Relatively new to the U.S. golf equipment market, Bridgestone has established quite a bit of buzz and excitement among the most ardent gear heads. Following a recent in-house presentation of the upcoming J40 line of clubs, I had the chance to dig a little deeper with Bridgestone's Golf Club Marketing Manager, Corey Consuegra.
Metro: Bridgestone has made its mark in the industry by focusing on fitting golfers into the right ball. How will that translate into equipment and will custom fitting be a key part of your strategy?
Corey Consuegra: Custom fitting will be an important part of our J40 club strategy. Our new Club Hub strategy will focus on making the full J40 line available at retailers that offer extensive custom fitting programs and designated areas for testing the equipment. In addition, our trained ball-fitting technicians will be able to help consumers find the right clubs for their game at any of our 3,400 Bridgestone Ball Fitting Challenge events scheduled for 2012.
Metro: What is the equipment market Bridgestone is going after? Is there a specific type of player you have in mind when you think of a Bridgestone golfer?
CC: We’re looking for serious golfers who want to separate themselves from their playing partners. They don’t just default to specific brands or products because that is what everyone else is playing. They are knowledgeable, passionate, and go the extra mile to make sure they have the best clubs for their game. In terms of skill level, anyone from a TOUR professional to your mid-high handicappers (16 and under) will likely find the J40 line can benefit their game.
Metro: With many manufacturers trying to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, what are the benefits to honing in on a specific segment of the golfing public? If it is the better player you're seeking to appeal to, was it a difficult decision not to include a traditional muscleback blade in the J40 line?
CC: We welcome golfers of all skill levels to test the Bridgestone J40 equipment, but we definitely feel we will appeal more to the serious player who appreciates a classic look and premium feel over maximum forgiveness. While we do feel that some serious players still like a muscleback, the trend among even the best players in the world is to go to something with a bit more forgiveness, like a player’s cavity iron. I wouldn’t say it was a difficult decision because we believe that our player’s cavity product delivers on the precision and forged feel of a muscleback, without the harsher mis-hits.
Metro: Of the J40 line, which product do you expect to turn the most heads? From my perspective, the cavity back irons and the wedges really stand out, but the drivers are especially intriguing. Can you predict the big "hit" of this line?
CC: It is difficult to ever predict what will be the “big hit,” but the early returns on the J40 Cavity Back irons have been phenomenal. Overall, this J40 line has generated more buzz than any other line of Bridgestone Golf clubs here in the U.S.
Metro: How hard is it to compete throughout the entire line when there are such giants in the industry in each specialized area? I'm thinking, for example, of TaylorMade drivers, Adams hybrids, Vokey and Cleveland wedges, etc. As you've had success carving out a spot as the top alternative to the golf ball gorilla, can you see a spot where Bridgestone equipment can gain most traction? Or is not even the goal on the equipment side?
CC: No doubt that the club market is crowded. Bridgestone’s iron forgings are second to none, and our iron designs are some of the most beautiful out there. That, coupled with some pretty cool technology, leads us to believe that we can really make our mark in the premium forged iron segment of the market. Our goal is to create a niche for ourselves in the better player product category, recognizing that we’re not looking to compete with the likes of Taylor Made and Callaway, at least not right now.
Metro: On the J40 line itself, without turning this into a product spec sheet, what is the key development, product by product?
CC: • J40 Cavity Back Irons — unique v-cut cavity design that places more mass higher on the clubface for a higher center of gravity, resulting in a more controllable, penetrating ball-flight and a tapered 4-point sole-design for more versatility in shot making, allowing players to "work the ball" and more easily control trajectory.
• J40 Dual Pocket Cavity Irons — revamped dual pocket cavity that provides increased Tour Stability by moving more discretionary weight to the perimeter, creating even higher MOI than the previous version and improved leading edge relief to help prevent digging in softer conditions
• J40 Drivers and Fairway Woods — Bridgestone’s proprietary Variable Face Thickness Design providing increased mass on the face towards the heel and toe of the club for higher ball speed on off-center hits.
• J40 Wedges — Variable Bounce Technology in the sole for precise shot execution from a variety of turf conditions. In addition, all wedges come standard with Tour-proven Dynamic Gold™ Spinner shafts for increased spin performance.
• J40 Hybrids — blade-like masking that increases visible face area for more confidence at address and an easier transition from irons to hybrids throughout the round.
Metro: Earlier editions of Bridgestone irons, specifically the J33s are as highly regarded as just about any irons of the past decade. How do you explain this reputation given that Bridgestone isn't in every major golf retailer and hasn't had a ton of Tour visibility in the past?
CC: With all of the information resources out there, if you make an outstanding product, those who are die-hards will find it. The J33's were an amazing range of forged irons when the market had largely gone to more of the game improvement cast clubs. We’ve built upon that premium forged feel and added a bit more forgiveness to make the J40 line that much better.
Metro: Bridgestone's Tour staff isn't big in numbers, but they seem to fit a mold of fan friendly, nice guys, and on the LPGA, Paula Creamer is one of the most visible female golfers in the world. How does this group help build the Bridgestone brand?
CC: Without exception, every one of our tour team members are tremendous stewards of the game. They are world class players and world class people. They’ve helped us raise awareness through some very creative ads that show their personalities and with their strong play on TOUR. They have truly provided the Bridgestone brand with visibility through their great work on and off the course. We are tremendously proud of our team of TOUR professionals.
Metro: What is the distribution plan for the J40 products, where can people find them, and how easy will they be to demo?
CC: In 2012, Bridgestone will focus our distribution approach. We will narrow down our scope to focus on 150 specific retail outlets where anyone can come and get fit for the entire J40 line. These will be called our “Club Hubs,” and they will be in every major market in the country. Our goal is that anyone who wants to demo a J40 product will have the ability to do so without having to go on a wild goose chase to find them. These Club Hubs will not be the only retailers to carry Bridgestone Golf clubs, but they will be the official headquarters for Bridgestone demo/fitting in their respective markets.
Metro: Is there anything you want our readers to know about Bridgestone moving forward, or any thoughts to close?
CC: We appreciate the strong loyalty we’ve received on the ball side of the market to date. To now be the #2 golf ball manufacturer in the industry, we’ve come a long way in just a few short years. That growth and success wouldn’t have been possible without the trust and support of golfers everywhere. We are confident we can experience similar success on the club side of the business by continuing to increase product performance and brand recognition. We are most appreciative to our supporters and believers!