2002: Business - Drivers fuel Cobra Golf resurgence

By John Steinbreder

There was a lot of talk about the “new” Cobra Golf last fall when the Carlsbad, Calif., company introduced its King Cobra SS 350 titanium drivers.

And the talk got louder during the 2002 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. That’s when Cobra introduced its latest fairway woods and irons and created one of the biggest buzzes at that exhibition, thanks in no small part to the stunning Shelby Cobra cars the company had brought along for promotional purposes.

But talk can be cheap, especially when it is all about sell-in, and results really can’t be discerned until much later, after golf pros and retailers have had the clubs in their shops and consumers have had a chance to look them over.

The returns are coming in, and they indicate that all the noise about Cobra was well-founded.

Consider the numbers. According to Golf Datatech and sell-through figures provided by Cobra general manager Jeff Harmet, the equipment maker recorded a 7.8 unit share in metalwood sales on- and off-course this June and an 8.5 dollar share, up from 2.9 and 4.2, respectively, for the same month in 2001.

“And a lot of what we had in ’01 was driven by close-out activity,” Harmet said, adding that his company is tied with Titleist for the No. 3 spot in drivers as measured by dollars, and has that position itself when it comes to unit share, behind Callaway and TaylorMade.

The news from the National Golf Foundation, which tracks total wholesale manufacturers’ shipments, is just as good.

Harmet said that for the second quarter of 2002, Cobra’s total driver share as measured in dollars was 8.3 percent, up from only 1 percent for the corresponding period of the previous year. As for fairway woods, the numbers rose from 2.9 percent in the second quarter of 2001 to 8.8 percent for ’02.

Harmet said Cobra’s share of the irons market has grown drastically, more than doubling in the past 12 months to 6.6 percent.

“Obviously, we are pleased,” Harmet said. “The numbers are good, and most importantly, the product is checking through.

“Ultimately, it all comes down to product performance, and we have great performing products. Beyond that, we have been successful with the strategy that helped build Cobra in the early 1990s, one that had a lot of trial-based promotion and a lot of demo products at the point of purchase. Also, we have a lot of demo day support and will do 3,000 of those this year.”

Harmet said that other factors in the resurgence include an aggressive communications message and a consistent pricing program that gives customers good deals and retailers strong margins.

Retailers say they have noticed real interest and enthusiasm for Cobra this year.

“The woods have been a phenomenal success,” said Jerry Whalen, manager of Fiddler’s Green Golf Center in Eugene, Ore. “For a while, we were selling all we could get our hands on, and the only thing slowing us down was the fact we could not get enough product. Our customers really like those clubs, and tests show us that the ball velocity off the driver face is as good as anyone’s out there. It is certainly among our best sellers, and we are also doing well with the irons.”

Said John Clouse, divisional hard lines manager for the Golf Galaxy retail chain: “Cobra has done extremely well for us. It is a great brand, and we see a real good product connection with our customers. It didn’t take a lot of sell-in for it to get re-established, and the price points are very aggressive. The sell-through has been terrific, and we are looking forward to another very good year in 2003.”

Cobra also has developed two high-COR additions to the driver line – the 370 Unlimited and the 430 Unlimited – to be sold exclusively in Europe and Asia. The hope, of course, is that those introductions only will enhance the run the company is enjoying.

“The brand is strong, and I think a lot of people have been surprised by its equity,” Harmet said. “For us, we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

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