Saturday, October 27, 2007

New Product Development 2008 - Test Process

Mike Blair (Director of Club Development) and I are finalizing the GRIP new products for 2008. We have had a lot of debate about our new "rusty" wedge. We settled on a nice oil can finish and Mike was very vocal that we allow the finish to rust thereby creating natural spin while maintaining a conforming club.
A lunch meeting to discuss the wedge design

I am always concerned about durability and customer perception. I read about a lot of golf companies that use robots to hit golf balls and can simulate all sorts of scenarios. I don't have robots. What I do have is an office that overlooks an 80 bay driving range at the East Coast Golf Academy in Northborough, MA and I have New England Weather. Believe me, all you need is amateur golfers and changing weather conditions to really test a golf club.

Our process starts by making up a dozen or so wedges and letting customers try them out and getting their feedback. We were fairly confident about the design, aesthetics, and playability of the wedges and the feedback from the testers was great. It reminded me of the Fairway Wood trials which went really well last year. People wanted to buy the prototype fairway woods on the spot. Since we could not sell them, we had a few stolen.

The second part of the process is putting the wedges in the "free rental" bin at the driving range. They are mixed in with old wooden woods, damaged knock-offs and other junk clubs. Most of the people that use them come to the driving range with no clubs of their own and really beat the free rentals up. If our clubs survive a month "in the bin" we know they are durable. This assures that in the absolute worse usage circumstances that the finis is strong and they will not chip, dent or damage easily. It is our golf version of a vehicle head-on collision test for safety.

The oil can finish passed the test as did the quality of the carbon steel - which we knew because our CNC Milled Wedges use the same steel.

The final test is to put one club head on my deck for one month to endure the rain, sun and whatever else comes out of the sky. I was actually concerned after the test that the club had too much rust and that the finish was not rusting on the surface but it was decomposing. Mike proved me wrong by lightly wiping the wedge down with steel wool for 10 seconds. The finish and integrity of the club were in great shape. We placed a factory order shortly after the meeting.

My only open concern is whether our customers will like the rust. I certainly do. I carried a rusty Vokey for many years.

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