Honma has said it’s getting serious about North America. Apparently, it’s serious about getting serious.

Exhibit A was Honma’s Demo Day booth at the PGA Show, most certainly outsized for the company’s relatively small North American market share.  The highlight was the new TR20 line of irons and metal woods, the first product line produced by Honma’s new North American product development team.

Yep, Honma wants to grow, but experience tells us growth and comfort do not coexist. Product alone won’t deliver growth nor will clever ads or in-store promotions. For a company with Honma’s limited North American footprint, impactful growth requires something radically different.

A national fleet of fully equipped mobile fitting vans certainly sounds radical, doesn’t it?

Goin’ Mobile

Imagine a world where you can send out an email request and, within a few days, a fully tricked-out van pulls into your favorite course or driving range ready to give you a one-on-one personalized full-bag fitting.

Talk about direct-to-consumer.

That’s what Honma is doing. Since January, the company has had nine fully equipped and branded custom-fitting vans roaming the Southwest, Southeast and New York/New Jersey. Honma is bringing tour-level personalized custom fitting to your doorstep. Literally.

“It’s a chance for us to deliver our unique experience and tell our story,” Honma Marketing VP Brad Holder tells MyGolfSpy. “We’re a 60-year-old Japanese brand that’s new to a lot of golfers in North America. People aren’t familiar with the story of hand-shaped persimmon heads that get converted into CAD or how our master craftsmen shape products by hand or how we roll our own shafts at our factory in Sakata.”

Whether any of that matters is another discussion but the bottom line is that Honma is making a substantial investment to bring its story – and its equipment – directly to you for a hands-on experience. And the investment is going to get bigger, with nine more vans due to hit the streets by The Masters.

“We think the best way to tell our story to golfers is to bring it directly to them with our fitters and our tools,” says Holder. “That’s what the mobile vans allow us to do. We can package the Honma story and take it on the road.”

Road Warriors

The vans will be manned by Honma’s territory leads. They’ll not only conduct the fittings but they’ll also be responsible for – pardon the pun – driving business development throughout the region.

“They’re a conduit for customer follow-up and personalized, almost concierge-level, service,” says Holder. “We want every consumer who comes to a Honma fitting to feel they’re being well taken care of and that we look after the details and know them by name.”

To book a fitting, go to the Honma website, hit the Honma Experience link, and scroll to the mobile van section. From there, you can contact your regional fitter directly by phone or email and they’ll set you up for a fitting.

 

“In a perfect world, if it’s a private club, the fitter will talk with your club pro,” says Holder. “He [the pro] could then line up other members who may be interested to fill up the day. But if it’s just one person who wants to get fit, we’ll service that.”

If you’re thinking the fitter is going to have to have a remarkable close rate in order to make this program sustainable, you’re partly right. Yes, Honma believes it will sell some gear but it’s also a way to develop green-grass partnerships.

“We view this as a win for the PGA club pro,” says Holder. “They can now bring their membership a product they haven’t tried before and convert some of those experiences into good revenue. You could call this ‘direct to consumer’ but there are aspects that are tried-and-true green-grass, grass-roots marketing.”

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East Bound and Down

OEMs have been doing demo days ever since Gene Sarazen pulled on his first pair of plus-fours. But a by-appointment fitting studio on wheels? That’s next-level stuff.

“It’s a personalized fitting with a high level of expertise and data,” says Holder. “It’s not just a demo. We want to wow the consumer with the experience.”

Fittings can run from $150 to $350 and feature Honma’s XP-1 and TR20 lines as well as its proprietary Vizard shafts and a full offering of third-party shaft options. The vans are also stocked with Honma’s ultra-premium Beres line, good for a $25,000 to $50,000 single sale.

“Some of our fittings can result in a pretty high purchase if someone is looking for the five-star product,” says Holder. “It’s exciting for us when a golfer has this one-on-one magical experience. They see Beres for the first time, they hit it and all of a sudden they have to have it.”

Obviously, the XP-1 and TR20 lines will be the meat and potatoes of the mobile fitting venture.  As a company, Honma is trying to position itself into a fairly narrow market segment: more premium/luxury than Callaway, Titleist or Mizuno, but more “common man” than PXG, Miura or XXIO. It’s a skinny needle to thread and explains Honma’s heavy use of the word experience. It’s a business truism that certain demographics will pay the freight for a personalized, customized experience.

“If there’s someone interested in Honma because they feel it’s a brand for them, we’ll happily drive to any corner of a state,” says Holder. “We’ll create an experience for them and do what’s right to make them happy with the product.”

In addition to mobile van service, Honma has established three fitting centers dubbed The Honma Experience. Over the past month, new centers have opened at the Reunion Resort in Orlando and at the Ko Olina Golf Club in Oahu. The third is at the Golf Performance Center in Victoria, British Columbia.

Last September, Honma opened Honma House in Carlsbad, a retail center and full fitting studio that also serves as its tour headquarters.

Ridin’ With The Wedge Wizard

Do you like your wedges plain or personalized? Totally pimped out and decidedly you or clean and traditional? If you’re in the league of the former, Honma is also announcing a partnership with Jacob Sanborn, a.k.a. The Wedge Wizard. We’ve known of Jacob’s work for a few years now, and Honma’s new fitting vans are giving you an avenue to check out – and purchase – Jacob’s work.

Starting next Monday, Honma’s vans, as well as Honma House in Carlsbad and the Honma Experiences in Florida and Hawaii will have samples of Jacob’s wedge wizardry for you to look over and purchase. To start, all of the Honma vans and experiences will be offering a standard collection of designs. As the year goes on you’ll be able to order one-off, pimped-to-order wedges at Honma House or at the permanent locations in Carlsbad, Hawaii and Florida.

Miles to Go

Pimped out wedges aren’t everyone’s cup of Meade, but it is a market that seems to be growing. And offering that kind of service, along with mobile fitting vans and resort-based Experiences, certainly qualifies as aggressive.

Last fall, Honma’s North American president John Kawaja told us that while Honma’s worldwide business tops $300 million, North American sales total only about $20 million. Ownership, he said, wants that to grow. Aggressively.

As mentioned earlier, growth and comfort don’t coexist, and for Honma to move the needle at all, it can’t follow the standard Golf OEM playbook. To that end, both the XP-1 and TR20 product lines – in both looks and specs – are very much designed for the North American market. And 18 mobile fitting vans plus the Superfly of wedge pimps are mold-breaking programs as Honma fights for both your attention and your dollars.

From a purely business standpoint, there’s more room – and higher margins – at the upper end of the price-value matrix than there is at the lower end. While Torch-and-Pitchfork Nation may moan, wail and gnash their teeth at what it considers too-high pricing, there is a market that requires servicing. PXG, for example, has opened up five branded, high-end fitting studios, and even shaft-maker KBS has its own fitting studio in Carlsbad.

So, while 18 fully outfitted mobile fitting vans crisscrossing the country is a departure from the standard Golf OEM Operations Manual, it sure as heck is different.

And if you’re trying to get consumer attention, being different beats copying every single time.