Chris MacNeill is the Senior Global Product Line Manager for apparel at COBRA PUMA GOLF, working for the brand since 2014. Prior to that MacNeill worked as the Junior PLM for running and training apparel and accessories at Oakley and as Sales Lead at Lululemon athletica. An avid golfer, MacNeill currently resides in Carlsbad, CA.
The MacNeil Story —
During my time at Lululemon, I developed an interest in the sport and athletic fashion industry. Athletic wear is becoming a fixture in mainstream fashion and apparel, from running gear, yoga clothes and even now into golf, sportwear is growing more than ever. With my retail background, and time at Lululemon, I developed a good understanding of what the consumer was looking for and am now able to bring that into a product development environment.
What differentiates the 2020 PUMA Cloudspun line from those on the marketplace?
We’re always looking for new fabrics to maximize comfort and performance. Our CLOUDSPUN fabric technology, for example, is custom-milled and will be the softest fabric in your closet. Comfort is king, and we’re seeing comfort become one of the most prominent consumer asks. CLOUDSPUN is softer than any other fabric we’ve seen in the market.
Clothing for golf faces inherent tests — durability and at the same time fashionable. What is the company’s philosophy in being able to succeed on both fronts?
At PUMA we have rigorous durability standards, especially with the fabrics we select. Our durability standards ensure against shrinkage, pilling, and snagging, so we need to source the best fabrics while also meeting durability standards that are higher than the industry. It’s a game changer when we’re able to source something as soft and comfortable as CLOUDSPUN, that’s also extremely durable – a value add for golfers.
Who is the PUMA customer as we head into 2020?
At PUMA Golf our goal is to help golfers enjoy the game, and we ideate, design and create products that help people do just that. Our customers are golfers of all ages and levels, from the scratch golfers to par-3 muni players, who want to have fun, enjoy the game and look and feel good while playing it.
What roles does the feedback process play in making future product decisions for the evolution of the clothing line?
It’s very important to us. We get feedback daily from consumers through email, social media, our ecommerce site, and we also make it a point to meet with our athletes on a regular basis to get their feedback on current product and ideas for the future. We pride ourselves on listening to golfers and playing golf regularly ourselves to test our own product.
PUMA has been most successful in its relationship with Rickie Fowler being the lead point person in endorsing the line. How does that relationship evolve as Rickie is now 31 and clearly no longer in his 20s?
Over the years Rickie’s style has evolved and matured, and so has ours. We work closely with Rickie to capture his design aesthetics and provide him with product that he likes and feels great in. He enjoys pushing the envelope when it comes to style and we’re always game to help him do that. Over the past 10 years we have developed a close relationship with Rickie, and he continues to be extremely influential to our design process.
From what information you have gathered — are there differences between what men and women favor in their apparel choices / styles?
While the end use is similar, we try to avoid a “shrink it and pink it” mentality when designing apparel for women. We spend a lot of time looking at fabric, cut lines, silhouette choices, graphics and even branding size and material to differentiate our men’s and women’s pieces.
In your marketing efforts what is the rough percentage of emphasis between green grass shops, main line brick and mortar retail outlets and online sales?
We focus on all three. Our online platform helps us tell a more detailed product story and connect directly with online shoppers, and we’ve seen huge success there, doubling ecomm sales from 2018 to 2019. We also have strong relationships with our national accounts and are always striving to elevate our service level, associate training and instore marketing presence. Our brick and mortar channels are up solid double digits this year and we plan accelerate that in 2020.
As for green grass, we pride ourselves on being easy to do business with, providing high levels of service to our accounts – no matter the size, and having a strong presence where golf is played. We know from industry research that most clothing dollars are spent on-course, which is why green grass is a huge focus for us going forward – the authenticity and word of mouth from golf professionals wearing our product and vouching for it can’t be matched. It’s so critical to have a meaningful presence in green grass and support the local courses and shops.
Do paid endorsements from those using apparel on the PGA and LPGA tours matter to consumers and if so how do you measure that connection?
Hero World Challenge R2
There are certainly some players on Tour that move the needle at retail. At PUMA we’re not looking to have the most players on Tour, but the right ones, ones cutting through the clutter, represent our brands well and make an impact at the retail level. This is evident when we see spikes in sales and visits on our website, or consumers go into retail stores asking for a specific piece of apparel when, for example, Rickie wears something cool, or is in the hunt during the final round of a tournament.
Elasticity has become the central focal point for many apparel companies — more emphasis on the lifestyle dimension beyond just the golf. How difficult is it in being able to balance the two while still realizing the golf connection is centermost?
It’s super important. If you do it right, golf clothes can be some of the most versatile items in your wardrobe. The right polo, layering piece, or bottom can transition easily from the office, to a neighborhood barbecue, to the golf course. You can make a technical item look lifestyle, a lifestyle item look technical, and everything in between.
The biggest short and long term challenge facing PUMA golf apparel is what?
There’s a more traditional crowd that prefers a certain style, and a progressive consumer that prefers something more disruptive. Our biggest challenge, both short term and long term, is to find a way to appeal to both without alienating one or the other.
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All images: Courtesy PUMA Golf