AMONG the new products lined up at the PGA Expo last week was one designed by a 17-year-old girl. It was a stretchy wristband with a ball marker attached by a magnet strong enough to withstand the impact of clubhead to ball — cute, and practical.
Maybe it will prove successful. But in just three years of attending this August show in Las Vegas, I have seen clever products and gorgeous apparel lines targeting women make a big splash and then painfully belly-flop into the pool of good ideas gone bad. So this year, I stopped in to find out the secrets of the survivors, Cutter & Buck with its Annika line, and FootJoy with its big market share of shoes for women.
In a word: commitment.
Cutter & Buck
Annika Sorenstam has had a relationship with Cutter & Buck for more than 16 years. When she was making her way to the LPGA and Golf Halls of Fame, it was her one and only sponsor.
“I feel fortunate she hasn’t entertained other offers by now,” said CB Brand Director Stacy
Mangum. “About two years ago we sat around saying, ‘Is there going to be a women’s market?’ because 2010 was so dead. But we’re passionate about continuing to create great clothes for women, even though there’s minimal growth in that area.”
Cutter & Buck doesn’t spew out sales figures about its collection, but its Annika lines have taken a high profile in golf shops around the world. And, oh yes, the star participates in the process. Global Director of Sales Jake Rawson showed off the Spring 2014 pieces — including a faux wrap skort in the Paramount color scheme of mint, pink, black and white, and the black ruched skort shown here, plus lots of shimmer on tops. There’s nothing in the collection that would be considered borderline to meet golf dress codes.
“She’s involved in the color process and the design process, and she’s really into sporty details and performance,” Rawson said. “It’s sports style, and it’s a great line for us.”
Performance and details clearly rank high on the Sorenstam priority list. Fabrics wick quickly and move with the swing. The buttons are special, the trims carefully placed, the cut form-fitting. (Rawson suggests shoppers in between lettered sizes on top go up rather than down; bottoms, he said, fit true to the numbers.)
Cutter & Buck, like many other companies, has been designing for women who do many things other than golf. The quarter-zip outerwear pieces can do yoga or play tennis or just make a busy mom comfortable as she runs down her list. Yet, every season brings new colors and styles — at a time when Under Armour has dropped out of the women’s golf shirt market and other companies, including OGIO and FootJoy, wait for signs of growth in participation before they introduce women’s apparel.
It’s a safe guess that the men are carrying the women at Cutter & Buck, yet, Mangum said, “We have a lot of beautiful women playing golf, a lot of them working at Cutter & Buck, and they deserve great clothes. We just have to continue to grow.”
The world’s No. 1 golf shoe company doesn’t market with celebrities or name its women’s shoes after Hall of Famers. But it does not approach the women’s shoe shopper the same as it approaches the men, carrying over men’s styles year after year even as it introduces new women’s styles season after season.
“Men buy shoes when they lose them or wear them out,” says Jeff Hughes, whose Palm Springs market has the rare 50-50 split for men’s and women’s sales. “Women buy shoes when its new fashion, new styling. My stores will bring in our ladies’ stuff before the men’s because women want to see the latest and greatest.”
“Men are just simpler,” lamented Bruce Crompton, the company’s sales director. “Two pairs of shoes match everything they wear. We typically offer more women’s styles than our competitors, and I think that’s why our market share is better.”
Hughes and Crompton didn’t have a number to answer the question, “How many pairs of shoes does the typical woman golfer have?” It was noted however, that Imelda and not Ferdinand became known for a shoe collection. FootJoy’s biggest success story, the LoPro, is the No. 1 selling women’s golf shoe category in the world — partly because of its dependable comfort and sizing, so it’s easy to buy without trying on, but mostly because of its ever-changing colors and looks. A woman can have six pairs without anyone ever noticing that she’s wearing the same shoe in different color schemes.
“We have styles for men for more than 10 seasons,” Hughes said. “If we did the same shoe for more than a couple of seasons for women, we’d never sell anything.”
“It’s not as profitable as the men’s side because we are constantly turning the styles over,” Crompton said. “But we think it’s necessary to do that to keep women excited.”
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