2005: Business - Speed is key to Cobra driver launch

Carlsbad, Calif.

As far as Cobra general manager Jeff Harmet is concerned, the driver market for avid golfers is a 460cc game.

With consumers craving models that top out at the USGA size limit, monstrous clubs quickly have become the industry norm. For equipment makers, that means standing out in the crowd is one tough task.

But by offering custom-fitting in a new way, Harmet says, Cobra is ready to set itself apart.

With the recent introduction of the King Cobra Speed Series drivers, the company is offering more than driver models with different clubheads; it has created a broad menu of customized drivers, each featuring a unique combination of clubhead, shaft and grip.

Just as important, Cobra is simplifyingcustom-fitting – often perceived by consumers as a complicated process – and taking the concept to the masses.

Though custom-fitting can encompass a multitude of performance variables, Cobra has focused on just one measure, ball speed, to help match golfers with the right club. And it is sending two Tech Vans equipped with launch monitors to markets nationwide, giving golfers a greater chance to test the new drivers, which feature color-coded shafts and clear specifications for easier selection.

Based on their ball speed, golfers can be fit into one of four new driver models that yields the greatest distance and accuracy.

“One 460cc driver does not fit everyone,” Harmet says. With the company’s “Speed Tuning” process, Cobra can deliver “custom heads, shafts and grips to give golfers exactly the driver he or she needs,” he adds.

Speed Tuning, which doubles as a fitting and marketing strategy, should continue to fuel Cobra’s comeback. Though it was mired in an identity crisis a few years ago, Cobra recently has won back consumers with a bold, brand personality that can best be described as ball-bashing swagger.

And there is evidence Cobra’s products can back up the talk.

Company officials recently the talk. Company officials recently released the results of Darrell Survey U.S. consumer research that ranked Cobra drivers No. 1 in “Overall Driver Satisfaction Ratings” in 2003 and 2004. (Darrell Survey, an independent golf research firm, performed on-course interviews, asking players to rate their driver in use that day on criteria such as accuracy, distance, feel, forgiveness and value.)

Such evidence and Cobra’s new strategy have retailers bullish on the Speed Series drivers.

“Frankly, we are very excited about this line,” says Fred Quandt, vice president of merchandising for Golfsmith. “The speed tuning story is one that can resonate with our customers, especially as more and more golfers become familiar with launch monitors.

Quandt also says the drivers are “very attractive graphically” and effectively display fitting information “to help the end user understand what he or she is getting.”

To increase trial, Cobra annually conducts more than 3,000 demo days. These events will be supplemented with the addition of the two Cobra Tech Vans, which will be on the road, year-round. The company also has established 1,250 authorized Cobra Custom Fitting locations at golf retailers in the United States.

The four Speed Series driver models are:

XX/Speed: A specialty model appropriate for only a tiny universe of golfers; it comes only with a loft of 8.5 degrees, a square face angle, and a Cobra/Fujikura Vista Tour shaft weighing 65 grams that is available in either X or S flexes and runs 46 inches in length.

X/Speed: Available with four loft options, a square face and a Cobra/Aldila NV shaft in X or S flexes weighing in at 60 grams. Harmet says that model is geared primarily for better golfers who generate a ball speed of 150 mph or more. The club is designed to give these golfers a high launch, lower spin and added workability.

F/Speed: A middle-of-the-road model, which also comes in four lofts and the Cobra/Aldila NV shafts in S and R that top the scales at 55 grams. Its clubheads have slightly closed faces, ranging from 2 to 3 degrees. Company technicians say it is most suited for golfers with a ball speed between 125 mph and 155 mph.

M/Speed: An offset club that is available in three lofts, a face angle of 3.5 degrees closed, and NV shafts in R and S. It also is available with specifications tailored for senior and women players. This model is designed to serve moderate ball speed players who fall in the range of 110 mph to 140 mph and provide maximum draw bias. Its shaft weighs only 50 grams.

Speed Series fairway metals: This companion line features three models – X/Speed, F/Speed and M/Speed – and range in loft from 3+ (13 degrees) to 11 (29 degrees).

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