Written By: Tony Covey
It’s almost November and that means a flurry of new product announcements from Cobra, TaylorMade, Callaway, PING, and others is just around the corner.
In some cases golfers will greet news of new product with open arms. Every new PING release is a good for everybody right?
In other cases there will be scorn, disdain, and outrage.
How dare TaylorMade release another <insert loathesome product here>. They just released one of those 3 or 6 or 12 months ago. How stupid do they think I am? They can’t possibly improve technology that rapidly.
It’s a gimmick…whatever it happens to be.
And shame on Callaway too. How dare they try and keep pace. I liked them better when they sucked. I’m so sick of these guys cranking out all this new gear. They really are stupid if they think I’m going to waste my money this time.
I just bought their whatever the hell it is 3 or 6 or 12 months ago. Screw them, I’m done.
Thank god we still have PING and Titleist who do things the right way. They don’t flood the market with 14 new drivers every season.
And so it goes….and goes.
For whatever reason, and I certainly don’t have much of a clue why, a sizeable segment of the population is absolutely outraged by a high percentage of new product releases (especially TaylorMade releases).
Quite frankly, I don’t understand it, but I think it’s sure going to be fun to discuss.
My Admittedly Biased Perspective
For me (golf media – equipment guy) new releases are awesome.
All of them.
Every last one.
The more the better.
It provides me with launch stories, tests, reviews.
Whether it’s TaylorMade, Callaway, PING or anybody else, new product is good (really good) for my business, so it should come as zero surprise when I tell you that I’m a huge fan of new equipment.
I’m not alone. I know some of you love new equipment, and we all know that the golf companies love new equipment too.
The Golf Company Perspective
If you’re a golf company, the surest way to improve sales is to put new equipment on the shelf.
What gets lost in all the outrage over new equipment (above and beyond that fact that from a revenue perspective, it’s a winner) is that none of you are on the same buying schedule?
How often do you replace your driver? Your irons?
How about your friends?
We all buy different product at different times. To account for that, golf companies need to have reasonably new product on the shelves all the time.
New product isn’t for the guy who just bought last year’s stuff. New product is for the guy who didn’t. If you happen to hook the guy who did just buy, well…that’s what we call a bonus.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Titleist’s metalwood market share is going to dip in 2014. Why? It’s not because Titleist drivers suddenly got worse. It’s because Callaway, and TaylorMade, and PING, and Nike, and Cobra, and, and, and…will all have newer drivers on the shelf.
Even if you may rationalize it differently, for the majority of consumers, newer is better. And even if you aren’t willing to except that, the reality is that newer outsells older, and that’s what really matters.
Even Successful Models Need Refreshing
When golf companies talk about demographics there are two populations they often discuss. There’s the avid golfer – the guy who plays several times a month, or several times a week, and there’s the recreational golfer – the guy who plays when time (life, and wife, and kids) permits.
The sum total of those two groups is somewhere in the ballpark of 14 million golfers. That’s 14 million potential customers, and companies are fighting for each and every one of them.
They fight with the knowledge that not every golfer is going to buy a new whatever or several whatevers every year. In fact, a good chunk of those 14 million guys won’t buy a single piece of new equipment in given season.
What does this mean from a practical standpoint? Let me give you an example.
At the time TaylorMade was gearing up to release the R1 Black, the R1 (original white) was the #1 selling driver in golf. Hey, great for TaylorMade, right? At the time R1 had sold approximately 300,000 units. That’s a decent amount of drivers, I suppose.
Unfortunately, it also means that only 2.14% (give or take) of those 14 million golfers bought the R1 (the #1 seller at the time). 2.14%, and no doubt, by June sales were already starting to wane.
Let’s be blunt. 2.14% of your potential market is shit.
If you’re running a business (a publicly traded one no less), and you’ve reached only 2.14% of your potential customers, and sales of your flagship product are declining, what do you do?
If you’ve got new product in the pipeline (and most of the golf companies are 2-3 products deep at any given time), why not release it?
If I’m a golf company with a plenty of product in my pipeline, I’m releasing new stuff every 6 months.
Using the R1 as the baseline; new product offers the potential to reach the other 97.86% of golfers who didn’t buy your last product. And remember, in our example we’re talking about the #1 selling driver in golf.
For everybody else, the percentage of golfers who didn’t buy is even higher. If you couldn’t get to 3% with the product you had, try new product.
Innovation is Real
The other argument we hear is that it’s absolutely impossible for golf companies to innovate this rapidly? Really? Innovation has a time table?
Tell that to the guys at Intel.
It’s impossible for Callaway to create something new and better every 6 months, yet it’s absolutely plausible that it takes Titleist precisely two years to innovate?
You do realize that the average R&D department isn’t just one guy working out of his mom’s basement, right?
Here’s what’s real. Some companies release products as soon as they’re ready (or arguably as soon as they’re almost ready), and others stick to very strict release schedules.
Neither is reflective of actual innovation.
Actual innovation cannot be rigorously scheduled.
The reality is that golf companies are innovating…and rapidly. The actual impact is an issue of scale and expectation.
Altering CG placement and ultimately launch conditions to promote distance in ways that are beyond the scope of the USGA’s CT test; that’s real.
Improving the performance of wedges while remaining inside the confines of the USGA’s new groove rule; that’s real too.
New iron technologies, whether it’s TaylorMade’s SpeedPocket or the undercut cavity designs leveraged by Cobra and Callaway, the performance implications…also real. And here’s the thing; these types of designs…these technologies, they’re in their relative infancy.
Learning as you go is a fundamental part of innovation, and the R&D guys, they’re learning fast. As they learn they create new products…rapidly. Each new iteration, to some degree or another, is better, if only slightly, than what came before it. That’s real too.
Nobody is suggesting that each new release is revolutionary (well, they might be, but I’m not), but what we’re talking about are small, steady advances.
For a PGA Tour pro, those improvements might only translate to a single shot over the course of a tournament. Of course, for those guys, one shot can be worth several hundred thousand dollars.
For the rest of us, the improvements might translate to one shot a round, or maybe one shot over a weekend.
As I’m fond of saying, it’s evolution, not revolution. If golf companies waited for truly revolutionary products, almost nobody would release anything new…ever.
And while that might sound good to you, golf companies would go out of business, and for whatever it’s worth, lots of us just like new stuff.
Golf Is A Business
Wouldn’t it be great if the golf companies were altruistic entities who existed solely for the betterment of the game?
Maybe, but the reality is that everyone is in the game to make money. TaylorMade, Callaway, PING and Titleist too; they all exist to make money, and they only exist because they make money.
I know what you’re thinking (some of you anyway), but , but, Titleist. But, but, PING.
Both companies are generally perceived as being above the fray. Their release cycles are more controlled. That is to say, there’s a wider window of time between releases.
Titleist is reasonably steady at 2 years, while PING releases new product once every 8 months or so, but does such an exceptional job differentiating that the effective lifespan of any individual PING product is 2 years.
I get that plenty of you appreciate the controlled schedule. It’s as good a reason as any to support either brand.
Both are unique in the industry.
PING is the largest privately owned golf company. The Solheim family doesn’t have to concern itself with how every decision (and the results thereof) will go over with the shareholders. When you take that out of the equation, the math changes dramatically.
Titleist can be Titleist because of the ball. Titleist’s #1 spot in ball market share is the safest #1 in the industry. Their lead is so comfortable that they could stop creating new product tomorrow and probably stay on top for another decade.
It is because of the ball (non-durable goods are retail winners), and the success of the FootJoy brand (more non-durable goods) that Titleist is able to maintain their 2 year release cycles.
That said, with their golf club marketshare declining, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Titleist could be forced to make some changes, and perhaps pick up the pace a little bit.
The Consumer Perspective
3 years ago I bought a Volkswagen Jetta. I’m not particularly proud, but 50 miles to the gallon for a guy with a 90 mile commute was pretty appealing.
Less than a year later, those sons of bitches at Volkswagen had the audacity to release a new Jetta (even though mine was less than a year old). Sure, they tweaked performance, offered some new colors, added some standard features, but fundamentally it was almost the same car.
Truthfully, I wasn’t too pissed about it. It didn’t diminish the performance of my Jetta (still not proud), and I certainly didn’t feel like Volkswagen should be compelled to hold off on any new Jetta releases until an appropriate amount of time (whatever I feel is reasonable) had passed.
Lots of guys didn’t buy a Jetta 3 years ago. The prime demographic for any new model is always “guys who didn’t buy the last one”.
Hey Bro, Why You Mad?
New product on an annual basis is standard operating procedure in the auto industry, the mobile phone/computing industry, and just about every other industry on the planet. Most of us accept that as reality, and that makes me wonder; why the hell do some golfers get irate over new golf clubs?
I have some theories.
Some don’t believe the new product is any better than what came before it, and therefore, it doesn’t need to exist.
You forget you’re not the only one who buys golf clubs.
Blenders haven’t changed in years, and yet, year after year, Sunbeam keeps making them.
Even if there really is absolutely no performance difference (never true, they’re always different – different doesn’t always mean better) from one season’s driver to the next, that argument ignores the fact that even under the best of scenarios, 97% of the population didn’t buy the previous model.
Just because you bought a new driver this year, or last year, or even the year before, it doesn’t mean everybody else did. Hell, I can promise you that the tremendous majority of golfers didn’t buy a new driver this year.
Shouldn’t the guys who didn’t buy when you did have new models to choose from when they do decide to buy?
You buy for the wrong reasons
One of the most frequent complaints we hear is that the release of new product kills the resale value of the previous model.
If you think of your driver as an investment in anything other than your golf game, you’re probably buying for the wrong reasons.
New models decrease the previous models value in every industry. The value of my Jetta (still not proud) dropped the day the new model was released. The same is true for the value of my iPhone, and the value of just about everything else in my house.
Why do we get so irate when the value of our golf clubs drop?
You want the latest and greatest…always.
There’s nothing worse than having a shiny new toy only to find out that somebody else has a new toy that’s shinier or newer than yours. You bought a new driver 6 months ago, and your buddy just bought an even newer one.
Well son of a bitch.
I get it…it’s even worse when his driver is the same brand as your driver. Obsolete in only 6 months. Ain’t that some shit?
Of course, the reality is your driver isn’t obsolete. It’s absolutely the same as it was the day before your buddy got his (unless you’ve put a skymark on it, in which case now it sucks). You didn’t lose 5 yards because the new model came out. It’s every bit as good (or bad) as it ever was.
Now I will concede that that guys who got left holding white R1s when the Black ones came out probably have a legitimate gripe. TaylorMade knew there were lots of you who wanted black, and they waited until it they needed to boost sales to release it. It kinda sucked (unless you wanted black and never bothered to buy white), but fortunately it was the exception, not the rule.
Most of the time new models are actually different.
Callaway’s Optiforce, for example, is distinctly different from the other 2 drivers Callaway released in 2013. It’s a different driver, designed for a different demographic.
Getting worked up over a new and different model (for a different segment of the golfing population, no less) is a bit like me getting worked up about Volkswagen releasing a new Tiguan 6 months after I bought my Jetta.
There has to be something I’m missing. What is it?
Seriously, What Is It?
Maybe some of you have never considered the other perspectives, but I suspect many of you have…and you’re still frustrated, irate, flat out pissed off about accelerated product releases.
We want to know.
Let me ask it this way: What’s the appropriate amount of time between releases? Is it one year? Two? Three?
How long should golf companies wait between products?
Is it different for different types of products? Should woods be replaced more or less frequently than irons? What about wedges?
Any why does nobody get pissed off about all the damn putters that get released year after year?
Why do frequent and accelerated releases piss you off?