Shoe Month: Action-sports heritage defines Oakley

Monday, October 15, 2012

If there's a product that exemplifies what Oakley aspires to be in golf, it's the company's Cipher shoe.

At 260 grams, it is the lightest performance golf shoe in the marketplace, and it offers a sleek profile and a truly unique traction system. Rather than conventional plastic cleats, the Cipher features an outsole covered with thousands of Nanospikes.

"This material actually grips on to the surface of individual blades of grass," says David Ortley, Oakley's global director of footwear and accessories.

Combined with other traction elements that dig into the turf, he says, the Cipher offers a traction experience like none other. Consider also Cipher's green-friendliness – Nanospikes leave putting surfaces virtually unmarked – and its light weight, it's no wonder consumers are taking notice, Ortley says.

"If you're taking 8,000 steps over a 4.5-mile trek (in a round of golf), the weight is a big deal," he says. "It's unlike any other golf shoe."

With its futuristic look and unfamiliar technology, the shoe won't be for the masses.

Which is precisely what Oakley wants.

The company's aggressive growth plan for golf is based as much on who it'll target with laser-like focus as those it won't:

The luxury guy who buys really high-end designer stuff? No.

The consumer who prefers Euro-fashion? No.

The stodgy, traditional golfer? No.

"About two and a half years ago, after speaking with surf kids and snowboard kids, we found out there are a lot of 15- to 25-year-olds that come off the mountain and out of the water and go on to the golf course," says Raphael Peck, Oakley's chief merchandising officer. "Our mission became, 'How do you take our action-sports heritage and infuse it into a mainstream sport, create a point of differentiation through design and inject real points of innovation?' … That's Oakley.

"We believe we can be a bigger fish in the golf pond because we don't believe anybody else comes from this background to address the sport."

Oakley's current push into the golf category isn't its first, and some may remember earlier efforts as being lackluster. But company officials insist they've learned from their mistakes.

"I think (consumers) were getting quirkiness from us," Peck says. "They were getting interesting color and fashion, but it wasn't practical and applicable to the course. It was being different for the sake of being different."

Oakley officials say they're no longer dabbling in golf, but are committed to it. That change is evident with Oakley's assemblage of a veteran golf management team, including personnel such as Ortley, who played a key role in Adidas' growth in golf footwear. The team is focused on transferring technologies from Oakley's core sports, such as surfing and snowboarding, that can improve products in golf. Peck cites outerwear as an example.

"If you look at our core competitors (in golf), they're not excellent in building Olympic-level product for guys who are actually downhill skiers or snowboarders," he says. "We have 12 of the best snowboarders who win gold medals all the time wearing Oakley product. So, we're bringing our weather-proofing technologies to golf."

Such innovations, whether in outerwear, apparel or footwear, already are registering in the marketplace. According to Peck, Oakley's golf business for spring/summer 2013 "is going to be up about 165 percent." He acknowledges such growth is off a smaller revenue base than Oakley's main competitors, but adds its rate of growth is unrivaled and noteworthy.

The company also is on the verge of testing a youth offering in golf apparel and footwear; limited items will be available for spring 2013.

"We've always been a brand for 25 to 40," Peck says. "Knowing that you can get a kid when he's 10-, 11-, 12-years-old gives you the ability to build brand loyalty… keep them in your brand as they get older."

The fact that Oakley already is a known entity in golf – its eyewear has a dominating presence on pro tours – provides leverage for the company's ambitions. And Ortley is confident Oakley will fulfill them by delivering innovations that aid golfers. He's already hinting that the next-generation Cipher shoe is on its way – with a synthetic-material upper that is stretch-resistant for greater stability.

"What your feet are experiencing during the golf swing translates directly into your head, into your tempo, your rhythm, and ultimately, how you strike a golf ball," Ortley says. "We believe we can improve your game."