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Business is tough, even on the best of days. With the current economic conditions, it’s difficult to predict when the world will be in a better place. Its equally challenging to comprehend how we’ve arrived to this point and even more so the sequence of events that has made it fashionable for consumers to refrain from spending disposable income. But not everything is what it seems. While it’s easy to conclude that 2009 is a game of survival or contraction in some instances, not every business is necessarily in that mode.
Despite competing in a category that is dominated by one, very large, brand, Bridgestone Golf is quietly going about its business and seeing the fruits of its labor. While the news headlines in 2009 have been littered with a financial overtone due to the economy, Bridgestone has managed to see continued growth in its golf ball business. “We are having a record month (March) in our company history,” said Dan Murphy, VP of Marketing. “The standard business philosophy still applies. You have to innovate and execute. It still works,” he said. Case in point would be the brand’s success at various retail levels in recent months leading up to March.
In January its off course sales grew in terms of units (16%, up 2.8% versus January ’08) sold and more importantly in dollars (16.8%, up 5.5% versus January ’08), according to Golf Datatech research. In the on course channel, where Bridgestone/Precept has only a 47% distribution rate, both unit sales and thus revenue were higher than a year ago in January. Unit sales were 6.7%; an improvement of 2.3% from the previous year and its dollar share was 6.2%, up 2.6%.
In February, the trend continued as it sold more volume (16.9% up 4.2% from Feb ’08) in the off course channel of its golf balls. The dollar share also was higher (17.7%, up 6.4%) in the off course channel. Looking at the on course segment in February, Datatech reported its unit share was 7.3% of all golf balls sold, an improvement of 2.8% versus the same period in ‘08 for Bridgestone/Precept. Its dollar share for the month came in at 7%, higher by 3.2%. While the percentage terms might paint a small picture, it’s worth noting that the combined Bridgestone/Precept models grew at a higher rate than its peer group for the month. It was also able to increase its distribution rate form 47% to 49% from the prior month in the green grass community.
Also in February for the combined on and off course category, Bridgestone was a solid number two in dollar terms as it achieved 13.1% of the total money spent, according to Golf Datatech, which was an improvement of 5.2% versus a year ago.
The mass merchant sporting goods channel represented the hat trick for the company. "On a daily basis we are able to see our sell-through stats in the Sporting Goods Channel,” said Murphy. “In that channel we are pleased to report that for the first 10 weeks of 2009 we have seen a 117% increase in total Bridgestone/Precept retail sell through versus the same 10 week period in 2008. Sales are driven by B330-RX, e7+, and holding steady on e6+ and Precept Lady. Sporting Goods, like the rest of the retail sector, is reporting flat to slight declines overall - so our growth stands out as a bright spot in a gloomy picture."
So in difficult market conditions, how is it that Bridgestone is able to see its business grow? “You have to have a focus, which for us has been on balls,” Murphy explained. “Secondly, you need a point of differentiation with your product and also with you message.”
Murphy acknowledged that Bridgestone’s results wouldn’t be what they are without the ball-fitting platform, which it began two years ago. “The fitting initiative has delivered an amazing body of data,” Murphy said. “The dialogue with consumers lead to the fan mail advertising we created using Fred Couples, for example. However, staying involved with consumers in the ball fitting process has also built some loyalty. We are trying to deliver the #1 ball for each consumer to play and we are able to provide real data to support why they should consider a change,” he added. Its been said that timing is everything. While the playing conditions are less than ideal, Murphy thinks it plays into their favor. “The world has changed in recent months. Consumers attitudes have changed as well, whether it towards real estate, their financial outlook or employment. Change can help a company like ours,” he continued. “Consumers mood is for change and it’s about value in their purchases. Tour validation is important but its half the story. The other side of it making the right purchase.”
Inside the product roster for Bridgestone is perhaps a specific reason for its success. The company’s B330-RX ball
has gained traction with consumers
despite the fact it isn’t played on the
professional Tours. It has consistently
gathered 6+ points of share in the off
course retail market. Its success can
be tied directly to the company’s
efforts towards customizing players’
games, one at a time. With the
assistance of a launch monitor, which
has become a standard tool used throughout the industry for driver fittings, Bridgestone has been able to demonstrate with the data to back it up recommending the B330-RX to golfers. The company recently began its ball-fitting program in Australia and the U.K. Much like its US business, the strategy appears to paying early dividends down under and across the pond, Murphy said. The trendy catch phrase going around is that flat is the new growth in 2009. But there are always exceptions and Bridgestone is happy to be the one proving that’s still the case.