Callaway recently revealed it’s full 2018 financial results in a February 2019 Investor Presentation. Whilst we are going to dive into those numbers further, I think it’s more important to understand the changing landscape of golf hardware/product pricing and what that has meant for the industry and therefore the profitable outcomes that Callaway has reported.
I’m going to start by saying that my last role was the Head of Australasia for a top 5 golf hardware and sports brand and therefore hope I can provide some greater insight for you on this subject.
Over the past 2-5 years, we have all experienced impacts of an ever-changing golf market. This started with prices coming down as golf manufacturers thought it would be a good idea to bring out more products, more often, for less money. This meant they also would take a hit on margin but make up for that margin erosion by selling more products. But don’t think this change was not assisted by the influence of golf retailers. After all, you’d be naïve to think that golf manufacturers go about their business without consulting business opportunities with their key partners first. With that said, this change also meant that the retailers would have to sell more products more often for less.
“But don’t think this change was not assisted by the influence of golf retailers”
THE FINANCIAL PULL OF SELLING IN
Now let’s look at one of the biggest drivers of bringing new product to market which is “selling in” to golf retailers. At the peak of its powers, the US had 1600 off course golf retail stores and over 17,000 golf courses. Taking to account some locations have multiple courses and others don’t buy hardware, let’s say that 50% of those doors buy golf hardware. That’s 8,500 on course doors plus 1,600 off course doors (in Australia, we are looking at 5% of that number).
Let’s say the average sell in value for a new line of product is $12,500 for an off-course retailer and $5,000 for an on-course outlet. That’s equivalent to $20M in sales to off course and $42.5M to on course, a combined $62.5M for one line of product in the US alone and you can more then double that for global sales giving a $125M in sales for selling in a line of new hardware to golf retailers. Trust me when I say …. these numbers are conservative as well.
“125M in sales for selling in a line of new hardware to golf retailers.”
Now we have all complained about how often the likes of Callaway or TaylorMade bring out new products right? But what business is going to say no to $125M in sales revenue? And let me tell you those 2 brands aren’t the only ones that do it.
THE FAULT OF THE BIG BOX GOLF RETAILERS
Going back to the influence of golf retailers in the changing price landscape of golf hardware. Big Box Golf retailers rely on …. well yes, golf retail sales to drive their profit and revenue streams. Because of this, they are going to do all they can to buy inventory at the best prices possible and sell as many units as possible for as much profit as possible. They also have big footprints to fill with stock. So what’s the easiest way to do this? Talk to suppliers, commit to big volumes (but only based on getting some very aggressive trading terms and deals) and then offer the best deals to consumers to get them in your stores and buying.
This is great for us consumers right? Well yes it was but this move led to over 50% of U.S. golf retailers closing their doors with negative financial impacts on golf suppliers at the same time.
The problem was these retailers would commit to a minimum 6 months of volume purchases with almost every manufacturer. So let’s say for this example there are 8 manufacturers out there with 3 lines each … that’s 24 different lines that those retailers are now holding in stock with drivers, fairways, hybrids, irons and wedges. Based on our earlier numbers, a Big Box store is now holding $300k in new hardware. So, a Big Box retailer with 100 doors is now carrying $30M in new product, not to mention inventory from all the other categories.
The reality is that not all brands and all ranges are going to do well and in fact, you will usually see 4-5 lines tops perform well each season. That means that 20% of your inventory is going to sell well, whilst the other 80% will sell through ok to poor. So what do you do with all of that stock? Well, you burn it buy selling it for less margin, then less again, then less again ….. well you get the picture until you are selling a high volume of inventory for little to no margin at all or worse, at a loss. Behind all of this, there are still the day to day operating costs of a retail business which include your rent, I.T., Marketing, staff wages and more.
What does this mean for the manufacturers? It means that your biggest customers are still holding a lot of your stock that you need to help them move through so that they are in a position to buy in your new lines again meaning profit hits to the manufacturer by providing mark down assistance (this is after already taking margin hits for volume) and the cycle would then repeat itself over and over.
The bottom line, everyone was turning over more dollars, but no one was making any money out of it. Not the retailer or the supplier. The winner was the golf consumer who was able to purchase golf hardware for a lot less. The starting street price was one thing, and you just had to wait 2 months after launch and the products were discounted by 25%+ right? Consumers caught on and sure enough, most would simply wait for the discount further compounding this issue.
“The winner was the golf consumer who was able to purchase golf hardware for a lot less.”
Because of these practices, a large number or golf retailers in the US went out of business and over 50% of off course retailers have now closed their doors meaning a lot of lost sales from opening orders to golf manufacturers.
THE CHANGE IN BUYING & SELLING BEHAVIOURS
As retailers went out of business and wholesalers continued to lose profits, there was a quick realisation things had to change. The first of these changes was that of retailers placing greater responsibility on the suppliers. Instead of placing six months of orders and guarantees, retailers would place opening orders only, which then meant suppliers would need to hold inventory and risk without clarity on future orders. This lack of commitment meant suppliers needed to be more conservative with their inventory forecasts which ultimately lead to a lower volume of units sold each season.
In any business, profitability is the key measurement. Obviously it is critical that a business needs profits to continue to exist. Profits also enable companies to invest and ultimately that investment leads to improvements. Improvements that consumers benefit from in any industry where technology plays a role in improvement.
Within this cycle, golf manufacturers were also hurting. Less retailers, means less doors to sell in to. But not just any doors, they were Big Box off course retailers closing down. Based on our earlier numbers, for every hundred doors, that is $1.25M worth of orders per line lost to manufacturers. Not only that, but the piles of inventory were mounting in store leaving less room for new stock and more problems to have to deal with which ultimately cost the suppliers.
“for every hundred doors, that is $1.25M worth of orders per line lost to manufacturers”
RESETTING THE INDUSTRY
Let’s make sure that we highlight that in this cycle, Golf Smith in the U.S. closed down over 100 stores in a single day, big brands reported high sales with not profits and as a result, Nike pulled out of golf hardware all together and Adidas put TaylorMade on the market to sell.
The answer was simple, get back to a more stable business model for both the manufacturer and the retailer. This reset also meant a review of how to make the manufacturing, wholesale and retail business in the golf industry one that was more sustainable. Knowing that each party were going to sell less units, means each party also needed to make more profit per unit which means prices go up translating to the change in landscape we see globally today. In Australia, this timing coincided with the Aussie dollar moving from $1.10 to 70c against the U.S. dollar meaning that prices have sky rocketed in our local market with drivers moving from $499 retail to now $799.
Do we think these prices are too high? After all, that’s where they used to be. Well, we’ll let you the consumer decide that but we think they probably are.
“Why do Callaway and TaylorMade bring out products every 6 months?” is a comment we regularly hear. The reality is they currently don’t but simply run on a 12 months cycle like most brands with Titleist and Ping being the only brands that regularly run on 2 year cycles. Let us ask you this however, do car manufacturers come out with new models almost every year? Does that mean you upgrade your car every year as well? The reality is that we need to reset our expectations which is that it simply may no longer be affordable to update our clubs as much as we once could due to the price.
Sell in however is still a critical profit and revenue stream for golf manufacturers and do still drive incremental sales into golf retailers as well. Is every 12 months the right balance? In a world of fast paced marketing and technology advancements we think it’s probably about right. It keeps golf in conversation, gets us excited, keeps us looking at advancement, it creates stimulation for the market which then drives more interest and money in to the industry. That money again plays a critical role in our industry to help us all drive forward and progress.
Oh and in case you were wondering, Callaway reported a healthy profit taking strong learnings from the past 10 years and applying them to their business. These profits were led by a change in product cycles, launches, pricing strategies, sales and increased investment to expand their portfolio with brands such as OGIO, Travis Matthews and Jack Wolfskin reducing Callaway’s risk and need for one area of business to thrive to make or break them. Let’s not forget their 14% share in TopGolf as well.
Profits to key brands in golf is a great thing and means that these brands can invest in innovation and improvement to help us all. As long as the prices are achievable for us golfers out there lets hope we continue to see these positive results in golf as ultimately it’s positive for the industry. Let’s also hope that these brands keep the learnt lessons in mind as they go forwards.
Let’s be honest, we all love new toys to play with, the real decision we have to make is can we afford it? And will that new toy actually help me improve enough to justify the investment?
To receive lessons or a fitting to find a product that is right for you, see a BGA Golf Professional by finding a BGA store near you. www.bgaproshop.com/ProShop-Finder