Martin Hopley
By Martin Hopley

FootJoy are the number 1 golf shoe brand in the UK and USA and closing in fast on the same position in golf apparel. 2017 sees a new President at the helm and Golfalot was the first European media title to have an audience with Chris Lindner to see what his plans are for FootJoy.

FootJoy Chris Lindner

Hi Chris. I believe you’re only five months into your new role with FootJoy, how’s it been?

It’s been awesome! The welcoming I got from the entire Acushnet team, I talk about it all the time, has been phenomenal. Quality people, obviously the brand are world-class and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. It’s been an exciting five months already.

What was your background before you came to work with FootJoy?

I’ve spent the last 25 years working with footwear and apparel brands, working across sales, marketing and general management. The last 6 years I have been with an apparel company called Wolverine who own 15 different footwear brands around the world like, Merrel and Saucony.

Previous to that I did 10 years with Nike, a couple of years on the brand side and then spent some time working with their subsidiaries, Bauer – the ice hockey company and Converse. Prior to that I was actually with Electronic Arts video company on the West Coast back in the US.

Which of your past experiences do you think will be most beneficial to FootJoy?

That’s a good question. I’ve been able to draw on lots of different experiences from my past. I’m new to the golf business professionally, but I’ve been a golf nut for my entire life. I’ve been able to work with some world class brands and learn from some great people along the way.

I’ve worked in a lot of speciality businesses in the past like Hockey and Running, so I think I have been able to draw on those two experiences – especially when we’re thinking about the on-course channel and how important that is. That will continue to be one of our focusses going forward.

From a product development stand point I’ve been in some pretty interesting places that have been doing it well, so I think I have learned a few tricks along the way there too. Whether it’s brand story telling from my Nike background or technical equipment experience on the Bauer side and certainly footwear apparel from Converse and Keds.

I’ve also travelled a lot around the world and FootJoy is a brand where 50% of our business is done outside the US, so those international experiences have been really beneficial for me.

So entering the golf business, what has struck you most about the things FootJoy does now you’re actually working with them?

As a consumer and a fan I went straight to my closet and checked out how many golf shoes I had, I had around 10 to 12 pairs of shoes and they were all FootJoy. I’m taking over from Jim Connor who has been at the brand for 28 years, and did so many things in the right way.

Obviously it’s had the stand-out leadership position in footwear for so many years and considering the amount of competition in the market from some big brand companies, that’s impressive.

But I’ve been so impressed with the product teams and the apparel initiatives. Over the last 5 years FootJoy apparel lines have put themselves on a map. It’s our fastest growing business and probably our biggest opportunity moving forward.

Do you think that there’s scope for further growth with then apparel line, because it has taken off quite quickly?

Absolutely, absolutely. Again with FootJoy being a global brand and having such big footprint outside the US, certainly we will continue to grow in the US, but with big markets like Japan, Korea and across Europe we have done extremely well with the brand on the apparel side. But we think we have some big new markets to hit and some new categories to approach potentially as well.

Has any consideration been given to putting tracking technology into FJ apparel for golf like you might see in Soccer or American Football that use GPS trackers in shirts?

Design and innovation are two areas for us where we need to probably invest more in terms of resources moving forward. We’re certainly tracking some of those interesting new technologies in the wearable space and even the footwear. I think understanding how apparel can become part of an equipment story, and certainly footwear as essential golf equipment, is something that our teams will be looking at in the not too distant future.

FootJoy Chris Lindner

Appreciating it’s still early days, have you identified any keys areas that FootJoy should be working on?

For sure. We’re just about to roll out a strategic plan, kind of a like a vision 20/20 across the organisation. Without sharing any trade secrets, the product engine will be a major point of investment for us - innovation and footwear is where we came from. We’ve always got to lead with footwear innovation and reinvest in some new resources there.

Golf apparel is an area where we have the opportunity to become number 1 around the world. We’re currently number 2 in the US and we think that with the right focus and product development initiatives, we can get there. We’ve got great teams around the world to focus on those ideas.

In terms of key markets for us, the US is obviously a blockbuster, but Japan and Korea, Korea especially, is a major market for us and one of our fastest growing markets today. It’s a premium market place, the FJ brand is very well positioned there and that will continue to be a real focus for us.

The final piece is consumer engagement investment over the next few years, I think we’ve been a great, more traditional marketer. Now we really need to think about how we’re staying connected to the dedicated the golfer 24/7, 365. How do we bring them new content? New ideas, how do we launch our product?

And I would say if there is one big area for us to be thinking about, it’s story telling. How do we connect with consumers through telling stories about the brand, our leadership, our athletes, and golfers that are playing on the world tours and our product stories? That's a big focus for us in 2017.

When you have been making these plans, can you give us ideas of any other industries that you may have been looking at for inspiration that are not in apparel or footwear?

We’re a dedicated golf company and that’s not going to change, but of course we look outside of the industry for inspiration in both footwear and apparel spaces. Each of the teams will be thinking how to update the current markets to stay fresh and relevant and then look at how we elevate. Looking at what premium areas could be available so the teams will be busy working on that.

But there’s no specific industry, we look everywhere for innovation and inspiration. We had a mountain bike designer who’s into cycling and he was able to take a look into what’s happening in cycling and mountain biking and tailor that to a midsole/outsole concept for footwear. So we’re working on some pretty unique things over the next couple of years.

The FootJoy Performance Fitting System is rolling out this year, and I think it’s a brand that’s got its own fit.

FootJoy Performance Fitting System

It’s pretty interesting, but to take fit to a new level to benefit performance for golfers, that to me is really interesting new territory that I want to build on. Right now we’re using that technology to help us understand how our current line can benefit different golfers and different swing types.

I think the next step for us will be to take the data capture we have from working with golfers around the world to then turn that into development initiatives moving forward. It’s great to know that if I’m a more mobile golfer, the Freestyle shoe is a better shoe for me or that I might need a more structured shoe.

FootJoy FreeStyle Shoe

It’s now time take to those learnings and change our thinking to how we actually make shoes. That might be the next step.

Is there any plan for direct selling either in the US or abroad?

Yes, we had a really successful first year selling with our e-commerce site. Then there are future plans to roll it out in the Asia Pacific markets and we will look at other markets on a case by case basis.

What proportion of sales do you think that could be?

I think the answer to that is that it’s going to differ depending on the market dynamics. Our focus will continue to be on the on-course distribution channels and supporting our pro’s, like Golf Force and other key partners. But we know we have to do a better job of story-telling and owning the premier experience for our consumer online.

We know that consumers both shop from brands and learn from brands and we think it’s an opportunity for them to go in more educated wherever they choose to buy. So we’ll be leveraging the site and investing in content to make sure those stories are being told to inform our consumers to get excited about the FJ brand.

Thank you Chris

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