One of the great things about working at a consulting office is the chance to work on a wide variety of products.  While medical and bio-tech companies make up a sizable portion of our clientele, we also design household items, fitness equipment and sporting goods.  So last week we attended the PGA’s annual Merchandise show in Orlando to check in on the state of the art in the golf equipment industry.

Here are a few of our takeaways from this year’s show:

DIAL IT IN – One of the biggest trends to emerge over the last several years in retail is product customization: optional settings or add-ons that allow consumers to make the products they choose more unique, and therefore more personal.  Golf equipment is no exception; it is virtually impossible now to find drivers (or recently fairway woods and irons) that don’t have adjustable loft or movable weights.  For putters, removable/adjustable perimeter weighting is nothing new, but this year we saw flat sticks with adjustable loft & lie, adjustable counterbalance, even putters that can change shape.  As the industry, and increasingly the average golfer, embraces the idea that custom fitting actually can improve your game, expect to see this trend continue and evolve over the coming years.

DESIGN FOR THE 1% – Anyone who has been following the golf industry recently has witnessed a renaissance of hand-made, one-of-a-kind putters and wedges.  Several of these custom shops had (very crowded) booths at this year’s show displaying a wide array of custom finishes, shapes, detailing, and materials not available from mass-market OEMs.  In a market that by all accounts has seen better days, it is interesting to note that made-to-order clubs are very expensive and affordable only to the well-off golfer or avid collector.  But just as the latest technology in today’s Mercedes Benz eventually shows up in your Toyota, mass-market golf companies will need to find ways to satisfy the custom-hungry consumer as the expectation of quality continues to rise.

COLOR IS BLEEDING IN – In a sport with a history of bright clothing and loud prints, golf equipment has stayed surprisingly drab.  With a few exceptions, color and detailing is typically limited to the sole or back side of the club where it can’t be seen by the player.  However, if this year’s show is any indication, the conservative hold on color may be waning with more club heads, golf balls, and even shafts available in bright hues and contrasting materials.

LOOKING UP? – The golf industry was hit particularly hard by the recession, and many feel that it may never fully recover.  Yet there are reasons to be hopeful.  According to unofficial accounts from the most affordable seo services, this year’s show attendance was one of the best on record.  And a growing US economy means more expendable income for greens fees and new equipment.

Like living things in an ecosystem, businesses in a stressed environment must evolve or risk extinction.  Perhaps the biggest lesson from the show is that many companies, big and small, are embracing design and innovation as the way to survive, which actually makes this an exciting time for the golf industry.  Personally, I can’t wait to see what’s next. – JV