And, we don’t mind saying, we’re damn good at it.
In 2013, our work with Club Car once again gained momentum, centering on a series of innovations the golf car company was planning. We prepared a document outlining the communications we proposed and recommended that might support the imminent innovation period. Here’s the opening paragraph:
Over the next several years, Club Car will strike a period of innovation not seen before in golf car and golf utility history—not even in our own history in working with the company. It is no overstatement to say that the coming rollout of new products and programs will represent a greater achievement than in any earlier period of innovation, even the days of the PowerDrive System 48™, the Tranquility™ gas powertrain, the ArmorFlex® body and other seminal improvements that helped Club Car become the industry‘s leader in the 1990s. In fact the upcoming series may even have a greater real impact on golf courses’ operations and performance.
It’s impossible to separate 54’s history from Club Car. Our relationship with this client, now entering its third decade, has paralleled some of the most impressive leaps in the golf car industry. It not only made Club Car the market leader, it also helped build our reputation as the most experienced and accomplished marketing resource in the golf business.
At their introduction in the 1950s, golf car(t)s were a convenience, a transportation aid for those who couldn’t—or didn’t want to—walk the golf course. They were also the latest luxury introduced to a game considered by many as elite. Three wheels, steered by a tiller, powered by a gasoline engine ... they must have resembled the first automobiles driving down unpaved paths.
As a surging popularity began to grow the game in the 1960s, fueled by “The King” (Arnold Palmer), a president (John F. Kennedy) and televised tournament coverage, more people wanted to play and golf cars (now with four wheels and no “t”) became more prevalent. Choice of brand wasn't important; transportation around the golf course was a commodity. But soon the financial importance of golf cars to golf facilities was very important. Golf operators purchased or leased their fleets based on price and relationships, satisfied as long as the vehicles held two bags and two butts for two golfers.
By the 1970s and 1980s golf had grown considerably, more courses were built ... and the golf car business came down to two primary and very competitive manufacturers, E-Z-GO and Club Car, both located in Augusta, Georgia.
The typical golf course covers its golf car expense in two rounds. That is, the lease cost for the month is paid by the typical rental fee charged to two golfers over two rounds. And the typical lease term is approximately 36 to 48 months.
By the mid-1990s, however, Club Car was introducing a number of improvements that would turn a commodity business into something else entirely.
The PowerDrive System 48™ was an electric golf car powertrain with a 48-volt system, replacing the industry standard of 36-volts. More efficient charging, more power to climb hills. It made the need to have gas golf cars a thing of the past.
An ArmorFlex® shell, featuring molded-in color and a virtually dent resistant body offered another significant improvement.
The Tranquility™ powertrain was the quietest gas car on the market. The PowerDrive electric golf car negated the need for gas power when climbing hills. But some facilities weren’t set up to store and recharge a fleet of electrics. Tranquility provided another option, so now gas didn’t mean dirty and loud.
The flurry of innovation activity in the mid-1990s helped Club Car become the leading transportation provider in the golf category. But they weren’t finished.
In 2004, the company raised the bar even higher with an all-new, from-the-ground-up golf car, aptly named the “Precedent.”
From 2004 to 2009, Precedent® carried Club Car to market dominance. During the same time, several technology companies were selling add-on GPS products to golf courses. Club Car saw the opportunity to invest in the fragmented industry while, at the same time, building in an instant product differentiator–Visage™, golf’s first Mobile Information System. Much more than a GPS, Visage technology offered courses a suite of management and marketing technology products.
Fast forward to 2013. Club Car embarked on another wave of innovation, taking the golf car to a new level of comfort, including golfer and operator convenience with the function of a mobile information system.
Golf had never seen anything like it. Cloud-based, Connected™ technology integrated into a golf car that allows course operators to manage and track their fleets, safeguard their cars and property from vandalism, accidents and theft, and communicate and market to their customers on-course. It’s an innovation leap that created huge separation between Club Car and its competitors.
However, it did pose a challenge. The golf space isn’t known for its tech savvy. Our marketing communications had to bring the technology down to earth, simplify it and help course operators see themselves thriving with it.
As the technology found its way into the market, we let those who were succeeding with it tell the story. We reached out with an ambitious direct mail campaign: a series of smart, informative mailings to grab attention, educate and intrigue. We tempted our market with an incentive to share data to help us understand their needs and challenges, and thereby craft our messages to resonate more meaningfully.
Results have been outstanding. Thirty percent of recipients are visiting a landing page and completing a survey. Competitive and at-risk accounts are signing when they may not have before. Club Car is using Big Data—just as course partners with Connected™ technology can—to provide a more tailored, informed experience to their customers.
For us and for Club Car, we never stop looking ahead. Market share leadership was yesterday’s target. Today—and tomorrow—Club Car and 54 are focused on helping every golf operation reap the benefits of partnering with the best. We’ve even adopted our own moonshot for the company’s golf business:
“Fulfill the transportation needs of every golf course on the planet.”
An ambitious goal? You bet it is. But considering that Club Car changed how the entire golf world thought about golf cars, 54 is totally committed to helping them get there.