Senior Vice President
Consumer Experience & Brand Strategy
Interview with Matt Ward
Ken LaRose is the Senior Vice President of Consumer Experience & Brand Strategy for FootJoy. In this role, he is responsible for all Global Marketing, eCommerce and Brand Strategy. Prior to joining the FootJoy team, LaRose worked across a range of performance and lifestyle brands including serving as Vice President of Business Development for Sperry Top-Sider, and as Senior Director of Corporate Strategy for a portfolio of brands including Saucony, Keds, Stride Rite and Sperry.
Prior to that, he was a management consulting for Kearney focused on strategic growth and operations, and he started his career as a mechanical engineer at Raytheon Technologies. Ken holds an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts University.
What distinguishes FootJoy from your competition?
FootJoy has been the undisputed leader in golf wearables through a singular focus on the game of golf and a relentless commitment to performance innovation, style, comfort, quality and service. We spend every hour of every day thinking about how we can enhance the consumer experience on the golf course.
What’s the rough percentage of sales of spiked shoes versus spikeless?
According to the latest Golf Datatech retail data, shoe sales across the industry are about 65% spikeless and 35% cleated. What’s interesting is how the definition of “spikeless” has evolved over the years.
While it originally meant non-replaceable traction for on and off course wear, and was defined by a soft, comfortable, casual shoe, now spikeless has evolved to also include performance spikeless shoes that provide Tour-level traction, like our popular Pro|SL franchise, or the new FJ Fuel.
How does FootJoy handle the dual needs of both golf shoe function and golf shoe fashion?
Every decision begins with comfort. We will never sacrifice comfort for either function or fashion. As golfers ourselves, we understand the importance of being comfortable when you’re going to be out on the course, especially walking, for hours at a time.
Function means different things to different players which again goes back to the importance of focusing exclusively on golf. Some golfers want ultimate, Tour-caliber performance and stability, like our new Tour Alpha or Premiere Series; Others want something casual and comfortable for a quick loop or short practice session, like our FLEX and Contour families of shoes, while others want something in between.
Then you layer in all the style preferences. One of the reasons our line is so extensive and diverse is our commitment to serving the golfer, no matter what they’re looking for in a golf shoe.
Are there differences in how men and women make decisions regarding golf shoe purchases?
There are actually many similarities. According to research we’ve conducted recently, men and women prioritize comfort, performance and style although how those attributes rank may differ. And not only between genders, but also within them.
There are so many variables to consider when purchasing footwear and as previously mentioned, different players have different requirements.
There are segments of fashion-conscious men and women who prioritize style even over comfort and there are other segments who rank comfort over everything else. Our hope is that no matter what you need, you can find it with FootJoy. However, no matter what you’re looking for, considering around 70% of golfers wear the wrong size shoe, every shoe purchase decision should begin with finding the right fit.
For the ’22 season what new elements will FootJoy be introducing?
This season is all about innovation and we have exciting introductions planned throughout our men’s and women’s lines. Following the successful launches last year of Premiere Series, HyperFlex and Traditions, this year we will continue to deliver energy and options for all golfers.
You can find innovations in Modern Tech with the new Tour Alpha that has some really cool new design elements that deliver our most feature-laden and stable shoe ever; The latest in Athletic performance and style with the all new FUEL for men and women;
And new additions to our Modern Classic franchises, like Premier Series and Traditions, which you see worn every week by the best players in the world like Justin Thomas, Max Homa, Patrick Cantlay and Will Zalatoris.
What is the approximate breakdown percentage wise for FootJoy sales via green grass shops, online sales and brick and mortar retail outlets and do you see any of the outlined categories growing significantly versus the other two?
Our business is split pretty evenly between on course and off course retailers (brick and mortar and online). We are very proud of our long-standing commitment to the on course golf professional and his/her shop and will continue to support them as their business evolves. We’ve also continued to improve the customer experience on FootJoy.com so golfers can find out everything they need before making a purchase.
The truth is, retail is changing rapidly for everyone, and certainly COVID created a surge for online shopping, but ultimately, we want to help the golfer find the FJ products they want wherever they shop and will continue to work with all of our partners to deliver tools that make that process as simple and enjoyable as possible.
Who is your customer today and how does FootJoy help build that relationship?
Our customer today is as diverse as it’s ever been. There are more people experiencing the sport than almost any time previously. But they’re experiencing it in different ways. Some play to win, some play for fun. Some play 9 or 18 holes and some play 3 or 6. Some walk and some ride and some play exclusively at off course “arcade type” venues. Some want modern classic styling like the pros wear, while others want athletic, sneaker-looking shoes to wear with shorts.
Our commitment to that golfer, wherever and however he/she experiences the game, is to deliver game-enhancing design and innovation that enhances the overall golf experience. If we can do that, we believe it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
How does customer feedback impact future design efforts and can you specifically cite one such example where what was suggested was actually carried out?
Our team takes great satisfaction in working with players at all levels of the game to ensure we’re meeting the demands of every golfer around the world. We’re literally working with players at every level of amateur and professional golf, as well as continuously exploring trends inside and outside of golf.
Our Tour players are especially insightful as they scrutinize every piece of equipment that can impact their game, including footwear. Players like Justin Thomas and Adam Scott can tell you all of the features of a shoe before you even explain it to them because they’re so in tune with what’s happening with their feet.
During the development of Premiere Series we met with our players 5-6 times throughout the process to be sure we were creating a shoe that met all of their requirements.
Companies routinely tout the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach followed at FootJoy?
We take tremendous pride in the service we provide for consumers and our trade partners. What’s changed, however, is how customer service is administered. At one time, brands just provided a phone number to call if a customer had a question or concern. Now, digital commerce and social media require an “always on” approach. If a customer has a question about a FootJoy product, they should be able to get an answer very quickly.
That can happen via our customer service phone line, through live chats on our website and via social channels — direct message or in our new Facebook FJ Insider group.
No matter how or where you contact FJ, our “front lines” are staffed by passionate, professional individuals who genuinely care about each customer’s experience. Collectively we strive to always treat our customers like the precious commodity they are, and to provide exceptional service across all customer touchpoints.
Biggest challenges facing FootJoy, short and long term, is what and how are you planning to address each?
I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone, but the biggest short term challenge is the global supply chain. I think we’re all experiencing that firsthand, no matter what business we’re in or what products we’re trying to order. Longer term, I would say the challenge is more of an opportunity.
With a massive influx of golfers the last two years, we are working hard to understand who they are and what they need. There is a lot of energy spent on how we can elevate our brand and products for the future, and what we can do to enhance the consumer experience for new FJ customers as well as lifelong fans of the brand.
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Featured Image: FootJoy Premiere Series-Field golf shoes