Who doesn’t love golf lifestyle brands?
In the last few years the golfing landscape has exploded with hundreds of small, design-focused golf brands that produce golf clothing and accessories. Unlike the old days when a few clothing brands ruled the game, the golf lifestyle brand has barged in and made sure it’s here to stay.
I’ve written in these pages about the grandfather of all golf lifestyle brands, Travis Mathew. My current take hasn’t changed much. Travis Mathew created and owned the golf lifestyle brand category and threw it all away trying to transition into a designer clothing brand for all.
Do they make nice stuff? Sure. Is it a true golf lifestyle brand now? Not really. It’s California casual with a hint of golf.
As soon as Travis Mathew saw initial success from their design-conscious golfwear, others instantly jumped into the burgeoning market. Since then, the golfwear landscape has been flooded with brands hoping to get a piece of the ever-growing golf lifestyle dollars.
There have been some successes like G/FORE, Linksoul, Stitch, and Palm. There have also been hundreds of failures. Their names don’t really matter because they are here and gone in a heartbeat.
So what does it take to launch a golf lifestyle brand and make it over the hump?
I spoke with Ross Payne, owner and operator of Stripe Golf Co. along with his partner Nick Nielson, about their launch of Stripe Golf a couple years ago. Like any business, there are hurdles, but the duo remain committed to getting Stripe Golf in retailers across the nation.
So far, they’re getting results and the future looks brighter coming out of the pandemic.
Like many golf lifestyle brands, the idea started during a post-round beer.
“Why were golf hats so boring?” Payne and Nielson wondered. They felt like there was a market for golfers that wanted to have a little style that might also translate off the course.
After some research, they determined that a brand that says, “I’m a golfer” without screaming it at the top of its lungs might get some traction. And Stripe Golf was born.
Like so many small businesses, Stripe Golf started in a garage. Inventory was received and shipped by the owners themselves. But it was clear they were connecting with their audience.
“I think in the fall of 2020 after we launched our website and released multiple new types of hats and a few different designs, we got the feeling that we might be onto something,” Payne recalls.
In the last two years Stripe has created several designs for hats and beanies while recently launching branded T-shirts.
It hasn’t all been easy. While Instagram provided cheap exposure and a way to target golfers online, COVID has played havoc with the product supply chain. Getting hats, finding embroidery, and shifting retail trends have taught the creators a few things.
Online sales alone can’t sustain a brand with bigger dreams. Payne and Neilson quickly realized they had to engage local golf courses and gain placement in proshops. That yielded some results, but also proved humbling.
Payne recalls some proshops wondering why they needed an independent brand on their shelves. Stripe gained initial traction by touting their “Locally owned, designed, and made in Kansas City message. That resonated with some, but still others didn’t bite.
Rather than being deterred, Payne and Neilson chalked it up to some people just not getting their vision. They learned the old advertising maxim firsthand – the most appealing and successful brands have a clearly defined audience.
Today, Stripe Golf is building on their early success and hoping to take the business to the next level. Specifically, that means building relationships with manufacturers to have fully customized Stripe Golf hats and apparel.
What that means is that, instead of sourcing components and embroidery, Stripe hopes to have a direct relationship that allows them to have their own production line straight from the factory.
For example, a G/FORE hat is a G/FORE hat – not an Imperial hat with a separate patch sewn on.
It’s a big step to take and requires investment on the part of brand to make it worth the manufacturers extra time and effort.
It’s also something all successful golf lifestyle brands have in common. They control every aspect of product design and development, allowing them to create a brand experience not just a brand message.
Payne and Neilson hope achieving that next step serves as a launch pad for a broader collection of Stripe Golf apparel and accessories.
The next year promises to be a critical one for Stripe Golf and dozens of other golf lifestyle brands. Golf has seen immense growth during the pandemic. There are even bigger and broader golf dollars to capture. With supply chain issues hopefully normalizing, competition will ramp up quickly.
It’s impossible to determine who will make it and who won’t. Great brands sometimes don’t get the exposure they need. Less inspired but well-funded brands can often succeed on the sheer force of economic power.
One thing Stripe Golf has going for it is their honest roots. It’s just a couple of golf addicts hoping to connect with other golf addicts. Understanding their audience will never be a problem because they live it themselves.
For the rest of us, golf lifestyle brands provide new ways to express our love of the game. It adds style and fun to a sport that for too long was stuck with khaki shorts and pastel-colored shirts.
As Martha Stewart might say, “That’s a good thing.”