Let’s try a thought experiment. For purposes of this exercise, you’re not you.
Instead, you’re a mediocre golfer who knows next to nothing about golf equipment, and you’re looking to purchase a new set of clubs.
If that actually is you, feel free to disregard the previous directive.
The old set of hand-me-downs from your neighbor’s buddy who knew a guy that had an extra set he was about to donate to Goodwill just isn’t cutting any longer. If you’re seriously going to contend at the company scramble this year, it’s time to get (relatively) serious about having a real set of clubs.
Implicit in this search is the idea that, because these clubs are for you, they should fit you to whatever degree that’s possible. That said, a significant obstacle for recreational golfers (which make up roughly 75% of the United States’ 24 million or so players) is that fitting experiences are often costly, time-consuming, and frankly, intimidating for any golfer whose skills aren’t up to par (dad pun). Ideally, you’re looking for several bona fide options that are at least a step above what’s available on Craigslist, but because you aren’t looking to spend a king’s ransom, the major brands and the litany of $500 drivers aren’t in the conversation.
Most often, this leaves the prospective consumer in golf equipment retail purgatory. The most obvious next step is to pop down to the local big-box outlet and begin the futile exercise of wading through massive displays, confusing layouts while attempting to get questions answered by sales associates, some of whom are often more focused on the size of your budget than the dynamics of your swing.
While most equipment manufacturers understand the inherent problem, few are willing to do much about it as it’s fundamentally an ill-fitting demographic. Major OEMs have little, if any, financial interest in catering to the majority of golfers who aren’t willing to pay top-end prices for the latest technology.
There has to be a better solution, and Inesis believes it has the elixir.
BIG BOX REALITIES
Big box stores aren’t designed for efficient or particularly effective consumer experiences.
In this retail jungle, rules are set by the equipment companies which pay for premium floor space to maximize exposure. Theoretically, sales associates are available to help answer questions and point shoppers in the right direction, but it’s like looking at a map of Philadelphia for directions to Central Park. The DNA of large-scale retail is volume-based sell-through. Sell more. Sell more. Sell more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
This isn’t an indictment (nor is it unique to the golf industry) as much as it is a recognition that the primary avenue by which the majority golfers might attempt to purchase golf equipment is arranged in a manner entirely ill-suited for the purpose.
Inesis’ approach runs contrary to what many US consumers have come to expect from a mass-market shopping experience. However, for Decathlon (Inesis is the golf-specific brand of mega-sports retailer Decathlon), accessibility for all is a fundamental way of doing business. As a business entity, Decathlon believes every person should have access to quality products at what it terms “a fair price.”
This philosophy serves as the backbone for each of Decathlon’s 50 in-house brands, and the consumer experience is assessed based on the fidelity of the process, not the final number at the register. Time is a valuable commodity, and based on Decathlon’s success (on pace to surpass $13B in 2019 gross revenue), it understands a simpler, less-convoluted approach attracts and retains value-driven consumers.
The key to Inesis (the same could be said for other in-house brands) is while Decathlon remains a massive entity, it allows each brand to feel small. The dedicated golf section is sensibly organized and almost nudges you through a refreshingly simple selection process that has more in common with “Build your vehicle” tools on major automotive websites than an over-stimulating brand-based showcase of OEMs latest and greatest.
Note – that’s a good thing.
It goes a little something like this.
Decision point #1: Ability
Select one of the following:
- Beginner (handicap 30+),
- Intermediate (handicap 15-30)
- Expert (handicap < 15)
If you’re uncertain but have more TVs in your house than rounds of golf played, you’re likely a beginner. If you can’t remember the last time you broke 80, or do a little celebration dance every time you hit a green in regulation, you’re firmly in the intermediate category.
You’ll note the absence of gender or dexterity as criteria. All Inesis clubs are available for both right-handed and left-handed golfers, and while some brands go with the shrink it and pink it tactic, not all females find this approach welcoming, and doing so invariably increases costs and SKU counts, which creates more inventory to manage. Also, because a lot of information for beginning golfers can be filed under don’t know what they don’t know, the Inesis stock 7-piece set (including a 43.5” driver) is designed to take the guesswork out of the equation for beginners.
It might seem like a detail hardly worth mentioning, but a driver that is two inches shorter than the industry standard gives new golfers a better chance to make more consistent contact off the tee.
In a launch monitor battle, golfers will almost certainly swing a 45”-46” driver faster (which can be quite the endorphin rush) but practically speaking, there’s little, if any, evidence to suggest a player who is still trying to figure out whether the 7-iron or 9-iron goes further, will see any on course benefit.
Decision point #2: Length
Measure the distance from your hand to the ground.
Size 1 if the distance is < 78.5 cm
Size 2 if the distance is > 78.5 cm
Done. Move on.
Decision point #3: Flex
With 150 yards to the flag, what club would you use?
- 5-iron, hybrid or fairway wood (Slower)
- 6/7 iron (Medium)
- 8/9/PW (Fast)
Decision Point #4: Grip Size
No decision necessary as grip size is paired with length, so if you’re a Size 1 for length, your grip is also Size 1.
3 ability levels, 2 lengths, 3 flexes, 2 grip sizes. It’s more confusing to try and order off the dollar menu at McDonald’s.
Where playing ability should be the determining factor, Inesis maintains a consistent numbering convention (100/beginner, 500/intermediate, 900/advanced) so consumers can select other items (e.g., golf balls) based on similar criteria.
If this is a one-stop shopping endeavor, Inesis also has a full slate of soft-goods and accessories, all available in the same basic section – and again, all organized within a common-sense framework. Apparel choices are segmented by gender and playing temperature (30°) with each offering a basic, but sufficient slate of colors and patterns. While fewer colors are limiting, Inesis maintains continuity across product lines, which allows consumers to mix and match pieces, creating a maximum number of golf-appropriate ensembles with minimum cost.
I could give a complete rundown going into copious detail on fabric choices, design strategies, material sourcing, and other sundry specifics, but the target customer doesn’t care much about that. All he or she really wants to know is that they’re getting exactly what they expected, if not a little bit more.
Inesis’ approach isn’t the best option for every golfer, but there’s a compelling case that it’s better than most alternatives. For the target golfer, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest an intentionally limited array of choices (part of which helps reduce costs) is more pragmatic and effective than the veritable meat market of mass retail.
No doubt, Inesis serves as a play to the middle of the consumer bell curve, a population that is at best an afterthought for many large OEMs. With that, Inesis isn’t willing to concede that just because it primarily serves the most average golfer, that it’s products can’t compete with industry titans. Inesis will never have the selection or breadth of offerings as TaylorMade, Callaway, or PING, but it chooses its spots carefully. In those categories, there’s reason to believe Inesis can offer consumers as much performance per dollar spent as any major OEM.
Ultimately, consumers make the final determination, and to that end, the unique retail experience Inesis offers both validates and extends the value of the product.
What’s becoming clear is a host of OEMs will be making a play in the opportunity gap – the space between uber-inexpensive box sets and the new norm of $500 drivers and $1500 iron sets.
Where competition exists between similar products, how a consumer feels about the buying experience can be a point of differentiation.
Inesis’ model is distinctive, logical and offers golfers a simplified approach, which just might be why a good swath of golfers will take plenty of notice in 2020.