At the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando I caught up with Bob Philion, CEO of Cobra Puma Golf, to talk to him about the development of their brand and challenges facing the golf industry.
Hi Bob. We last met at in Orlando four years ago, so what would you say are the biggest differences between where Cobra Puma is now and where it was back then?
The biggest difference is that we have grown quite a bit, we have more than doubled our business since the acquisition of Cobra by Puma back in 2010. Of course golf hasn’t grown that much through that period so we are feeling fairly secure with our position.
I think the other thing is that the first couple of years we were piecing together the foundation of the company, so we were hiring a lot of people, putting the right people in the right positions and the last couple of years has really been about business development.
The machine is working and we obviously have the products out there, so now it is about innovating and pouncing on the opportunities with more marketing and getting our stuff to the consumers.
Rickie Fowler is obviously important to your strategy, so how important are Tour players to what you are doing?
The players ultimately are the window into the company for consumers, so our strategy with players is different. We are not trying to be the biggest, so we don’t have the most players, but we think we have the right ones that can cut through the clutter and make a difference to our business.
Obviously Rickie who you mentioned is now at number 4 in the world and Lexi Thompson is number 4 in the world and they are great ambassadors for us because they take our product, that we are trying to tell consumers will help their game and they put it to the test. When they play great it is good for business.
Beyond their performances what else do they bring to the brand?
Well, I think everything about them. We try to have players that embody our brand and we use words like inclusive, stylish, colourful and fun and they reflect that.
So this inclusive thing is about trying to help the game of golf and we just announced this morning Lexi’s association with the PGA Junior League as an ambassador and that is really important in helping us engage.
Stylish and colourful are pretty self explanatory, we want them to be a little avant-garde and a little different, and at the end of the day it is about having fun. All of our players - at the other end of the scale we have Parnevik and Norman with DeLaet and Blixt in-between - all of them are about having fun. We say joy always wins and we really believe in that.
We’re seeing less orange than we have done in the past, on the clubs particularly, is there something behind that?
I think Rickie has grown up quite a bit and now being 27 I think the orange has turned into black and orange with the King range so I think we are evolving his style.
We got people’s attention with the orange look and I think we are just evolving that. On the Puma side I think we are just rounding the edges to our business so that we can bring a wider demographic into the brand.
We are definitely still being edgy, but I think we have more products in the range to offer a wider range of consumers, but we started with the very avant-garde stuff because we needed to get people’s attention.
So what are your visions for the Cobra and Puma brands going forward?
We are going to keep doing what we do in terms of game enjoyment, so that’s our thing, we’re here to be the best game enjoyment company in golf. We think that game enjoyment is a sweet spot as to where the industry is going, how the industry is going to be able to bring people into the game is by making it more fun and more enjoyable.
Obviously a big part of that is game improvement because if people play better they are going to enjoy it more, so our products and marketing can all help with that. Game enjoyment is definitely our direction and hey, let’s be honest, there are question marks in the industry and it is going through some challenges.
We feel we did all of our change six years ago when we set up Cobra Puma golf so all of our attention is on our consumers, on our products, getting our message out there about exactly who we are and staying focused on that.
So what would you say those challenges are that others in the industry aren't quite addressing?
Well, I think you see some of the brand contraction or consolidation that is happening out there. Again we went through that six years ago when Puma saw the opportunity to acquire Cobra and put the two brands together.
I think challenge-wise what doesn't work anymore is just more product with a brand on it - we’re not here to put a cat or a snake on more product. Innovation wins at the end of the day and I think as an industry it has learnt the hard way that you have got to bring something that is really different or it doesn’t work.
You end up with inventory problems and margins go down and cascading price points, so I think those are the challenges the industry has gone through in the last couple of years, realising it has got to be different and have a reason for being, a must have rather than a nice to have.
Just going back to game enjoyment, how do you define that as I guess it means different things to different people?
We say that joy always wins and that we are in the smiles business and so it is about helping people enjoy the game of golf. That starts with what everyone else is talking about in game improvement and of course we are trying to help people play the game better.
Outside of that there are other ways that we can help people enjoy the game, so on the Puma side we try to do that by style so we say “look better, feel better and play better”. We do it with our players, with Rickie and Lexi appealing to players to get out there and have fun and also through our partners such as Red Bull and through initiatives such as the PGA Junior League that we sponsor, or Rickie’s involvement in the Play 9 initiative.
We say we bring colour and sound to the golf industry and that goes down as far as one of our products the Soundchuck, which is a Bluetooth speaker that you can take to the course with you to help bring enjoyment that way.
Is that golf equipment or is that really an accessory?
Well, if you talk to a teenager and say what is in your golf equipment and they are going to include the Soundchuck in that list.
Whilst we are on equipment what is the most important category for Cobra Puma?
I think the single biggest category for us is Cobra drivers. It is definitely a priority as it is a statement piece for the brand and it is where we have some great momentum and having the driver line up that we have in the King and the technology that we have is huge for us on the Cobra side with irons just behind that in terms of size and prioritisation.
On the Puma side, apparel is massive so that would be a bigger market than footwear, which would be number two for us. Apparel in golf is such a big category, which is actually quite rare in the sports business which tends to be a footwear dominated business even for our parent company Puma, but in golf it is the other way around.
Last question and it may be a difficult one to answer. Which product are you most proud of in your current range?
Oh boy! I’ve got to say it is the Cobra King LTD driver. We partnered with CASIS which is the Centre for the Advancement of Science In Space and we went into space and did some research. We let the consumer see inside the club for the first time through the weight port and it’s our first zero CG driver.
Performance is off the chart and I think just the time and effort that went into that driver from the R&D team makes it my favourite right now. And it’s working for everyone. Sales have been off the chart and it is working for Rickie Fowler too who just won with it in Abu Dhabi.
We’ve also extended the family so what we are launching here at the show is the extension to the King range with the F6 and F6+ drivers, F6 fairway, F6 hybrid and F6 irons, but it all really started with the King LTD driver with the technology and the story behind that.
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