Spalding slots Strata in new niche
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
With the introduction of the Hogan Apex Tour ball this summer, it was only a matter of time before Spalding redefined its Strata brand. The multilayer product was the equipment maker’s primary tour ball and also its lone entry in the premium market. Yet it has been replaced by the much- ballyhooed – and much more expensive – Apex Tour.
What Spalding has come up with is a whole new “feel” for Strata, making it more youthful, edgy and cool.
“Instead of trying to do two things at the same time, which was being classic and contemporary, we wanted to give the brand one identity, and that was as a ball for the younger golfer who has a serious mindset about the game,” said Mike Ferris, former executive director of golf balls worldwide for Spalding and currently vice president of the Ben Hogan division. “As for Apex Tour, we envisioned that as being for a more traditional and conformist consumer.”
Though the new Strata will be repositioned between Apex Tour at the top and the value-oriented Top-Flite line at the bottom, it’ll retain some ties to the past.
“Strata will still rely on great distance and performance in this new positioning,” Ferris said. “It will continue to have the latest and greatest in technological innovations, and there will still be Strata players on tour. In fact, there will be more of them. But the ball will also have its own niche in our lineup, and it will retail for slightly below premium pricing.”
Spalding also has decided to reduce the number of Strata models it sells.
The company has discontinued the Pro Control and Pro Distance lines and is replacing the Tour Ultimate and Tour Ultimate 2 balls, which went for roughly $37 per dozen, with a new Tour Ultimate +, due to begin shipping Nov. 1 and selling at an off-course retail price of $29.95. Additionally, the company has rolled out the new Strata Tour Straight ($26.95) and will introduce the Strata Tour Ace in December at $36.95 per dozen while continuing to market and sell the Tour Professional at $29.95.
Ferris said that the various Strata models will be segregated by channels and asserts that consumers will not see all four in any one place. Tour Ace, which will feature diamond, heart, spade or club symbols on each ball, will be sold in predominantly on- and off-course markets. As for Ultimate +, it will appear mostly in off-course, sporting goods and mass merchant outlets, as will Tour Professional and Tour Straight.
Though Strata’s product stream-lining and price restructuring have received approval from retailers, they also have concerns about the new marketing strategy. Some fret that Strata may not fare as well without its “top-tier” status and fear that consumers may view the repositioning as a product demotion.
“I think the Hogan ball has already bitten significantly into Strata market share,” said Steve Friedlander, general manager and director of golf for the Whistling Straits and Black Wolf Run properties in Kohler, Wis., and a member of Spalding’s advisory staff. “People figure it is built on the same technology as Strata, and with it selling at a higher price point, they assume the Apex Tour is a better ball.
“Now Strata is still a great product in my mind, but repositioning it makes some golfers wonder whether there is something wrong or inferior with it. So they are more apt to buy the Apex Tour, which means I probably won’t bring Strata into my shops next year. Or if I do, they will be in very limited quantities.”
Other retailers, however, say Spalding has slotted Strata in its appropriate niche.
“It makes a lot of sense to me,” said Kerry Kabase, sales director for the Edwin Watts chain. “There were so many different Strata models out there it almost got confusing to customers, and the brand got lost in the shuffle. And in golf balls, I definitely feel that less is more.
“Plus, I feel the brand is better positioned right now. We have done well with the Hogan Apex Tour, and to slot Strata between that and Top-Flite appears to be a good move.”
Ken Morton Jr., director of retail for Haggin Oaks Golf Shop in Sacramento, Calif., feels much the same way.
“I think Hogan is a better- perceived name for the premium market, and Strata should be better off in that lower tier,” he said. “Certainly there is less competition there than in the high end, where Titleist dominates with Pro V1, and everyone else has barely been able to make a dent.”