an identity as the premier closure system available.
So, while the immediate benefit of raised awareness favors BOA, there are two fundamental reasons it should matters to consumers as well. First, the technology is readily available, and evidence suggests proper footwear increases performance.
A shoe which provides the player the proper fit, desired amount of traction, and optimal stability is the first step towards better performance. Maintaining this fit throughout an entire round is where BOA shines. Consider the analogy of a knot. As it loosens, effectiveness is lost. BOA both keeps the knot tight while allowing for micro adjustments (1mm) to dial in desired tension.
The benefits may not be as obvious or quantifiable as fresh grooves on a wedge, but it very well may give you more distance off the tee than a new driver.
The second reason is more esoteric. There exists a percentage of golfers who demand the best of everything.
But without a baseline or some competition, it's impossible to establish what best looks like. To date, BOA is the only such footwear technology utilized across multiple brands. Puma's Disc system, while similar in approach, is proprietary and has been adapted from its experience with high-performance running/track shoes.
It's possible that BOA remains unchallenged and creates a virtual monopoly in its space, but in speaking with several industry insiders, I won't be surprised if others try to mirror Puma's approach. Should companies do so, consumers will have more choices, but not necessarily better ones.
BOA employs approximately 200 people worldwide, 140 of which work the company HQ in Denver’s burgeoning River North Art District. It’s a quasi-urban industrial area, about 20 minutes north of downtown Denver with a clear view of the Rocky Mountains. The location and scenery fit well with the vibe and origin of the brand. Like so many other entrepreneurial successes, BOA’s launch point was the solution to a common problem. Founder, Gary Hammerslag wanted a quicker and easier way to lace up his kid’s snowboard boots. In 2001, the first BOA System launched with brand partners Vans and K2.
The next 16 years saw rapid acceptance largely in outdoor adventure markets (snowboarding, hiking, biking) and while the growth has been welcome, managing and sustaining this growth isn’t without some challenge – chiefly, ensuring consumers understand BOA is a separate and autonomous company focused on making the highest quality and longest lasting closure system in the world.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
There’s genius in simplification and that’s what BOA accomplishes with its patented closure system. Instead of traditional laces, BOA uses a dial and flexible metal wire (7 sets of 7 strands are twisted together and wrapped in a nylon sheath) to tie the shoe. Because individual pieces of the system can’t be tightened independently, BOA engineers have to optimize how each part of the system works, with areas tightening at different rates to maximize stability without sacrificing comfort. From a user standpoint, it’s easier than turning on the microwave. To tighten, depress the dial and turn to the right (dial works the same on both left and right shoes). To loosen, release the dial by popping it up. That’s it.
The complexity of BOA’s closure system is in the design – where each shoe goes through an exhaustive creation process, merging BOA’s technology with the existing shoe design. This is true in all cases except the adidas Powerband, which is the first BOA-only golf shoe.
On average, a BOA closure system adds $20-$30 to the cost of the shoe. If you’re expecting consumers to pay a premium, the product needs to offer something more – and preferably something better. With BOA, convenience is a feature, not the defining benefit. The BOA closure system comfortably locks the foot in place and provides a secure and consistent fit. This allows the rest of the shoe technology (particularly traction technology) to function optimally. BOA guarantees the dial and laces for the life of the shoe, which means the shoe will likely fall apart long before closure system does.
I took a trip to BOA’s HQ to get a first-hand look at BOA’s operation while spending some time with BOA’s Marketing Coordinator, Jason Peters, to discus the company’s plans for becoming the first and last name consumers think of in alternative shoe lacing systems.
The multi-level building is unassuming and is largely what one would expect of such an operation. Beyond the reception area (where you’re greeted by the company dog) is the quick visual tour of BOA’s history and a board displaying the gamut of brand partners. The rest of the space is organized largely according to product category (golf, hiking, running, etc.) or task (prototype creation, durability testing, marketing) The exposed brick, concrete floors and industrial ambiance give the entire set up a factory meets Generation X type feel.
To date, BOA works with 330 category leading brands across the world where nearly 83 million of its dials provide the closure system for footwear, medical devices and other utilitarian pursuits (e.g. gloves, workboots, and helmets).
During my visit, BOA was still in the process of replacing the old logo with the new one. The existing logo relied heavily upon two yellow arrows, which I can only think was meant to depict the movement of a twisting dial. The text "boa" was symmetrical and artsy, but clearly secondary to the brand name. The revamped logo focuses almost entirely on the brand name but is dynamic enough to suggest some element of movement or wrapping.
Designing a new logo which avoided the pitfalls of the previous one wasn’t nearly as clean and simple as the new logo might suggest. After narrowing it down from hundreds of versions to a select few, BOA had to be sure that its message remained consistent regardless of language or target market. The logo had to be universal, simple, powerful and immediately recognizable across multiple continents and cultures.
If pressed to offer an analogy; it’s a bit like cutting down a sequoia and whittling away until you have the perfect toothpick.
When BOA takes on a new brand partner most of the initial collaboration happens on-site where all the requisite materials, production machinery and space exist to create prototypes on the spot. This facilitates a more efficient design process and, all things being equal, means less time to bring a final product to market. It’s also a confined space where the creative juices flow. As with any organic process, it can get a bit messy.
Each brand partner is a unique relationship with its own set of dynamics and idiosyncrasies.
FootJoy is BOA’s heritage partner (going on 11 years) and currently offers the most BOA models of any vendor. The proprietary heel-mounted system wraps the heel “low and back” for a comfortably tight and secure fit.
As the elder statesmen of the BOA/Golf shoe collaboration, don’t expect Footjoy to drastically alter how it utilizes BOA, but that in no way suggests the current platform is anything less than stellar. Footjoy’s latest shoe – D.N.A. Helix - is billed as a collection of Footjoy’s best technology seamlessly integrated into to a single design - and it wouldn’t be complete without a BOA option. It also marks the first shoe in Foojoy’s lineup to feature the updated BOA dial which allows for precise micro adjustments in both directions (right to tighten and left to loosen). Given the popularity of Footjoy in both the retail space and on all major professional tours, there’s not much incentive to mess with the solid recipe that the two companies have dialed in (excuse the lame pun) over the last decade plus.
Ecco, Nike, and Under Armour are all recent partners and share a similar space in the BOA portfolio. Each offers a single model (for now) with BOA technology (Nike Lunar Command 2, Ecco Cage Pro, Under Armour Speith One), and based on the selection, it’s reasonable to surmise the intention was to match BOA with the model most likely to appeal to the majority of consumers. Or, in the case of Under Armour, to make sure it’s flagship model came with every feature someone looking to drop $200+ could conceivably desire.
I’d confidently wager a steak dinner that you’ll see BOA on a minimum of two models from each brand partner at next year’s PGA Merchandise Show. It might be a reach, but with Nike leaving the equipment space to focus intently and exclusively on soft goods, Nike (and its global presence) might be the brand which ultimately gets people asking, “What kind of BOA do you have on your shoe?”
adidas is, according to Peters, “as collaborative as any of the brand partners we have.” The read-between-the-lines take away is that adidas is perhaps more willing to go some places and take more risks than some of BOA’s other partners. There’s no better example of this than the current adidas Powerband BOA Boost, which is the only model in BOA’s golf catalog designed from the ground up exclusively with a BOA lacing system. With multiple BOA models already available for men, women and juniors, adidas seems poised to leverage the full capability of BOA’s platform. adidas also provides BOA with a bold partner willing to try just about anything in pursuit of a better golf shoe.
TOUGH TO MEASURE
Given the way the golf industry obsesses over tour usage and market share, it borders on amazing nobody is exactly sure how many pairs of BOA-enable shoes are used by touring pros and/or sold in retail outlets. Neither the Darrell Survey nor traditional methods of accounting (metrics basic on SKU numbers and units sold) can accurately measure the precise number of BOA models either sold or in play. This doesn’t apply to the Adidas Powerband as it doesn’t have a non-BOA counterpart.
Tour usage metrics account for brand and type of shoe, but not closure system. So, for the time being, BOA can only rely on aggregate numbers (e.g., total sales) and attempt to distill information from available data, however incomplete it may be.
To provide some perspective, 75% of cyclists in the Tour de France use BOA closure system footwear. BOA is to professional cycling what Golf Pride is to the PGA Tour.
The loudest criticism comes from the “I’m not so lazy I won’t tie my own shoe” contingent. While I find the curmudgeonly luddites somewhat entertaining, my guess is those people don’t manually open the garage door, sew their clothes or cook dinner over an open fire. As such, it’s simply a thinly veiled justification to remain anti-technology, because for some reason it appeals to them.
Personally, I don’t see myself ever going back to a traditionally laced golf shoe. It’s akin to switch to HD television. Watching live sports was always enjoyable, but clearly (again, terrible pun) the newer technology is universally better. For me, what BOA offers is worth a few extra bucks, and I believe we’ll soon see more BOA exclusive models and without a lower-price “traditional” option, the additional cost becomes a non-issue.
Let’s be clear – BOA is neither a new company nor is the technology fundamentally different. The micro-adjustment feature available on the FootJoy Helix is a new twist and makes the system even more accurate.
This is about identity and clarity. BOA can’t achieve the lofty goal of product/category synonym without a well-articulated branding and marketing approach.
The intention is to alter how consumers respond to the brand and with that, create an understanding of exactly what BOA is and, frankly, why you’re better off buying golf shoes with its technology. To fully get BOA, consumers should understand BOA is much more than a golf shoe technology. Anything which needs to be tightened, closed, opened, released, or held in place can likely be made better with BOA technology. That everything from shoes to medical devices.
BOA is an established company with a strong track record and a solid reputation as the premium closure system in a variety of product categories, but for BOA that’s not enough. It wants to become the product which defines and entire category – to become the standard by which all closure systems are measured.
I’m not much of a gambler, but I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
What are your thoughts? If you’re on BOArd, what shoe should be next? If not, tell us why.
For more information, visit the BOA website.