(Second of two parts)
Going into its 51st year of operation, Ping found itself in the “Eye” of the storm when Phil Mickelson and others put the old Eye 2 into play despite the howls from those who opposed its use under new groove regulations from the United States Golf Association that kicked in this year.
A settlement during the square grooves controversy of 20 years ago allowed the use of the Eye 2. That well-documented struggle with the USGA/PGA Tour is part of the company history described in yesterday’s blog.
President and chief executive officer John Solheim said recently he is willing to work on a solution, but the controversy seems to be dying down and will likely fade away as the weeks pass. Despite the belief of many, golf does not revolve only around the tour and there are challenges ahead for the entire golf industry.
The United States fell deeper into the recession than Canada and has a steeper, longer climb out with the potential to slip back down the slope.
“You have to worry about the second blip or something before we start climbing back,” said Solheim. “There are a lot of good (economic) indicators, but it’s still time to be cautious.
His son, vice president of engineering John K. Solheim, agrees.
“Everyone I talk to is predicting growth on the last year, but the issue is, if you look at what we’re expecting in 2010, it’s not what we had in 2008, or 2006. It’s still not as robust as we have been in the past, but things are going in the right direction,” said John K.
While consumers tightened their grips on their wallets during the economic downturn, both Solheims say the introduction of the G15 and i15 lines helped the company weather the storm, putting it in good shape when the rebound finally does happen.
“We’ve been very fortunate to be drawing market share during the down economy, so that’s a huge thing. We are no question ready for if the economy kicks up,” said John Solheim, with his son echoing his words.
“Unfortunately, the economy wasn’t the best on our 50th anniversary year, but we had a good, strong finish to the end of the year,” said John K.
“The new G15 and i15 products were very well-received. Our market share numbers at the end of the year, we were very happy with them. Overall, we did good. The market was smaller, but we did good in that smaller market,” he added.
“We all saw it coming at the end of 2008, had to make a lot of adjustments at the end of that year and then, early in 2009, but we fared the storm pretty good and things are looking much better now,” said John K, who will play an integral role in the company’s future.
While John K will undoubtedly face unique challenges in the future, he is also propped up by foundation that was built by his dad and his grandfather, World Golf Hall of Fame member Karsten Solheim.
“We are a product company,” he said.
“We know what we’re doing. We hope we’re seen as a brand that you can count on, so if you are going to make that investment in some golf equipment, Ping’s not going to do you wrong, you’re going to get value out of your investment and you can feel comfortable that you’re not giving up strokes to anybody else because of equipment.”
That’s a theme that resonated over the first 50 years and one that will continue to be heard in the future.
“It’s all about product and the performance of it. We haven’t let up and we’re continuing to push and we’ll keep pushing,” said John Sr.
“Even in the design of a club, you have to design it so it instills confidence, so when you look down, (consumers) are very comfortable over it and they feel right about it. If you can’t do that, you’ve got a real problem, so it’s not just glitz and glamour,” he added.
The emphasis on solid product is also reflected in how those products are projected to the industry and consumers.
“You’ve got to protect your brand,” said John Sr. “In other words, how you do it, how you market your product, how you present your product, how the product performs, durability. Everything has got to go together. Brand is so important.”
In this age of celebrity endorsements and high profile advertising campaigns, Ping does advertise, but its emphasis on product also includes a focus on fitting and ensuring that it’s available in one form or another to accounts.
“I’ll grab our golf club off the shelf and any of our competitors’ and I’ll take our chances that we’re going to win that. I can guarantee that we’re going to win it if you’d use our fitting processes,” said John K.
“There are all sorts of different accounts out there, different sizes of accounts, and we’ve tried to say we can provide fitting tools to everybody out there, so we’ve got small fitting bags all the way to our AFS and nFlight for that account that really wants to go the extra mile in fitting their customers,” he added.
That also is a message that has been consistent over Ping’s history. At the recent PGA Merchandise Show, John Sr. was stopped by somebody who wanted to chat about a company club he had bought in 1980.
“There are so many stories,” said John Sr. “My dad loved talking to people, walking with the clubs, getting the clubs that they wanted because the fitting of the club, as well as the performance of it, is so important and if you get that right lie, the right grip size and the right shaft flex, it’s huge.
“Even the beginning golfer needs to be statically fit because he’s going to set up properly over the club. If he has an improperly fit set, he’s going to make adjustments that he doesn’t even think about, which is going to hurt his swing.
“Fitting from the very beginning is so important, then once you get better, then you can get fit again. The nice thing about Ping clubs is you can adjust them,” said John K.
Such are the values of a family-run business that has lasted over 50 years, but one that isn’t stuck in the past. Otherwise, it would be still operating out of a garage in Redwood City, Calif., instead of planning a major renovation at its campus in the Phoenix area.
John Sr. admits that technologies such as e-mail are integral in today’s business world, but adds there is something to be said for the way it used to be done. With that in mind, the new Ping campus will be designed with efficiency in mind.
“Some of the modern technology hurts us,” said John Sr. “Me and my dad, it was always us talking. E-mails tend to send the wrong messages and not get the feeling of the face-to-face. John and I are working on much more face-to-face contact, rather than e-mails.
“Right now, we’re spread out all over the place (at company headquarters) and we don’t have that bumping into each other in the hall discussions going on and I want to see that happen because I think it will add so much to the company.
“John’s office and my office are a long way apart and we need to be where we’re bumping into each other,” he added.
That contact should make for a smoother transition as the company heads into the future.