Interview – Edouard Desrousseaux: “At FootJoy the products are king, innovating to meet the needs of the best golfers”

March 17, 2021 – With the introduction of the new Premiere Series and HyperFlex collections at the beginning of the 2021 season, FootJoy has once again revolutionized the market, demonstrating why it is the No.1 in golf footwear. In addition, it is No.1 in golf gloves, and we see the garments with its FJ logo on all golf courses around the world. A brand of continued success that, together with Titleist within the Acushnet group, celebrates 75 years as the most used golf shoe brand by Tour pros, in addition to the FJ Pro / SL model as the No. 1 Tour shoe and best seller of 2020.

The year of the Covid-19 pandemic has been especially difficult for the entire golf industry, but FootJoy has not only overcome it efficiently, but has been able to adapt and come out with more energy. In 2021 it is launching a new generation of excellent products, maintaining its strong roots on Tour, and developing a wise commercial strategy capable of adapting to the quick changes in the market, looking ahead to another season of world leadership.

Its message is very well defined: “Our mission: To deliver leading design and golf-authentic innovation that inspires crazy love for FootJoy and the game of golf.”

To discover the reality and exciting expectations of FootJoy for 2021 we interviewed Edouard Desrousseaux, who has been working for Acushnet for more than 26 years, and he is the current Brand Manager of FootJoyfor the Southern European markets, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

MYGOLFWAY: How has FootJoy experienced the year of the pandemic?

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: 2020 was an exceptional year for all brands in the golf industry. For FootJoy it was special because in January and February we started very strong, growing a lot compared with the previous year, so we thought it was going to be a great year. But with the pandemic crisis in March, most continental European countries were in lockdown with many restrictions and it was a catastrophe. Then, in May and June the lockdown ended and we experienced a big momentum for the brand. We experienced a high demand and started a great recovery until Christmas, even though in the last quarter of the year we had some difficulties again in some countries, affected by the 2nd wave of Covid-19.

Over all it was a very challenging year. We had to adapt and as a brand, worldwide, FootJoy finished 2020 at 8% behind the 2019, which is actually a very strong performance. If we had been asked in March, in the peak of the crisis, what the year was going to be like, we would never have thought of finishing so well. It was a difficult year, as we went through cancelations of orders, and reduced manufacturing so we didn’t get overloaded with stock, but in general it was very solid. Also the high demand at the end of the year made it challenging at the beginning of 2021 to meet all the orders, like all the brands in the market.

In summary, in 2020 FootJoy performed very solidly in a very exceptional context, in which we have also made sure that all our employees and partners were safe and healthy, and we are very proud of how we have come through.

MGW: Being the No. 1 brand in golf shoes and gloves, and seeing that the competitors are always trying to catch up, what is FootJoy doing to stay as the market leader? 

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: At FootJoy products are king. Everything starts with and centres on the products. We are a performance-driven company, so we always put great emphasis on leading innovation in all the categories that we work in: footwear, gloves, apparel, socks, headwear… and our vision is to become and remains the No. 1 brand in golf wearables. Everything a golfer can wear, we make!

In terms of equipment, you play with Titleist and you wear FootJoy. In other words, the two brands, which belong to the Acushnet group, are very complementary. And in all product categories in which we operate, we try to meet the consumer’s needs. All our innovation comes from listening what the better player needs, and we develop the best equipment for them.

Our products come first, and after that we partner with the retailers. We get involved with the stores, whether they are from the green-grass channel, specialized golf stores, but also now we have the online channel, direct to the consumer with our own website. In June we plan to launch, to sell also in markets outside the main markets in Europe. We now have our own websites in France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and in June we will open up for Spanish, Italian, Portuguese consumers… all the other countries where we do not sell directly yet.

The year 2020 has shown us a big demand from consumers to buy online, and even though the traditional retailers will remain as our main channel of distribution, we also need to address the online consumer. This also allows us to control the message we want to communicate with the consumer, displaying the best consumer experience through that channel.

Sometimes retailers can see this as a big competitor, but it shouldn’t be like that. We have already been through this in France, and actually the website has become a great window to communicate the brand’s products to the consumer, who then decides where he wants to buy it. But we always take the retail environment as fundamental because it will never disappear, and we will continue to work hand in hand with retailers as our main partners. Currently our direct-to-consumer online channel represents only 5% of our total turnover, which means that we are still selling 95% of our products through the traditional retail channel, on and off course.

To keep our leadership, we put a big emphasis on product performance, leading innovation, and also bringing our products to marketplace in the best possible way we can. That means strong merchandising, strong marketing campaigns, and a strong consumer connection, listening to them and knowing their insights and needs. We develop products to respond to their demand.

MGW: What are the most exciting novelties from FootJoy in 2021? 

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: We have already made very important launches this year. Specially in footwear, with the new categories of Premiere Series and HyperFlex. The Premiere Series is a classic shoe made modern for the golfer looking for a very traditional upper style. Meanwhile, the HyperFlex is attending the athletic golfer looking for a sportier style. Both shoes are cleated (although the Premiere Series has a spikeless shoe, the Flint), because we believe that stronger stability is demanded in these categories.

The HyperFlex has actually been developed with the contributions of the Spanish golfer Rafa Cabrera Bello, one of our great ambassadors, who requires a very stable shoe and looks for an athletic upper with great comfort, and it has the BOA technology.

In gloves we also have a new model, called HyperFLEX, which combines synthetic material and leather. And of course, every year we have a new range of Spring-Summer apparel. Next September we will also launch the Fall collection, with the new outerwear range based on Hydro-Series, where we will have three categories with the Hydro-Tour, the Hydro-Knit and the Hydro-Lite jackets.

Remember that in apparel we offer the layering system, covering the base layer, midlayer and outer layer, and for each layer we want to make sure that our pieces make playable every day of the year. That’s our goal, ‘Make every day playable’. We want to make sure that the golfer can find in our offering the right piece of clothing for any weather conditions.

MGW: Going back to FootJoy footwear, what are the most important factors when it comes to product design? 

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: Before designing the mold, the designer always works on the feedback we receive from the marketplace, about the needs of the consumer. We regularly connect with the golfer to know what he is looking for, what better players are missing to improve their daily performance. For the pros on Tour, playing golf is their job, so for them it is very important, as the small details makes the difference.

The amateur golfer tends to forget that the golf footwear is the only piece of equipment that is connected to the ground. Too often golfers buy golf shoes without taking into consideration this very important aspect. Some people need very high stability, others need very high flexibility, and others a lot of movement. So it is very important that the golfer knows which type of golf footwear he needs.

If he requires strong stability, he will probably use cleated shoes, that will provide him a lot of traction. Another people who need less stability and more movement will probably do well with less traction elements and will benefit from a spikeless outsole, and also from a very flexible upper, not of leather but made of mesh or synthetic material.

In the last 10 years we have seen a big trend towards spikeless shoes, due to their versatility, as you can wear them from home, go to the golf club, play the course and then come back with them on. It is an important trend that came from the consumers. But also, the golfer cannot forget about stability, flexibility, comfort and durability when buying footwear.

In this sense, it is important to note that when at FootJoy we do market studies, we discovered that the price in golf footwear is only the fifth factor in the purchase decision. There are more important factors like comfort, breathability, waterproof, durability, stability, design… It is important because sometimes retailers and consumers, when they see our categories full of features and benefits, think they are too premium or a bit expensive. However, if the shoe meets the demand, the pricing comes after in the consumer’s mind.

MGW: Then in terms of pricing, what are we talking about? 

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: We have to address all types of golfers, and all types of budgets as well. So, we have shoes retailing from 99€ to 269€. Making a break here to speak about apparel, in our rainwear we have jackets going from 199€ to 349€, and there are golfers who find it expensive to spend on something of value, but they forget that a jacket to go skiing can cost 500€, and that with the same performance features.

MGW: How would you describe the new FootJoy 2021 footwear collection? 

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: We are the No. 1 in golf footwear, so naturally in shoes we have a huge range and we produce the biggest launches of products in the industry, because we try to meet all consumer needs. And we are working well in advance, as we normally spend two years to create a new category and six months to manufacture before we commercialize it.

We cover each segment of the golf population, men, women, juniors, and in each category we offer a mix of spikeless, a mix of cleated shoes, and a mix with leather upper in the premium type of shoes, but also mesh uppers in the synthetic type of shoes. This brings us close to 80 different styles. Then of course we also have our MyJoys program, which allows you to customize your pair of shoes, and here you have millions of combinations. In mid-March we have already added the Premiere Series to the MyJoys program.

MGW: From the Tour pros testing the new products, to their arrival in the golf shops, where FootJoy beats all its competitors is in marketing strategy. How does it get to be so successful? 

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: When we decide to put a new product on the market, we always go through the Tour validation beforehand. Players are the first to wear the products because they are also the first to put them to test the product, before arriving to the retailers. Their feedback sometimes allows us to make some small adjustments before going on to manufacturing to produce the high volume.

But yes, it is true, when players test them, they generally generate a lot of interest among amateurs, and nowadays the social media spread them very easily and very fast. From there, we address the general consumer a bit later, just because of the production capacity. It is a process that is reducing a lot, because the consumer requests the new products much more frequently than before.

In the past we had our product launches in January, taking place at the PGA Show, but that’s no longer the case. Now we have solid launches all through the year. We also have what we call ‘Energy Moments’, with launching of new products on special occasions such as the Majors, like Masters, US Open, US PGA Championship, British Open… This year we have a full calendar of energy initiatives that might be a collaboration with a big name, a company from outside the golf industry, a designer, limited editions or customizations products like the MyJoys program.

And we will see this more and more, because the market is requesting it. Everything goes fast and people want new stuff faster than before. Every brand in the golf industry does that, and it is happening in other industries.

MGW: Another highlight is FootJoy’s strong presence in golf shots. How does the brand support its retail partners?

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: When they make out an order to us, they are not only buying shoes. They also receive a complete pack of merchandising solutions and displays, in which we have invested to optimize them at retail, and in point of sales items.

We also offer them a great service: we have b2b, a website from which they can place orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So, a golf shop on a course can do it on a Sunday, look at the availability of our stock, and place an order directly. We also offer marketing assets and product training for the sales persons, and our dedicated sales force exclusively for FootJoy.

MGW: To finish, what tips would you give retailers to improve FootJoy sales in their shops in 2021?

EDOUARD DESROUSSEAUX: The tip I could say to the retailers is to realize that the retail environment is changing, and the consumer is very much aware of everything that refers to the brand he likes. I like to say that the consumer shops online, but buy offline. That is, he is fully aware online of what he wants to buy, and most of the time he will buy offline. The retailers, in order to keep going, need to create an original consumer experience, to propose something else to the consumer than just selling products on the shelf.

For example, to get involved in the big launches of the leading brands… and to generate experiences for customers to create consumer demand for new products. Because if not, they may be forcing the consumer to buy online. On the other hand, if they find the product in retailing, it will not make sense to buy it online. I’d also like to say that golf stores are like toy stores for adults, and so it is a good opportunity to take advantage.

Por Miguel Angel Buil