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Driving innovation: Majesty Golf's technological swing

Interview - July 24, 2023

A blend of craft and cutting-edge tech, Majesty Golf putts towards success in creating the ultimate golfing experience.

SHUNSUKE TSUKAMOTO, REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR & CEO OF MAJESTY GOLF CO., LTD.
SHUNSUKE TSUKAMOTO | REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR & CEO OF MAJESTY GOLF CO., LTD.

Over the last 25-30 years, Japan has seen the rise of regional manufacturing competitors who have replicated the Japanese monozukuri process but have taken advantage of a cheaper labor force, which has pushed Japan out of certain mass consumer markets. However, we still see that many Japanese firms are leaders when it comes to specific fields. How have Japanese firms been able to maintain this leadership despite the stiff regional competition?

The made-in-Japan for golf clubs is very valuable. It has that added value. We have a long history and tradition of manufacturing golf clubs in Japan. These are made by very experienced craftsmen utilizing advanced technologies while truly adhering to the quality level that is required by Japanese golfers in terms of design and performance. Golf clubs can be very delicate. Pursuing the quality that is needed has resulted in the superiority of Japanese-made golf clubs, which are created with high technology and quality. A part of that background is the focus on training and education in Japanese companies.

Since Japan is the oldest society with a rapidly shrinking population, passing on the expertise of experienced craftsmen to the next generation can be somewhat challenging. What have been the impacts of Japan’s demographic situation on Majesty Golf, and how have you been reacting to it?

The aging society and declining birthrate are common challenges not only for Japan but also for other parts of the world. Aging society, aging users, is also happening in the golf industry. I think this is an opportunity for Majesty because the target users of our brand are mostly senior players. We would like Majesty to become an aspirational brand for them. Toyota’s aspiration brand is Crown, and they want to own it someday. Similarly, we want our users to aspire to one day own Majesty. I believe that is how we could pull in the senior users and more golf players wanting the Majesty brand, which would be an upside for us.

Golf was previously seen as a sport for affluent older men. However, this is changing because younger people and women are getting more into the game. According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of women playing has increased. Around 25% of players are now women, which is up from 19% just a decade ago. How is Majesty Golf catering to this market of women golfers that is constantly increasing?

Looking at the Japanese golf market, 80% are male players and 20% are female. In the last 20 years, we have been seeing an increase in female players. For Majesty, the ratio of female players is 30%, which is higher than the market average. We are expanding our business in Korea, China and Taiwan. In all of these markets, more than half are female players. I think we have been able to gain more female players by providing spec variations such as shaft flex, and lofts and collaborating with other industries.

We have been collaborating with different sectors. For example, we specifically design golf clubs for female players with Ms. Mika Ninagawa who is a famous photographer and a movie director. Furthermore, we have collaboration projects with Steiff, a German teddy bear manufacturer. We design and manufacture golf club head covers for women players. That is the kind of collaboration we would like to increase moving forward, as it can enhance the value of our golf clubs for women. We can collaborate with companies that share the same DNA as us, representing female artists and craftsmanship.


MAJESTY Royale Ladies’ driver with Steiff headcover


It is vital to have partnerships in expanding in different regions like Asia or the US, and Europe for us to acquire new users, including those who were never interested in golf clubs.

This is the latest product line called MAJESTY CELESTIAL of further collaboration with Swarovski, an Austrian fine jewellery company. These do not look like typical golf clubs. It is more than just an art that people can admire. It can be used as it is a practical golf club of high quality. Only Majesty can make something like this possible, which embeds luxury and craftsmanship. That is our strength.


New golf club, MAJESTY CELESTIAL


Golf clubs and equipment have historically been painstakingly handcrafted, but now it is becoming more of a science, especially with the advent of digital technologies. Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software has enabled engineers to construct, modify and test designs alongside rapid prototyping, allowing for greater understanding and experimentation of the clubs. This results in a much better moment of inertia in modern golf clubs. How are you combining this traditional craftsmanship with digital technologies in your manufacturing processes?

Ever since our foundation in 1971, several craftsmen greatly supported our brand and worked hard to enhance it. The products they have developed and built succeeded as our intangible asset. For instance, we used to make golf club heads by shaving the persimmon and the wooden mold. After which, the craftsmen would make an address and see how it looks and feels for the player. They were very particular in making sure that they feel right while developing these products.

We incorporated the wooden molds we produced in the past into the latest CAD software. In this CAD, we spend so much time coming up with this round shape design that can only be produced by smoothing out all the links on the different sides and making sure that they are seamless and have the right texture. The craftsmen have to ensure the flow of the round-shaped wooden mold for each club because the clubs are put together as a set. We have to guarantee that they all feel the same and consistent. When they make the address, they make certain that they are comfortable and the same. We can do this because we have embedded and incorporated our wooden mold design into the CAD. It is more than just computer science; it is a combination of computer science and human sensitivity. Based on that design, we have been able to achieve this beautiful shape and design, thickness, the center of gravity and moment of inertia.


Plaster model output with 3D print machine from CAD data


Do you have a favourite golf club or brand that Majesty offers, and why do you have a liking to it?

As a  CEO, I was overseeing all brands and love all of them. Our latest MAJESTY PRESTIGIO OBSIDIAN has really become a new challenge for us. MAJESTY PRESTIGIO is our flagship model. The typical image of MAJESTY penetrating the market is having shiny gold golf clubs, but I do not think that can really expand our customer base. We want to acquire new customers through these new models like the MAJESTY PRESTIGIO OBSIDIAN, which is cool and black that has a masculine face.

The gold colour became a success in markets like Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. We were able to grow our revenues because this has become one of our high-end segments in the golf market, which means that the driver price is more than JPY 100,000 and the iron is more than JPY 33,000. This is the range for our high-end segments in which we have more than 50% of the market share. We are regarded as the number one luxury brand. However, since our market expansion can hit the limit with just that kind of product, we came up with MAJESTY PRESTIGIO OBSIDIAN, an extension of the MAJESTY PRESTIGIO brand, that has deep black colour and a higher and heavier spec, targeting potential new younger generation players. That is how we want to drive our business.

Personally, I do not use the gold one. I would rather use the black one. I think it is important to provide different options, especially in a mature golf market.


MAJESTY OBSIDIAN


You also provide accessories like caddy bags, balls and caps, as well as customized products. With your made-to-order business, you can even adjust the shaft length in 0.25-inch increments. Can you go into more detail about the process that is involved when undertaking a customized product for a customer?

Majesty Golf provides customization that truly satisfies the customers' needs by maximizing the potential of each of the golf clubs. Golf clubs are mainly made of three components: the head, shaft and grip. In the case of super lightweight golf clubs, any minor changes in the weight of the head, shaft or grip changes the way the player swings it. For the driver wood, for instance, the competitors would have an adjustment function for the ball's trajectory by detaching the head and shaft. However, in our case, MAJESTY PRESTIGIO’s very lightweight head could limit the moment of inertia. We do not want that to happen, so we stick the head in the shaft using an adhesive to maximize the potential of each golf club. By doing so, we can achieve the best balance for each golf club that suits and matches every user.

 

E-commerce has become a large part of today's world, especially given the COVID pandemic over the last three years. Online sales jumped by 13%, and Japan became the fourth-largest e-commerce market in the world. How has your business adapted to take advantage of this growth in e-commerce?

I mentioned earlier that our target users are seniors and female golfers. E-commerce channels are not necessarily familiar media for senior users because of the problem of IT literacy. Nevertheless, many seniors could not come to our stores and did not want to go out during COVID, and e-commerce has become one of their options, which significantly contributed to our revenue growth. We came up with an infomercial, especially for our Maruman brand, called Dangan. When it was aired on TV and web media, it led to quite a significant revenue for our clubs and balls.

 

Is there anything else you are currently working on that you would like to showcase to our international readers?

One more thing I would like to highlight about our craftsmanship is how we polish our products, which we call mirror finishing. It refers to the hand craftsmanship done by our very experienced maestros. Other manufacturers would normally polish five or six times, but in our case, we polish more than ten times. We go through more than double the usual polishing process to make sure that our products are very shiny as a mirror and can handle the pinholes in one-micron increments. We ensure that the membrane thickness is consistent. Polishing the head produces a high repulsion. More than a beautiful appearance, we ascertain that the performance is also embedded in it. In the beginning, I told you about how particular we are about achieving high quality, which is the basic concept that led to these very complex processes. That is how we regard the value of made-in-Japan.

 

Are there any other countries or regions you have identified for your further expansion? What are some of the strategies that you will employ to achieve that goal?

We expect Southeast Asia to be quite a big potential market because of the rapid economic growth. Countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines have an increasing number of affluent people who would be interested in playing golf. We have already started doing business and partnerships in some of those areas and countries, where we would like to grow even further.

 

Imagine we come back in exactly five years and interview you again: what goals would you like to have achieved for the company by then?

Coming out of the COVID bubble, golf and all sorts of outdoor sports have resumed in Japan and around the world. Now, our genuine ability as a manufacturer is going to be tested. The market condition right now is not really optimistic, but I think we are in a unique and established position. That is something that no other manufacturers can realize because of our tradition and class as well as the luxury aspect we offer. In three years, we will be able to acquire more golfers than we have now, including ladies and new golfers. One of the ways to acquire many more users is by simultaneously launching new products globally through social media without having a time lag.


Interview conducted by Karune Walker & Ana Ruiz

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