With ample research, FootJoy takes aim at apparel

The spring apparel line from FootJoy.

Considering the volatile nature of the golf apparel business, which companies often enter and leave just as quickly, it’s no surprise that FootJoy took its time deciding whether it wanted to be a part of it.

But after intense research, which amounted to a veritable “white paper” on the $1 billion wholesale apparel category, FootJoy made its call. With insight gained from 3,000 consumer responses and 314 one-on-one interviews with trade partners, FootJoy is confident there’s an opportunity to be had amid the chaos.

“It’s a fragmented category,” said Andy Jones, FootJoy’s vice president, gloves/accessories/apparel, worldwide. “If you look at golf clubs or balls, if you get the top eight companies or so, you’re going to have 90 percent-plus of the business. In apparel, there could be 200 companies. There’s no one player who has 50 percent share.”

For spring, the company has unveiled its first lineup of FJ Performance Golf Apparel with which it’ll make its foray into the market: Four color-themed collections. All performance fabrics. No cotton. Designed for the serious golfer. (At this week's PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., the company also is debuting four color collections for fall 2012.)

Unlike many apparel brands that emphasize golf lifestyle, FootJoy is focused on creating apparel to play golf, not portray it, company officials say.

“We’re pure golf. We’re not in any other sport,” Jones said. “Could it be worn at the office or for work in a casual work environment? Sure. But, primarily, is it comfortable to play golf in?"

Answering that question was, in many ways, a natural next step for the company. Long a dominant leader in the footwear and glove categories, FootJoy stretched into outerwear in the late 1990s and achieved similar success. Then, a few years ago, the company experimented with a few apparel pieces – essentially a test balloon to gauge consumer and trade interest. When those sold well, management authorized the “white paper” in late 2009.

“We decided to do what we think is probably the largest research project ever undertaken in the industry,” Jones said.

The extensive interviews with consumers and trade partners, according to FootJoy, revealed a significant niche the company could attack: men’s only in the premium segment, basically defined as $55 to $75 retail.

“We think there are a lot of people who do a very good job in women’s, and obviously the segment is smaller,” said Jones, explaining FootJoy’s decision to forgo the women’s market.

FootJoy officials also were bolstered by other evidence that suggested the brand could stretch into yet another category. They cited a Darrell Survey consumer-usage study that for nearly the past five years has reported approximately 60 percent of golfers surveyed wore at least one FootJoy item (ie., glove, shoe, sock, outerwear).

Aside from consumer trust in the brand, Jones said FootJoy officials concluded, “There was a distinction in the consumer’s mind between brands that are worn and brands that are played with – equipment brands, and apparel and footwear brands. . . . If you look at the last 30 years, there have been very few equipment brands that have been successful in the apparel realm.”

Essentially, FootJoy officials believed consumers would trust them to make better apparel than an equipment company trying to break into the business. “We’re already in an adjacent category in outerwear that expands into this category very easily,” Jones said.

Armed with such knowledge, FootJoy embarked on tailoring apparel that met its consumers’ needs. Top priorities included fit, performance and easy care. Though the company’s line includes an athletic fit – narrower across the chest, tighter sleeves – more than 80 percent of its offerings come in a traditional fit. (That allocation was based on using FootJoy’s consumer database of 140,000 golfers and asking their preference for fit.)

FootJoy also strived to make its performance fabrics have the look and feel of fine garments rather than sports jerseys. That delivers a combination any golfer should appreciate – even without research to prove it.

“What we were trying to do is get that (mercerized cotton) look but in a performance fabric,” Jones said. “So, it doesn’t look synthetic, but you have the performance wicking characteristics and the easy care.”

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