A Revolution in Golf
Softspikes, Inc., a company I worked for in the early 1990s, exemplifies just what can be accomplished when the commitment to change is driven by an ingeniously marketing the preventative benefits of an innovative product. Both the British and PGA championship were won by golfers wearing Softspikes now since two-thirds of the Pro's play with these golf spikes.
Over a decade ago things dramatically changed. A marketing initiative was undertaken by a company called Softspikes, Inc., that revolutionized golf. It was a strategy that established a new paradigm, reversing the traditional method by which products are marketed and sold to golfers on a large-scale basis. Rather than selling products backed up by the endorsement of top players or through television and print advertising, this new strategy sought to gain product acceptance at the "grassroots" level at golf facilities from coast to coast.
It also was a strategy to market a new concept, not just a new product. (It was a concept sell, one that was unfamiliar to most within the golf industry.) By the end of the 1990s, the force of this innovative marketing strategy succeeded in changing the attitudes and behavior of these traditional sticklers for tradition-golfers. Furthermore, Softspikes cleats were the first new product category to be introduced to the golf world in more than 50 years. And it has been recognized as one of the most important advances in the past 100 years of the game.
The lesson to be learned from this marketing strategy is that the truly extraordinary business is the one that steps away from the well-worn path and charts its own distinct route to success. By breaking the old paradigm and establishing a new one, Softspikes gave itself a chance to succeed where under a more "normal" approach, it might have failed.
The incredible success story of Softspikes, the pioneer of, and worldwide leader in, plastic golf cleats was first put in motion through careful analysis of the market landscape. It was then cultivated through a creative program of selling key influencers at golf facilities on the benefits of plastic golf cleats. It then created a "domino effect," whereby once a top tier of golf clubs committed to the concept of plastic cleats, those facilities in the next tier soon followed.
All along, mandate marketing drove the strategy that took Softspikes, Inc. from conceptualization to successful commercialization, and established Softspikes as a major product category in the golf industry.
Metal golf spikes leave spike marks (or tufts of raised grass) on putting surfaces because the spikes pierce the surface with every step. These metal spike marks used to transform many putting surfaces into mine fields at the end of long day of play, since they were the major contributor to massive damage done to the fragile grass root structure below the surface. Metal spikes also cause extensive damage to carpeting, walkways, and other structures in and around golf facilities. The yearly tab for golf facilities, factoring in golf course maintenance, carpet replacements and sidewalk repairs, exceeded $40 million in the early 1990s.
The original Softspikes product was born in 1992, when a local golf association announced a ban on metal spikes at any local public course. At issue was the damage done to the root structure of putting surfaces. Softspikes knew they had the solution and a winning product.
Targeting private golf clubs and country clubs at the outset, the company worked diligently to forge relationships with key influencers such as golf course superintendents, golf professionals, club general managers and club presidents. Incentives, such as free samples of the product were provided to initially put Softspikes cleats "on the radar" of those influential figures at golf facilities.
es also offered product incentives to golf courses if they would agree to ban the use of metal spikes within a specified period (typically 30-60 days). Thus, the idea of a course "banning metal spikes" was begun in April 1994.
The product/concept had one other thing working in its favor - the human eye. That eye, multiplied by thousands, could visually see that Softspikes cleats created far less damage to putting surfaces and clubhouses than metal spikes.
A key element in the process involved requiring club members to wear Softspikes cleats for the specified trial period agreed to by the company and the club. In effect, the option of wearing their normal metal spikes was removed for club members who had to comply with the broad decision made by those closest to the operation of a facility. Such a mandate, while it "forced" club members to use the product, gave Softspikes officials what they wanted - the opportunity to have their products tried by large numbers of people without having to convince each individual of the benefits of the product.
The principle of mandate marketing is that consumers had little choice but to purchase the better product (although it may have been more expensive) because that was the only choice given to them.
Mandate marketing set in motion a mass conversion of an industry that today sees more than 10,000 golf courses (nearly 70 percent of all courses in the United States) prohibiting the use of metal spikes. Every shoe manufacturer in North America utilizes plastic cleats as original equipment, with worldwide golf shoe leader FootJoy partnering with Softspikes in 1996 to bring the first full line of golf shoes with plastic cleats to market.
After a successful implementation at private facilities, Softspikes branched out to focus on capturing the much larger public course market. (Public courses make up approximately 11,000 of the 15,000 courses in the U.S.). While the infrastructure of public facilities varies drastically among its individual courses, and more so when compared to private facilities, Softspikes was able to convert many public courses to ban the use of metal spikes.
Mandate marketing had to be modified at the public course level because of various factors, and the conversion process was slower. But once again, the visual benefits of Softspikes cleats ultimately caused operators to change from the old to the new.
Today, Softspikes is the undisputed leader in sales at both green-grass golf course shops and off-course retail establishments worldwide. And the brand is the most used on the professional tours in America. It is unlikely that Softspikes would be in existence today if its owners had decided to stay the course and act within golf's traditional marketing paradigm. By charting a decidedly different course, the owners in essence became men of vision who were able to take a concept and transform it into one of golf's greatest marketing stories. The message here is clear - sound execution comes from careful planning that does not always follow conventional wisdom.
Copyright Rob Arner - All Rights Reserved.
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