When they announced in June 2014 that Matt Kuchar was to become their first golf brand ambassador Skechers began to move seriously into the golf shoe market.
I caught up with Rick Higgins, Senior Vice President of Merchandising & Marketing for the Skechers Performance Division, at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando to find out more about the brand and their plans in golf.
Hi Rick. Many people in the UK may not be familiar with Skechers, so tell us a little bit about the background of company please?
Skechers were started as a lifestyle company, the second company from Robert Greenberg who had LA Gear originally, and he sold LA Gear and he started up Skechers.
Through the years we started doing different things and in 2011 we launched a Performance Division that was focussed on Go Run and Go Walk. That spread and we became very successful on those platforms and we saw golf as an opportunity because the consumer, especially the US consumer, was very accepting of our brand as a whole.
We noticed from a golf perspective that the consumer was already wearing Skechers for other things, so why not go down the comfort approach, so that's when we started getting into the golf business.
Where does the brand sit in the USA market?
We’re the number two footwear brand in the USA and in our international business it varies depending on the country. Our growth in the UK has been fantastic over the last 3 to 4 years in terms of the Go Walk business and the Skechers Sport and Lifestyle part of the business is becoming more dominant in the market.
In the UK and Ireland we’ve opened up a number of company owned stores and a number of franchise stores, so we are seeing the footprint of the brand growing fairly rapidly internationally and that is where most of our growth is actually coming from now.
Is the lifestyle part of the business the main component?
The business breaks down in a couple of ways. We have our adult business and we have a children's business. So the children's business accounts for about 28-30% of our total business and the adult business makes up the other 70%. From there the Performance Division is a considerable percentage of the total contribution for the brand.
So was moving into golf and the “street” shoe market a natural move as people were already wearing Skechers shoes?
People were already wearing our lifestyle shoes for golf as we had some models that were nub bottomed that added grip and we found that these were being used to some extent by the recreational golfer rather than the golfer who was playing every week.
So now we have transitioned to making shoes specifically for golf with waterproofing and using the DNA from our performance materials, it has made it an even better transition for that golfer and we can see they are now buying Skechers performance products that are designed just for golf.
Do you have different categories within your golf products such as performance and leisure?
We break it down into men's and women's and within that we have the really technical Pro shoe that we designed with Matt Kuchar. It took about a year and a half to build this shoe for him and it includes all the technical bells and whistles that you would expect of a shoe being used by a Tour Pro.
What sort of things has Kuchar given you feedback on?
He’s very particular about comfort and he wants to make sure the shoes are super comfortable when he is walking around the course for four days every week. He had some unique foot properties that we had to incorporate into the design and he wanted a lot of flex built in.
Typically shoes that have a bottom plate with a spike made from a TPU material don’t flex a lot, so we were able to add extra flex points in the shoe so that when he is walking the shoe gives him more flex.
The other thing that we did was take technology from our running business, a proprietary Resalyte which is an EVA material that has a ‘secret formula’ in which we increased the rubber content in the EVA to give the material a better rebound, which again adds to the comfort, which was Matt’s number one concern.
Working with Matt was good. I think he was surprised that we listened and we took everything that he said and incorporated his comments into the shoes and that has been one of our philosophies when working with athletes. We build our product for the athlete and by the athlete as we showed with our marathon runner, Meb Keflezighi who won the Boston Marathon last year.
Instead of building a shoe using to a marketing brief, we build it from the athlete perspective and then we have the marketing tie into that afterwards.
So in terms of a range we have our technical shoes and some more athletic shoes and then more leisure shoes as well as a Go Golf ladies range.
We have the Bionic shoe that is based on a more anatomical last with a wider foot bed, meaning the foot can sit naturally and lower to the ground. It was based on our Bionic running shoe that had a very small toe to heel offset that puts the foot very low to the ground.
So we took that philosophy, the drop is actually not as extreme as in the running shoe, into golf to give the golfer a good stability when he is standing over the ball.
We have then taken some of the shoes that consumers are very comfortable with in our lifestyle range that are around the $80 (£50) price point, which is a very good one for us as a brand for our athletic business.
Our golf properties also at that price point has helped us out a lot, because it meant the consumer was willing to move with our brand at that price point as they have bought Skechers in the past and they are very comfortable with the quality, workmanship and the comfort.
In my experience when I have seen Skechers it is in the recreational shoes within this Go Golf range. Are you trying to pitch the more technical shoes to more serious golfers?
Correct. We started with all green grass golf accounts and pro shops rather than trying to sell to the big chain stores and we were surprised that everybody wanted the Go Golf Pro, which is one of the most expensive shoes that Skechers make but it did such a good job selling that everybody was ordering it.
We have just started the marketing of that shoe at the PGA Tour event at Kapalua and so we are excited about what is happening with this more technical golf shoe.
I also noticed some women's shoes in the range. Is that a larger part of your business?
On the women’s side we have a very strong brand DNA with over 50% of our business. We are taking advantage of our existing Go Walk platform which is the number one shoe in the walking category due to it being so lightweight and comfortable and applied that to our women’s golf shoes and that has been very successful for us as well.
What are your ambitions for this year and the future in terms of market share and position?
This year is all about telling the Skechers story. We are relatively new to the golf market and our marketing and brand awareness really kicks off this year. We’ve just brought on board LPGA golfer Belen Mozo, as well as Matt Kuchar, so we will be using them in TV and print marketing to tell the Skechers story. We are hoping to keep growing organically at this point without pushing too hard at this point to continue to get the recognition of the consumer.
Our brand is about innovation which has led us to make the transition from lifestyle to performance and we will continue to do that as we get our feet on the ground in the golf market.
What are the biggest innovations that you have made in other sports?
One of the biggest innovations that we have had as a brand are our high rebound cushioning properties in running that we will be taking even further with a new shoe for the 2016 Olympics.
On top of that we have made a number of breakthroughs in comfort such as relaxed fit in which the shoes are wider in the toe area, but still narrow in the heel because as people age there foot spreads and that is a huge category for us in our lifestyle area.
Thirdly we’ve been at the forefront of using lighter materials which is a big trend in the footwear business that came from running and we are now transitioning that into traditional sports like golf that previously haven’t used these materials.