2004: Business - Driven by Daly, Dunlop expands brand

When Dunlop Golf signed John Daly as its star endorser, the equipment manufacturer touted him as golf’s man of the people. Now, Dunlop is aiming to become the brand of the people.

Coupled with the largest product launch in company history and a strategic shift in distribution channels, the Daly deal epitomizes Dunlop’s efforts to reinvent itself by producing affordable, quality equipment for the “Average Joe.”

Dunlop is no stranger to golfers from the old school. A powerhouse during the game’s Golden Era, many top pros of the 1960s and ’70s played the company’s Dunlop 65 ball and Tour Limited irons.

But challenges have arisen over the years and persist today. Some believe Dunlop lost its better half during the 2002 sale of premium sister brand Maxfli. And Daly’s often-turbulent reputation is well documented. Executives are confident, however, that the brand’s storied history and Daly’s popularity will help Dunlop regain relevance.

“We’re small guys, and we’re not going to try and pretend we’re somebody we’re not,” says Dave Leverant, chief operating officer of Dunlop-Focus Golf Systems based in Greenville, S.C. “But over the next three to five years, we’re looking for the Dunlop brand continuing to grow in credibility and respectability with products that have the brand elements on which we’re building our resurgence – performance, fun and a great price-value equation.”

Dunlop expanded its LoCo line of golf balls this year and introduced an array of LoCo hardgoods, including irons, woods and hybrid clubs. It also debuted Redneck putters and RG (Rick Gray) Designs blade irons – both of which Daly uses in competition.

LoCo, which originally stood for Low Compression, increasingly is becoming identified with the slogan “Crazy Long,” and is evolving into Dunlop’s chief sub-brand. Dunlop is targeting consumers interested as much in value as performance; for instance, the LoCo Pro driver’s suggested retail price is $149.95.

“That whole LoCo franchise is doing real well,” says Kerry Kabase, sales director for Edwin Watts. “We’ve done fabulous with the golf ball. It’s one of our best sellers at its price point. And we added the clubs this year, and they’ve also done well. I think it’s a niche product at the right price point.”

Several years ago, Dunlop equipment had no presence at a specialty retailer like Edwin Watts. The reason? It lacked a clear product message and was overshadowed by Maxfli.

“Over the last 15 years, the brand was not heavily supported from a consumer communication standpoint,” says Dan Murphy, Dunlop’s director of marketing and business development. “We were in a situation where the brand had high recognition, but didn’t have a lot of definition. We’re trying to put some of that definition in it.”

It was the Maxfli brand, with Tour support from Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Fred Couples, that commanded the bulk of the company’s advertising dollars during the 1980s and ’90s. Dunlop-branded products certainly did their fair share – in 1998, Dunlop posted sales of $60 million, compared with $50 million for Maxfli and $40 million for Slazenger – but was essentially absent from serious golfers’ bags. Back then, nearly all Dunlop sales were generated via mass merchants.

That is no longer the case. Over the past four years, during which time Maxfli was sold to TaylorMade-Adidas Golf and Slazenger evolved into a stand-alone organization, the number of mass-merchant stores carrying Dunlop has been halved. In 2000, the brand was present in 5,000 stores that accounted for 60 percent of Dunlop’s sales. Today, 2,500 mass merchant locations carry Dunlop, producing 30 percent of sales.

The company also has been bolstered by a diversified distribution strategy. Most noticeable is the growth in the sporting goods channel, where Dunlop accounts have increased from 700 to 1,500. This channel now accounts for 50 percent of total sales. Dunlop also has increased its number of off-course specialty accounts from 100 to 500.

“Our expectations are to expand the brand reach to target more of the average type consumer that fits our 10-15 handicap demographic,” says Andre Emery, Dunlop’s vice president of product development. “We hope to get more of our products into their hands and get more feedback that we can transfer into research and development.”

Additional product introductions are scheduled throughout the year.

Two lines of RG Designs irons are in development: a cavity-back, and a mixed set containing blades and cavity-backs. The LoCo Pro ball (MSRP $29.99), which Daly has been using all year, should be available at retail this month. A month later, Dunlop plans to release the LoCo JD driver ($299), which Daly began using at the Masters.

While many industry observers consider Daly a risk, Dunlop officials insist he’s the man for their company.

“John’s certainly had his trials and tribulations, and he’s the first to admit it,” Murphy says. “But that’s part of his appeal – like everybody else on the face of the earth, he’s not perfect. And one thing that gets lost in the press is that he does so many good things like ‘Make-a-Wish.’ ”

Retailers are buying into the Daly-driven strategy.

“(He’s) a big draw,” says Art Hagen, vice president of hard goods at The Sports Authority, a 385-store sporting goods chain. “Dunlop equipment has always done well for us, and now with Daly’s addition, interest has perked up even more.”

Says Kabase: “John seems to have it going the right way. And no one roots more for John Daly than the American public.”

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