Imported goods often carry a certain panache in the eyes of consumers.
Americans who’ve gravitated toward brands such as Heineken, Mercedes-Benz and Louis Vuitton know all too well of that exotic allure. It’s an aura that can cast a favorable light on golf products, too. American golfers, for example, long have held Japanese shaft brands in high regard, while Japanese consumers covet shafts popularized on the PGA Tour.
Which goes a long way in explaining why UST, a shaftmaker known for its Texas engineering, and Japanese-made Mamiya shafts announced their merger just over a year ago.
The results? The name UST Mamiya sells better around the world.
UST’s brand recognition helped UST Mamiya gain new business in Japan with major golf club manufacturers – clients that Mamiya previously never had successfully courted alone. In turn, Mamiya’s clout boosted UST Mamiya’s after-market sales in the United States. Among top shafts, UST Mamiya accounted for one-third of such sales through the first four months of this year, according to Gene Simpson, the company’s chief operating officer. By comparison, he said UST’s share was about 25 percent two years ago.
Indeed, a growing global marketplace made the merger a necessity, Simpson says.
“The concept came about to take what we had learned and the popularity of the UST name, and combine it with the Mamiya name and create a global business because so many (equipment manufacturers) nowadays aren’t just U.S. companies,” he says. “TaylorMade is in Japan. Titleist is in Japan. Everyone is more multi-national.”
A desire to satisfy universal demand and capitalize on the efficiency of selling a worldwide product – compared with distributing numerous regional ones – also fueled the UST Mamiya merger.
“We wanted to create (product) brands that are international,” Simpson says. “That was the reason for our first international series, the Attas, which was just launched last year.”
Although UST has had a Texas presence for 19 years, its origins, ironically, extend to Japan.
“When UST was founded, it was intended to be a sales arm of a Japanese company, at the time called Olympic. . . It became Mamiya-OP over the years through mergers and transitions,” Simpson says.
But that connection never was readily apparent, which prompted parent Mamiya-OP to shift responsibility for its sports division to UST. The combined entity, UST Mamiya, merges UST’s operations in Fort Worth and Mamiya-OP Sports, which developed the first graphite shafts in Japan.
“Nobody in the industry really understood the Japanese lineage that we had,” says Robb Schikner, UST Mamiya’s vice president, sales and marketing. “It was really important for us to become established and for the (equipment makers) to recognize that we have the same quality and same design expertise that other Japanese shaft competitors have.
“The Japanese companies are perceived differently. . . it starts with the auto industry. There’s a higher perception of quality and performance.”
Though invisible to consumers, several “back-end” benefits also have surfaced as a result of the merger, Simpson says.
Previously, UST and Mamiya sourced materials from their respective vendors and had them shipped to the same factories. (UST Mamiya manufactures and finishes its products in facilities in Bangladesh and China.) Now, they’re combining their orders, gaining better leverage to negotiate material prices and shipping costs. That kind of buying clout, Simpson says, has given UST Mamiya access to new and better materials.
“Now we’re a single, bigger account, and they look at you differently when you’re trying to develop new products,” he says.
Ultimately, greater R&D collaboration between the two partners may yield the highest returns. Simpson says UST already has benefited from Mamiya’s expertise in lightweight shafts – an emerging category in today’s marketplace.
“We have over 6,000 designs in our design palette,” Simpson says. “Japan has several thousand as well. We’re working together, looking at past designs and trying to come up with new designs. We’re learning from them, and they’re learning from us.”