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Seven Questions with Thomas Yang, Callaway Senior VP – International

The Gearhead recently had an e-mail exchange with Thomas Yang, Callaway’s SVP in charge of international markets, including Canada. Yang, who joined Callaway in 2006 after stints with Starbucks and Coke, talks about the state of the market, Callaway’s key products and why he has a difficult time picking his fave fear from the company’s stock rooms.

Thomas Yang: Callaway's International Gear Man

Thomas Yang: Callaway's International Gear Man

1) What are the key products for Callaway this year and why?

I believe that in 2009 this is the strongest product line-up that Callaway has ever produced so it is a little difficult to answer that. Certainly this year drivers are a key product area for us with the release of the Diablo, FT-9, and FT-iQ. The FT-iQ is the longest and straightest driver we have ever made while the FT-9 has had gained overwhelming acceptance on tour and generated lots of buzz in the shops across Canada and around the world, the Diablo is the best all-titanium driver out there. On the irons side we released the next generation of the most popular iron franchise in the world, the X-22s. We have also made great strides with our ball over the last number of years; the tour i is the fastest growing ball on tour and we expect it to continue its success. And of course we cant forget Odyssey, which continues to be a large part of our business and maintains its status as the #1 putter in golf, something we are very proud of.   

 2) Customization and personalization seem to be strong industry buzz terms these days. Is this a fad or is it here to stay?

 
Customization is here to stay; it improves performance and gives golfers more confidence on the course. I always think of it like a suit, why someone would buy a suit off the rack in a department store when they can have one tailored to their measurements for the same price.

And custom fitting has never been more accessible. For example, here in Canada we have five Callaway Golf Performance Centres that provide tour-level custom fitting to our customers; two here in Toronto and one in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver respectively. In addition, in 2009 we will have two tour fit vans, one in the east and one in the west that will bring the Performance Centre experience to courses across the country. Callaway was founded on the principle of making every golfer a better golfer, and custom fitting is part of that philosophy.    

3) Is the square driver part of a trend or will it disappear?

 

It is difficult for me to answer that because we never really developed a driver to be square. What we really did was work to develop a driver that would go straighter and longer; and physics dictated that the shape to achieve this was square. At Callaway we spend the most money of any of our competitors on R&D and we dont know if our quest for innovation will dictate a square shape or not in the future, it will really be up to physics and technology to decide that.    

4) You have a background in consumer products. How difficult was the move to golf?

It was not that difficult, but I made sure to be cognizant of the nuances of the industry.  The fascinating thing about golf is that it has both consumerable goods, goods such as balls and gloves that have very high turnovers; and hard goods, things likes sets of clubs which have a much longer purchase cycle.

But regardless of the industry you are in, or the types of goods you sell, the basic principles of marketing and growing your brand still apply. Also, there is a stronger need to understand the golfers and then apply the right principles to help them realize their needs and desires.

 
5) What could golf companies learn from some of the previous businesses youve worked with (Coke, Starbucks, etc.)?
 

Golf is a very traditional industry where business relationships play a critical role. I believe the business however, is becoming more consumer centric. What I mean by that is, it is becoming more focused on what the golfing public, the people that purchase our product, need and want.  So, to be successful longer term, we need to be able to bring what the golfers want instead of providing them with what we think they need.

Relationships will always be important, but I also believe that an even more professional approach to the business, customers, consumers, associations and other stakeholders is key to business success in the longer term.  

6) At a recent lunch I attended, TaylorMades Mark King talked about industry consolidation given the economic climate. Whats your take?
 

As we have seen in other industries, in tough economic times such as we are experiencing right now, consolidation will occur.  Retailers, manufacturers, the service sector, times such as these will shake up any industry and weed out the weak.  The fundamentally well managed and operated businesses and companies will come out stronger.

Also, during tough times, people will choose the brands they trust, brands they are confident in, brands that they know will deliver on what they promise, brands like Callaway. 

7) What are you carrying in your bag?

With all my travel I do not have a chance to get out and play as much as I would like. But when I do, I am playing either FT-9 or FT-iQ depending on how I feel that day in terms of my confidence in my swing to keep the ball straight or not.  For those same reasons I look for forgiveness in my irons and play the X-series. I just recently traded in my X-20s for its next generation, the X-22s, I can hardly wait to test them out. For putter, I really prefer the visual look and balance of a blade, and for that reason play the Odyssey Black Series #1.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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