“The only constant in life is change” Greek philosopher Heraclitus
“Time may change me but I can’t trace time” British rocker Bowie
Honma Golf has had one constant in The americas: Change.
For the past three years, it seems Honma has turned to face the strange and threw itself through enough ch-ch-changes in strategy and corporate leadership to establish both Bowie and Heraclitus proud.
Since 2018, Honma Golf leadership has morphed more hours than a Influence Ranger–from” strategic advisor” Mark King to former TaylorMade executive John Kawaja and then former Titleist executive Chris McGinley. This past summer, Honma identified former Bridgestone Golf executive Janeann Lanning as its new North American chief.
The Honma Golf go-to-market strategy has been a constant of change as well. It has evolved from an all-out assault on retail to a more boutique, mobile-fitting van approach. Under Lanning’s leadership, it shows more varies are in the works.
Honma Golf: Strange Fascination
Honma is a family name. The Honma brothers–Yukihiro and Hiro–first opened their Tsuruni Golf Center in Yokohama in 1959. It was part driving assortment, part golf-club repair center, and it was the Honma brothers’ firm belief that making a golf club is an art form. By 1963, the brothers introduced their firstly Honma-branded golf-club. In 1973, Honma introduced its first graphite-shafted wood and, later in the activities of the decade, added Honma-branded apparel.
In the ’8 0s, Honma set up shop in Sakata on Japan’s west coast about 300 miles north of Tokyo and these votes in quickly became the city’s largest bos. A historical dainty: Lee Trevino utilized Honma persimmon woods to win his last-place major, the 1984 PGA.
Like most of Japan’s golf industry, Honma prospered during the course of its’ 80 s and the first part of the’ 90 s. That’s when Japan’s economy turned south. Honma limped along but, by 2005, it was forced to file for bankruptcy protection. In 2010, a white knight, a Chinese group called Marlion Holdings, bought Honma and started the company along the road to recovery.
As with most companies, the pandemic reach Honma right in the top path last year. Its fiscal year ends March 31 and, while most recently completed fiscal year 2020/2021 ended with top-line marketings down, the company did manage to turn a $16 -million gain on virtually $204 million in sales, a welcome turnaround from the previous year’s$ 6-million loss.
Honma Golf and The americas: Ch-Ch-Changes
Since 2015, Honma North America has moved in more directions than Rand McNally.
“It’s a bazaar description, ” says Honma North American Sales Director Ryan Sawyer. “I’ve been here 2 1/2 years and we’ve emphatically taken a few different routes. We’re trying to find ways to be creative and find ways for the brand to be successful.”
Go back in our archives and you’ll find story after story on Japanese labels trying to “figure out North America.”For Honma, figuring out North America has been like video games of Chute and Ladders. Mark King joined the team in 2018 as a strategic advisor, reporting directly to Honma Chairman Liu Jianguo. Less than a year later, King inexplicably became Taco Bell’s CEO.
Next man up was Kawaja and things certainly seemed to be moving in the right direction. Honma signed Justin Rose to a big sponsorship deal, opened a brand-new headquarters in Carlsbad and established a U.S.-based layout team to create products specifically for The americas. Honma likewise proved a nationwide fleet of mobile fitting vans designed to bring the entire product line immediately to you, the golfer, to experience and buy.
It was all systems go for Honma. Until it wasn’t.
The Rose deal travelled south in just over a year. Then the pandemic reach. Kawaja left, as did his successor McGinley, and the U.S.-based intend team was disbanded.
“The U.S. squad has shrivel a little bit, ” says Sawyer. “We’ve moved some things back to Asia. They’ve helped us forecast better so we know what products are selling here so we can move forward and be a good and profitable company.”
So, once again, there’s a brand-new guidance for Honma. And that direction appears to be Beres-heavy.
Beres Takes Center Stage
“Beres is more than half our business in The americas, ” says Sawyer. “We kind of own the market at certain cost phases and it’s where we’ve decided to put a lot of our vigour for time being.”
Beres is all about lightweight luxury designed for low to medium swaying speeding musicians with very deep pockets. Pricing for a Beres driver can range from a low-pitched point of $850 for a 2-Star driver all the way up to $ 4,500 for a 5-Star motorist.
“PXG or XXIO might not be for everybody, based on price point, ” says Sawyer. “But Beres really isn’t for everybody. If you’re a high swing speed player or a single-digit disable, it shouldn’t offend you that we make a $ 70,000 decide of golf clubs because those golf clubs aren’t designed for you anyways.”
Who is Beres for? If you drive a Maserati, Aston Martin or Lamborghini, swing your motorist no more than 90 mph and genuinely dig gold, Beres is for you.
“I can see how it would offend people because of the price, ” says Sawyer,” but at the end of the day, it’s not for everybody. And that’s just fine.”
Beres does come at different price phases depending on the degree of 24 -carat gold and super high-tech shaft substances you’re willing to pony up for. The 2-Star is ironically considered “entry-level” by Beres( it did finish third in this year’s Most Wanted Super Game Improvement Iron testing ), and the line goes up to 3-, 4- and 5-Star levels.
“The 2-Star might be compared to an -AClass Mercedes, ” says Sawyer. “We have comps to C-Class and E-Class and the 5-Star Beres is like the Mercedes Maybach edition.”
A bagful of Beres 2-Star comes in at merely over $6,000 while the 5-Star, as referred to, can run as high-pitched as $70,000.
Yeah, $70,000 for a established of golf clubs. Clearly, at that cost, it isn’t just about golf.
And if you’re ready to scream something along the lines of Who the hell is going to pay $ 70,000 for a determined of golf clubs ?, don’t bother. Here i am, dear reader, a market. Not a big one, head you. But then again, it doesn’t have to be.
“We could sell 20 situateds a year of the 5-Star grade and do pretty well, ” says Sawyer. “But for how big-hearted “the two countries ” is, that’s 20 people who want to play our product.”
Given the size of North America, it’s easy to imagine Honma doubling or tripling that number.
And why pursue it? A little math might be helpful. Twenty 5-Star decides at $70,000 a pop is $1.4 million in marketings while 60 situateds if $4.2 million. Any guesses on how many T // World GS or TR20 cast-irons Honma would have to sell to construct the same margins? The answer: A lot more than they have been.
Want more math? Although Honma’s more mainstream wedges, cast-irons and drivers has already been rated very highly in MyGolfSpy Most Wanted testing, the company still is still in challenger label limbo.
“If you look at any major OEM, they have anywhere from 38 to 65 sales reps on the road, ” says Sawyer. “We have 10. We can’t touch as many clients. And, frankly, a lot of retailers don’t want to take on a new brand if they haven’t heard about it or haven’t read about it because not everyone is online researching product.”
Honma’s most recent annual report for the fiscal year that aimed last March depicts North American sales at $8.2 million with pre-COVID sales the previous year of just over $11 million. North American marketings account for just 4 percent of Honma’s total revenue.
Honma’s Fitting Vans
One of Honma’s more innovative initiatives was its nationwide fleet of mobile fitting vans. In the months before COVID, Honma was on its way to rolling out as many as 14 of these amply equipped fitting centers on wheels. The program was to bring the fitting to you.
“Like everybody else, we had to adjust during COVID, ” says Sawyer. “We had to work more closely with off-course retailers, strategic reports and brand-agnostic fitters.”
Honma’s vans are manned by what Sawyer calls the” New Age sales rep “: One duty captain fitter and one part salesperson.
“We have a guy in New York/ New Jersey who simply kills it, ” he says. “If you think about a map, everywhere where there’s a seashore we do really well. It’s the middle areas of the country that never truly took off.”
Honma has eight fitting vans and two trailers on the road. Additionally, Honma’s annual report indicates the company will support a more direct-to-consumer model. The report also indicates Honma products involved in 83 retail spots in North America.
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A Rose is a Rose
One cannot discuss Honma without bringing up L’affaire Rose. Honma signed Rose to a big sponsorship deal with Rose having significant input in product design. He then used to go and won his second start with Honma in the bag. A year later, it all fell apart.
“It definitely got us some negative press, ” says Sawyer. “But I don’t think it hurt us as far as where we were headed in that segment versus where we are now. We’re selling about the same amount of irons now as we were before. So it genuinely didn’t affect us too much.”
And while many golfers insist they’re not would be affected by who uses what equipment on Tour, just as many consider Tour usage as validation of a product’s performance. Without a Tour presence, Honma has to validate the old-fashioned way: one golfer at a time.
“Everybody that tries our product concurs it’s a great product, ” says Sawyer. “If you’re a golfer, there’s no way you could hit it and not agree it’s a great product. It’s only a matter of how well we can tell that narrative when everybody makes a great product”
And therein lies the conundrum that is challenger brand limbo. The Big Five dominate the market, leaving precious little shelf space and bandwidth for anything else, regardless of how good it is.
“We’re a product corporation , not a marketing company, ” says Sawyer. “I wish we had the marketing budget of the other people but that’s not current realities. But our product? It’s always going to be good. It always has been.”
The China Connection
Honma’s tradition is Japanese but its ownership is Chinese. While plenty of Honma product is handcrafted in Japan, the company’s managers are made in China. All of the beforehand designing is done in Sakata as is the grinding, finishing touch and, for Beres, amber plating. Honma’s high-quality Vizard shafts as well as the even higher-end Beres shafts are hand-rolled in Sakata.
Some think the fact Honma’s forgings are not done in Japan somehow delegitimizes Honma’s Japanese heritage. In reality, it’s merely the way business is in 2021. And it’s essentially no different than a club being designed in Carlsbad and made in China.
“Production is in China. The people who intend our product and get it ready to go are in Japan, ” says Sawyer. “I imagine a lot of people do it the same way but Japanese corporations tend to be viewed a little differently.”
Honma Golf: Where To in ’2 2?
“It’s been a tough 16 months and we’re not out of the woods yet, ” declares Sawyer.” We still have work to do to get our product in golfers’ hands. We have a team out there doing that every day and we’ll be out there today, tomorrow and the next day.”
If you talk with anyone from any of the challenger labels, it’s a common sentiment. The ever-evolving strategy and leadership tango notwithstanding, Honma, as the song says, is quite aware of what they’re going through.
“Regardless of who’s managing the company and regardless of strategy, the product doesn’t change, ” says Sawyer. “Honma is a product company and our craftsmen are going to continue to make an incredible product, regardless of who’s managing the Honma U.S. business.”
The Big Five marketing machines principle the golf world. That’s a given. And it presents a two-fold challenge for labels such as Honma, Srixon, Wilson Staff and the direct-to-consumer corporations. First is getting golfers to try their material. Second, it’s getting golfers to trust what they’re experiencing. Golfers might get better launch monitor amounts with a smaller brand but the Big Five still represent the safe choice.
“If golfers are interested in trying product that has stood the test of period, there’s no impairment nor fouled in dedicate it a shot, ” says Sawyer. “The reality is Honma is a big brand, simply not in North America. For us, success is someone simply telling a friend about our product, making the product and liking the product.
“Golfers know. You just grab a fraternity and you just know.”
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