TaylorMade makes bold forecast for R11

TaylorMade is betting that consumer acceptance of its R11 white driver will be a big success. How big? Sean Toulon, TaylorMade’s executive vice president of product creation, predicts the company’s market share will climb “well into the 40s” in the woods category.

“I would say we practically know what is going to happen,” Toulon said, noting that the company expects to ship 500,000 metal woods in the first quarter this year. (It already has booked the same number in the first month of 2011 as the company shipped in the entire first quarter last year.)

TaylorMade – with 32.1 percent of dollar sales of the wood category at on- and off-course shops in December 2010, according to research firm Golf Datatech – is the market leader. Still it’s a bold prediction, but Toulon’s confidence has been months in the making.

The white-headed movement, of course, began last year with the Ghost putter. Toulon said the Ghost has been a huge success in Japan, and its market share in the U.S. at on- and off-course shops is at its highest ever.

“If we painted it black, we couldn’t have given the thing away,” he said. “But people saw it on TV and we couldn’t keep the thing in stock.”

There’s no question that TaylorMade has rolled out a string of commercially-successful drivers. Market leaders in the golf industry historically play it safe. Not TaylorMade. This arguably is the company’s biggest gambit. Toulon has closely tracked consumer interest in extending the success of the Ghost putter to its entire line of woods. To gain a barometer of interest, Toulon, an early riser, said he spends one hour every morning beginning at 4:30 a.m., visiting various equipment web sites and reading the message boards to understand his hard-core customers. At first, he said, comments questioned such a radical departure from industry norms and expressed the following sentiment: “These guys have lost their mind.” As images of the club leaked, he noticed a shift in sentiment to neutral, and eventually a positive attitude toward change.

“You could just see the converts,” he said.

Toulon declined to reveal how much TaylorMade is spending on its “whiteout” campaign, but he called it the company’s most significant investment ever.

“The formula for us is, you have to have a product that performs,” he said. “Then it has to be validated by the best players in the world.”

The R11 driver debuted this week on the PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open. Toulon expected as many as 45 white drivers in play this week, and within a month, for all TaylorMade drivers in play on Tour to be of the white variety.

“It’s going to show up like crazy on TV,” he said.

All the attention plays to TaylorMade’s advantage. But will it sell-thru at retail? Time will tell if the “whiteout” wins consumer acceptance.

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