In 2005, current President and CEO of Cobra Puma Golf became the first official employee of Puma’s golf division. Charged with launching the new venture, Bob Philion helped the company establish a unique style and presence in the marketplace before managing the relocation of the newly formed Cobra Puma Golf to Carlsbad, Calif., in 2010. In celebration of the five-year anniversary of this exciting partnership, we caught up with the company’s leader to get his take on the modern golf business, his management philosophy, and the importance of Rickie Fowler and Lexi Thompson in the marketing arena.
Previous to Puma’s acquisition of Cobra in 2010, the brand was owned by Acushnet and paired with Titleist. What has the relationship with Puma brought to the Cobra brand and it’s perception by golfers?
Bob Philion: At the end of the day we have one club brand and that’s Cobra, so that brand gets our full attention both in the R&D and marketing and sales divisions. We approached Cobra with what I call “blue sky” thinking, meaning there were no restrictions on what kind of golfer the equipment would appeal to or for whom it would perform for best. We added better player’s products and wedges, among other things, that expanded the appeal of the Cobra brand. From the Puma side we brought color, style, and improved brand creation. We freed up our team and encouraged them to be bold and take risks – I wanted innovation and you can’t get there by being overly conservative.
Are you pleased with where things stand and how the brand is perceived?
BP: The Cobra brand in particular changed more quickly than we expected and things have been extremely positive in the last few years. Our players have a lot to do with it but our products are critical. We’re definitely bullish on our opportunities going forward as the Cobra brand is well positioned for significant growth.
Rickie Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Blair O’Neal are all high-profile Cobra Puma players – how important are they?
BP: I think when it comes to sports marketing we are playing a different game than some others. We’re not trying to be #1 on Tour with equipment counts every week but we are trying to be the most desirable “game enjoyment” brand in the game. Adding a lot of Tour players to win driver and shoe counts is fine but we want to cut through the clutter and send a clear message to golfers that our products will help them enjoy the game more. When it comes to our players like Rickie, Lexi and Blair, among others, we ask that they be the face of the company and also add credibility to our products, which they do very well. We wanted players who could move the needle and clearly Rickie has been enormously important in that regard. He’s one of the most marketable players in the game today without a doubt. To give you an idea of his impact, we’ve sold over 1,000,000 of Rickie’s Puma hats since he’s been with us and we’ve doubled our business during that period.
How do you see the relationship between fashion and performance and what is the Cobra Puma philosophy all about?
BP: Our mantra is build cool stuff that works. Obviously, stuff that works is often inherently cool but the sweetspot is where the two things collide. We like to have balance – Cobra is known for stuff that works exceptionally well and by adding some Puma-inspired style we get the best looking products as well. That’s the sweetspot and I’ve very happy with our combination of high-performance and outstanding style.
What do you see coming down the pike in the golf industry? Are things as bad as some people think when it comes to the future of the game?
BP: It’s our responsibility to bring new people to the game and we’ve taken action by providing a lot of products that get junior golfers excited about golf including a junior version of Rickie’s driver. We’re also playing offense when a lot of others are playing defense. We look at the current state of the game and the industry as an opportunity and considering that we’ve enjoyed 30 percent growth every year since Puma acquired the Cobra brand, there’s little reason to be negative. We’re trying to be the best “game enjoyment” brand in the game and technology will continue to play a major part in achieving that goal. Innovation will continue to be our emphasis and that’s the key to success in the golf industry. Fortunately our pipeline is full of goodies that will continue to push the envelope and make the game more fun for all types of players.