Tim Clarke has been president of Wilson Sporting Goods' Golf Division, based in Chicago, Il., since 2006. He moved into the role from the position of vice president and general manager of the company's Global Golf Division, and prior to that served in a variety key sales posts. He is in his 16th year with Wilson, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year. Golfing Magazine chatted with Clarke recently about the state of the golf industry.
GM: How did Wilson Golf fare in 2012?
TC: We had a strong year, with our U.S sales up 22 percent, which marked the third year of substantial growth in the U.S. We are still the number four iron market share-wise in Europe, but there were some challenges there as our growth was up only five percent. I believe our improvement in the U.S. market can be attributed to our investment in advertising, adding Tour players and gaining higher visibility on television, especially the Golf Channel. In Europe, while our share continues to grow, business is slower and it's related to the economy in countries like Spain, Italy and to some extent the U.K.
GM: How is Wilson approaching the 2013 marketplace?
TC: The new year will be all about our D-100 product launch and about lightweight clubs and distance. The D-100 line of irons will be our lightest ever, and our R and D staff has done a great job combining this lighter weight and playability characteristics into the new line. We'll have a slight increase in advertising and Tour presence. We view slow and steady as the way to play the golf equipment game.
GM: Do you see new consumer/retailer trends developing?
TC: We've seen OEM consolidation and when you look at the lineup of brands and what is left out there I don't see any companies being absorbed into larger ones. We've seen a lot of the middle and lower tier retailers being bought up by the large off-course sellers, like Edwin Watts and Dick's. The one aspect of the retail industry that I'm very interested in is the emergence of the PGA Tour superstores. They are expanding and it's a wonderful way to introduce new players to the game and entertain and inform the consumer at the same time.
GM: Is there anything troubling you about the golf equipment industry?
TC: Well, I'm looking closely at the effects of the USGA and R and D rulings on putters and how that will play down to the consumer and recreational golfer. There is a certain disconnect sometimes with the governing bodies of the game and the recreational golfer, who is maybe a 12 or 15 handicapper and is trying to have more fun playing the game. We saw it with the rules on grooves, where scoring averages on Tour actually went down and the average player is having trouble spinning his golf ball like he did with the old grooves.
GM: Do you feel positive about 2013?
TC: We are cautiously optimistic but the biggest concern from a U.S. perspective is always the weather. We had an increase in rounds played in 2012 but we had a very early spring and then it was non-stop throughout the summer and into fall. Really, this industry is all about spring weather. Every year that I have been at Wilson where we have an early and sustained spring, good summers and an Indian summer, sales increase. When we have a late spring we are chasing sales the rest of the year. I don't see a strong recovery in the marketplace but I do see more consistency.