I first met Rick Higgins, Senior Vice President of Merchandising & Marketing for the Skechers Performance Division at the 2015 PGA Merchandise show to discuss the company's move into golf. One year on I caught up with him again to hear about the progress Skechers had made and their plans for 2016.
Hi Rick. Last year you told us about the Skechers' story and your plans to expand so how has that gone, especially in the UK and Europe?
Golf is very new for Skechers and I think in the UK we’ve been a pleasant surprise to people. Our global business has grown very big at a very fast rate for Skechers Go Golf. In the UK with our partnership we’ve had a speciality sales team that has really helped with the relationships needed to grow the business in the UK.
People were not familiar with Skechers having a golf product, but as our brand has grown in Europe it is also producing a drafting effect behind that people are realising Skechers does have golf shoes.
So it’s been happening a little bit by design in our Skechers Lifestyle and the other parts of our Performance business are growing very fast in the UK and people don’t think it is odd that we have introduced them to performance footwear in golf.
You mentioned the whole business growing for Skechers Go Golf. Can you give us some insight into that?
We have seen a lot of success in the United States. We drive our message with TV marketing as well as print and we have done a very good job of that over the past 18 months. That has really helped us create a foundation that we’ve been able to build on with great new partners to our business who had not even bought Skechers products before, but because the marketing is so strong and the footwear is so comfortable, the comfort aspect of the shoes has been the main story.
Dick's Sporting Goods has come on board, Golf Galaxy, PGA Superstore, all of these majors in the golf business and the golf category in the States, as well as many independents and golf shops all around the country, have really taken the brand to another level for us.
We’re excited about that because it is an opportunity as we open our voice up a little bit from a marketing perspective to educate a consumer that Skechers might not have had before and to get a consumer who has worn Skechers shoes to move into Skechers golf shoes.
What is it about Skechers that has attracted the new partners and made it a success for them?
Honestly, I think it is our marketing because we debuted the Matt Kuchar television commercials last year in the US and those commercials were received so well that their customers were going into those retail stores and asking for the product.
So our goal of driving the consumer awareness worked and then the retailers heard about it, so they had to buy the shoes because of consumer demand. They would start with a small test program and they would sell them out and that led to the expansion of our footprint in those retailers.
What ended up happening from that point is that the customer came back for their second pair because of the comfort features, they love how comfortable the shoes are, so that message keeps resonating throughout all of our commercials this year where we have been able to escalate our Pro athletes now, bringing on board Colin Montgomerie who we are really happy to have and proud of him wearing our product and being out there being a company ambassador as well.
Is there any particular model that has led that?
The Skechers Go Golf Pro is our signature model that debuted with Matt Kuchar and Colin Montgomerie last year, so that shoe really has been the driving power for the overall business.
We did another version of it with a non-spiked bottom that is now the Go Golf Elite that everyone has liked. It is a lower cost that helps other golfers who may not want to spend the higher cost of the Pro, so it allows more golfers to experience our comfort at an entry level price point.
Do you feel that one shoe is leading into purchases of other shoes from golf into non-golf and vice versa?
It is. For the consumer that was not aware of Skechers that got introduced from golf we’re finding now that they are buying our Go Walk product or our Go Run product so that is a whole new customer base.
Our traditional Skecher customer has been very excited that they now have a golf product and that we’ve been able to enlighten them and educate them that we can help them in golf. So it is working both sides of the fence which we are really happy to have.
So after a successful 2015 what are your aims for 2016?
We are bullish about 2016 and going into 2017 to be honest with you. We have big plans to continue growing in the market and we have done all new television commercials this year which was actually a move up following the success of last year’s campaigns. We’ve tied in all four of our Elite’s, so we have Colin Montgomerie, Matt Kuchar, Belen Mozo and Billy Andrade, who also had a great season on the Champions Tour.
So those commercials now highlight 'Golf School By The Skechers Performance Pro’s' so that will be our story keeping with the kind of witty comic lines that we had last year where these four will be educating a class on the different types of golf instruction.
Have you got any new products coming out this year?
This year the big story is the spikeless Go Golf Elite, which is part of the Spring 2016 line that debuted in November 2015.
So what proportion of the shoes you sell will be spikeless?
We’re really not talking about that because we are just launching this, but we are keeping spikeless going forward in our line. I would say that the spikeless is already predominant in our line because there are other models that we already have that have just soft bottoms on them as well. We’re not going to talk about percentages yet as this year has been so strong and we’ve developed a couple of new spiked bottoms as well for 2017 that we have here, but we are not allowed to talk about those yet.
It is interesting actually as it is first time I have seen somebody bring shoes to the PGA Show that far in advance.
Well, we launch our 2017 models in November 2016. For the US we have so many warm weather areas that want their spring shoes in early so we work hard to do that, like the Go Golf Elite is the spring 2016 shoe but it debuted in November 2015.
How are the shoes designed?
We have a design group that is very focused and spends a lot of time ensuring the shoes are extremely comfortable and also perform in the arena they’ve been designed for. And we also listen to the athlete. Matt’s shoe took over a year to get a shoe that he was comfortable with before he would even sign with us, so we put a lot of time and effort into working with the athletes and this mirrors what we do in running and training.
That focus listening to the athlete first means we are making shoes that they are actually creating, rather than sitting up in a white tower telling the athlete that this is the shoe you are going to wear like a lot of companies.
So do you have a target consumer in mind who you think is a good fit with Skechers?
The United States is going to be different to Europe, but over here it is very focused on the middle-aged golfer between 30-50. We are finding a lot of mid 20-somethings coming to the brand because they watch The Golf Channel where we do a lot of advertising.
When you follow Matt Kuchar around on tour you actually see a lot of younger kids. He’s not as popular as Rickie Fowler, who has really captured that young audience, but he has got a lot of people who look up to him so for us that is great to be able to skew a little further to the left on the age demographic.
That’s interesting as I know he doesn’t do Twitter, so for him to pick up that sort of audience those fans are really only seeing him during tournament play.
No he hasn’t joined Twitter and we are still pushing him for that. Probably our player who is on social the most is also the oldest and that is Colin. He’s a funny guy. We were shooting in Georgia in October where all four players came down and he was a blast. He had the crew laughing and he was a really great. Belen Mozo from the LPGA side is on social a lot so she does a great job from that standpoint.
Did Monty have any special requirements for his shoes when he joined Skechers?
You know what is interesting about Mr. Montgomerie is that he went in and bought the Go Walk 2 Golf Lynx LT off the shelf himself and we found out about it and we said to him we’d love to sign him. He said "Great, I love your shoes" so we haven’t had any major tweaks to his shoes at all - a little custom sizing, but that’s it – he liked the shoes pretty much as is.
So with the way you make the shoes is it fairly easy to customise them?
Definitely. If I look at Matt Kuchar he has got a very narrow, but a very long foot, so the actual shoe he is wearing on Tour is custom fitted for him based on the shape of his foot. With Monty he also has some foot differences so we wanted to make sure he is comfortable with that. It’s not a big deal for us to make changes like that – it’s something we do all the time with our running athletes.
Do you think there will be a point where you will be able to offer that service to consumers direct if they wanted it?
That would be a challenge to do that because it’s very time consuming and therefore probably not cost effective to create a new last for their foot, which is how we deal with the customisations for our athletes.
I can see you’re wearing Skechers clothing and it is on display here too. Is this a new line or have you always done that?
No we started Skechers Performance apparel last year in our running and training divisions and as the golf business started having some great success it was a natural migration to move into golf apparel and in fact before we did we had our partners asking us when we were going to do it.
We have found with golf that because apparel is such a big part of the business as well that some of those small shops want to have a top to bottom story. That is something we have heard from day one and we’ve taken it seriously and this last year when we really started to do some business with these accounts they said they will commit to apparel as it means we can do that top to bottom story with your footwear because your footwear is selling so well.
So what is the philosophy behind the clothing?
Our whole clothing line is focused on performance materials so we are finding the best of those on the market in terms of wicking and drying features, making sure it is relative to what our shoes look like to ensure we have a complement between how the apparel looks and feels with the footwear.
One thing about the apparel is we are very focused on the fit so we take into consideration who are consumers are and have fits available that they are comfortable with, which is what we do with our footwear.
I can see you have shirts and trousers, but have you looked at waterproofs?
We already have our Go Shield technology that is waterproof and is found on our jackets and some of our outerwear. We do that in the golf range, the running range and also the training range so we have some outdoorsy options across those sports.
Is that a coating that is put onto the material?
No, it is actually part of the core material fabrication. The golf jackets have four ways stretch to make it comfortable to play in and all of the waterproofing is embedded. It is very comfortable thanks to an inside ceramic lining that also holds heat so it is a warm garment as well.
Finally, what is the strategy for Europe going forward?
Europe’s been great for us in the past 15 months overall, not just in Performance, it’s really exploded. I think some of the product became more appetising to the consumer especially on the Skechers Lifestyle side and the Skechers Memory Foam was a nice comfort story.
We signed up Kelly Brook who is a big celebrity in the UK and with her we did UK and Europe specific marketing. Ringo Starr also came on board for the Lifestyle side of the company, so the fashion side of the company really ramped up its efforts to speak to the global consumer rather than just a US centric consumer. People love comfortable shoes no matter where they live.