As discussed in our previous post “Will you benefit from the latest driver technology”, significant performance improvement will only come from having your new golf club(s) fitted to your own personal requirements. In other words you stand to gain more from the custom fitting process than you do from the new technology per se. OK you may be lucky in that your new off-the-shelf driver fits you perfectly by chance. That can happen occasionally but it is much more likely that any improvement is marginal at best. In actual fact, without custom fitting, the new club may result in a drop in performance by comparison with your current equipment. As a result, the vast majority of golfers who excitedly buy the latest hot driver off the shelf will inevitably be very disappointed with the results. That’s why you see the new models appearing on eBay so soon after their launch. Nothing wrong with the new technology. Just that it needs to be fitted properly in order to gain maximum performance benefits.
The major brands know this but you will never hear them admit it. Why? Because it is not in their best financial interests to do so. If they were really interested in your golfing welfare they would be telling you never to buy another club off-the-shelf without a fitting session. They would be driving potential customers towards their nearest authorised fitting centres, in order to make sure that every purchase is optimised for the player. However don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
Why don’t they do this?
1. Off-the-shelf-sales of non-fitted equipment probably accounts for over 90% of their revenue. They depend on this for their survival. They can’t afford to jeopardise this vital income.
2. Most dealers don’t want to be bothered with custom fitting. It adds to their costs and it could result in complaints if the supposed fitted club doesn’t perform to expectations on the golf course.
3. Golfers will generally stick with a club that performs well, so it is not in the company’s or the dealer’s best interests to have too many customers who believe that their equipment performance is now optimised. They would prefer you to randomly experiment with a new club every year in your search for golf’s holy grail ….that elusive club that will totally revolutionise your game overnight. Then if it doesn’t work you can always trade it in for another one.
4. Custom fitting conflicts with the industry’s current well established sales/marketing strategy which has proved to be so successful over the past 30 years or more. Difficult to see this changing unless it is customer driven at some point in the future.
The obvious conclusion – Custom fitting is not actively promoted by the major brands because annual financial return is of higher priority than performance outcomes or customer satisfaction.
CURRENT SALES STRATEGY FOR THE MAJOR BRANDS
• Think up a new catchy pseudo-scientific name for their latest club design and come up with a convincing marketing message to promote the product and attract the attention of the golfing public.
• Keep any test data in house, so that any marginal improvements in performance can be used to justify the often exaggerated marketing claims.
• Pay the top tour players to use and promote the product … the message being it must be good if the tour players are using it.
This strategy is well established and has been shown to be the most successful way of selling clubs and generating maximum profit. Custom fitting just complicates things and adds to the cost of doing business both for the parent company and the dealers.
Ping – the exception to the rule
Ping have promoted custom fitting from the beginning. Karsten Solheim’s philosophy was that every Ping club should be custom fitted to the customer’s requirements. Custom fitting is now firmly established as a key component of Ping’s business model. 75% of Ping customers expect to be custom fitted. Ping encourage their dealers to place custom fit orders and their production is geared towards this, so there is no conflict of interest in terms of custom fit versus non-custom fit.
Compare this to the likes of Callaway or Taylor Made. Over 90% of their sales are off-the-shelf. They insist on dealers purchasing stock for sale and display. Then they wonder why these same dealers don’t send potential customers to their performance centres. It is hard to criticise the dealers. If you were a dealer with stock on the shelf and a customer in the shop ready to buy, then you might also be loath to send the customer for a fitting session with the added risk losing the sale. It is difficult for the major brands and their dealers to effectively promote custom fitting and off-the-shelf sales at the same time. In this conflict of interest custom fitting takes a back seat.
However in order not to be seen as anti-custom fit the major brands have reluctantly set up fitting centres around the country to cater for the small number of well-informed customers who appreciate the benefits of playing with custom fit equipment, and to compete with Ping. They know that the custom fit side of the business generates little or no profit, but they feel they have to show willing or lose credibility and a segment of the market which could generate profit in the future.
Performance Centres such as Callaway’s at St Andrews offer great facilities in terms of Trackman monitoring and their extensive range of fitting clubs. The trained fitting staff are knowledgeable and experienced. Customers generally achieve significant performance improvement. Over 96% of official customer feedback rates the experience as excellent. You cannot fault the company’s financial commitment to custom fitting but without actively educating customers on the benefits or the need for custom fitting, these excellent centres will be under used most of the time, and consequently the vast majority of the golfing public will continue to buy standard clubs off-the-shelf based solely on price, appearance and marketing hype.
So why aren’t all PGA pros promoting the importance of custom fitting?
Trainee PGA pros get very little training in custom fitting and it is only those who subsequently take an interest in the subject that become capable of fitting a player or giving proper equipment advice. Bearing in mind the expense of setting up a fitting centre in terms of a launch monitor, range of fitting clubs and workshop equipment, it is hardly surprising that so few pros offer this service locally. However they can still send customers to the major brand fitting centres but few choose to do so. For the reasons stated above it is so much easier for them to convince the customer that, just by chance, their ideal set of clubs happens to be sitting in the shop. The customer will generally accept this advice without question because they are under the impression that a PGA qualification denotes expertise in all things golf, including golf equipment. Unfortunately this may not be the case.
So if the major brands or PGA pros are not actively educating golfers as to the benefits of custom fitting, who is going to do it? Golf magazines run regular custom fit articles but their message is often superficial and non-convincing. Small specialist equipment companies like AGT will continue to preach the gospel but until the golfing public hears this from the equipment manufacturers or their local PGA pro, it will remain a secret for the chosen few. If you are fortunate to be one of the chosen few then you can rest safe in the knowledge that you will have a competitive advantage over the “unconverted” for some time to come.